With each Check & Connect training we conduct, we feel (and often hear) the same frustration when it comes to parental involvement in school. What is interesting, is that after we discuss Check & Connect’s belief in family engagement versus parental involvement, I hear new and creative ways that school staff are reaching out and engaging families, often without even realizing it.
Often times when we think about parental involvement, we focus on the actions of the parents. Did the parents come to Open House? The PTA? The basketball game? This really focuses on the actions of the parent.
At Check & Connect, we approach family engagement as, “cooperation, coordination, and collaboration to enhance students’ learning opportunities, educational progress, and school success” (Christenson, Stout, Pohl, 2012). The mentor recognizes that the family as well as the school are socializing environments for the student, and strives to work with the family to build a relationship so that they can work together to support the learner, problem solve, and generally be on the same page with future goals.
When we shift this thinking, from an accusatory glance to a team approach with families, I hear wonderful and inventive ways to invite families into the educational experience.
At Check & Connect, we organize our approach to partnering with families into four areas:
- Enhancing home-school communication
- Conducting home visits
- Responding to questions and concerns, and
- Encouraging home support for learning—through problem-solving.
As Check & Connect trainers, we ask participants to engage in many activities, and one such activity is brainstorming strategies for family engagement along these four areas. Below are some of the imaginative and resourceful approaches I have heard at trainings:
Enhancing home-school communication
Trainees have come up with these ideas around enhancing home-school communication:
- Call all families/students prior to school starting/first week of school
- Help parent/student learn bus routes and bus stops/public transit
- Use multiple forms of communication (i.e., calls, emails, texts, letters, Remind 101)
- Link family with one key person/teacher who has a genuine interest in their child
- Be outside to chat with parents during morning/afternoon pick-up
- Provide interpreters for parent/teacher conferences and other communication
- Call home with positive information regarding student, communicate when student accomplishes something
- Communicate with parents daily/weekly
- Nontraditional hours for school conferencing
- Send newsletter to parents, have parents subscribe to newsletter, use social media
- Advocate for students and families by helping teachers see where they’re coming from
- Mail positive reports to parents
- Be an advocate/liaison for the student and family
- Conduct a survey of ELL families to learn about preferred communication methods of various ELL populations and present findings to school district
- Recommend parents reach out and contact teachers to ask questions and provide relevant information regarding student
- Host monthly Family Nights with meals – showcase student accomplishments
- Attend child sporting event with the family and talk off to side (e.g., Dad makes it to every wrestling meet)
Conducting home visits
Trainees have come up with these ideas around conducting home visits:
- Gaining parental trust by giving parent ride to school when getting student
- “Bus Tour” of neighborhoods prior to school starting
- Make it fun with interactive games such as a thumb ball
- First couple of times only say positives
- Finding truant students
- Bring an activity for younger children to do, like coloring sheets and crayons
- Go in pairs, safety first!
- Offer to meet in a community location
- Dress appropriately for the community
Responding to questions and concerns
Trainees have come up with these ideas around responding to questions and concerns:
- Use reflective listening!
- Use multiple forms of communication (i.e. calls, emails, texts, letters, Remind 101)
- Answer truthfully, ask others or get extra help when needed
- Respond in a timely manner
- Have resources to help families
- Offer to meet with families face-to-face
- Have conference calls with parents and teachers to avoid the mentor being the go-between
Encouraging home support for learning
Trainees have come up with these ideas around encouraging home support for learning:
- Put a Parent Resource Page on your school or program website
- Create “Hooray Postcards” (positive postcards you can send home)
- Have a before school-year parent/student meeting and/or orientation (in August for instance)
- Teach parents how to use school-based websites
- Constantly talk to parents about the student’s success with mentoring and how parental support can only make it greater
- Be positive!
- Obtain parent buy-in (with incentives)
- Make resource referrals when parent is present; know where to go and get help; inform parents who to contact
- Help family meet basic needs, as with a food pantry referral
- Help families gain successful learning at home by getting needed items, like a computer
- Offer free evening parent sessions (e.g., teach parents technology to access grades, etc.)
- Provide child care for younger children in the family (possibly provided by student council or other student organization) so parents can attend evening learning sessions, etc.
- Provide “Make & Take” activities for families during family engagement events
- Build parent capacity (English Language Learning, GED/continuing education, Community Resource Fair)
We encourage you to also visit Step 8: Strengthen the family-school relationship in the 2012 manual on pp. 64-77 for additional ideas on how to partner with families.
Now, for more of your ideas!
We love to hear from readers. In what ways have you successfully engaged families? Please use the comments area below or post to Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags #CheckandConnect and #familyengagement so we can follow along.
Christenson, S. L., Stout, K. E., & Pohl, A. J. (2012). Check & Connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention: Implementing with fidelity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.
About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
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