At our school, we struggle to improve family engagement and involvement. The level of parental involvement directly impacts the success of student learning. There are a wide variety of complexities that cause families to become disengaged: financial hardship, instability of the family structure, prior negative academic experiences and simply being “too busy.” We have parents who are busy working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, so their first concern is providing a roof over their heads and food on their tables. We have families that are going through difficult separations or divorces. Blended families also add to the complexity. A number of parents have described negative academic experiences in their history. These parents struggle with trusting our school to not treat their child the same way they were treated. We also have families who claim they are just “too busy” to be involved with homework or school functions. These families are usually shuttling their children from activity to activity.
Parental involvement and engagement plays a role in the social and emotional development of our students. The interactions that parents have with their children directly affect the child’s social and emotional development. Families who are struggling financially, with relationships, or past negative academic experiences, directly impact their child’s beliefs and attitudes. If the interaction between parents and school is more often positive it is easier for a child to develop a healthy attitude towards school and learning.
I believe the key to increasing parental involvement is in establishing positive relationships with students and families. This process begins early in the school year. I encourage teachers to attempt two strategies to begin to build positive relationships with their students and their families. I ask teachers to greet their students each morning at the door to their classroom. A friendly, “good morning” and “how are you?” is a beautiful way to begin the day. As well, a number of primary parents bring their child to school. Being available in the morning provides parents with an opportunity to converse with the teacher in a positive way. If there are any questions or concerns, they could potentially be addressed immediately. Greeting students each morning allows teachers to gauge the mood of their students. If a child seems more animated than usual, it is an opportunity to have a discussion about what is making them so happy. Or, if a student seems upset, lessons or expectations might require adjustments.
I encourage teachers to make an early “sunshine” phone call to families within the first two weeks of school. Teachers phone parents to relay a positive message about a student. These “sunshine” calls go a long way in establishing supportive relationships. I believe that the first contact with parents must be a positive one, so when or if a more negative call has to be made, the first contact has demonstrated that the teacher cares about the child. Teachers have shared with me that these calls have made a positive impact on their relationships with parents.
Family and parental involvement in the education of children has the ability to improve academic achievement in our students. As educators, we are responsible to attempt to understand what our students are going through at home. We have tried several other strategies to improve parental involvement, but I am curious to hear what other suggestions others might have?