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NYC Helpline: How To: Work with Students' Families

Supporting Parent Involvement
Arlyne LeSchack

There are many ways parents can be involved in their child's education. But how can teachers support parents in these involvements? Here are six ways:

1. Volunteering
Objective: to recruit and organize parent help and support.

Parents can be given a learning compact which includes a pledge to volunteer. This can include a "report card" to help parents evaluate their contribution to their child's success at school. A survey can be done to identify the talents of parents and their availability.

A school or classroom volunteer program can be created to help teachers, administrators, students or other parents. A parent room within the school also encourages volunteering. A volunteer can be designated as a "class parent." A telephone tree can be set up to provide needed information.

Findings from the US Department of Education's Prospects Study (1993) reveal that students in schools with pledges or learning compacts in place perform better than students in similar schools without them because of greater reinforcement of learning at home. Furthermore, effects of the pledge on student learning were stronger than effects from other school-home interactions.

2. Parenting
Objective: to help families establish home environments to support children as students.

The school can provide suggestions for home conditions that support learning at each grade level. Workshops, videotapes and phone message can help. Schools can provide parent education courses or training for parents-everything from GED, college credit to family literacy.

The school can provide family support programs to assist with health, nutrition or other services. Sometimes home visits are necessary at transition points: from preschool to elementary, from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school. These can be held in the neighborhood to help families understand school and to help schools understand families.

All of this gives parents a feeling of support from the school and it can help you understand families' cultures, backgrounds, concerns, goals, needs and views of their children.

3. Communicating
Objective: to design more effective forms of school-to-home and home-to-school communications with all families each year about school programs and about their children's progress.

The best practices would include:

  • conferences with every parent at least once a year
  • translators where needed
  • weekly or monthly work folders sent home with space for parental comments
  • report cards with conferences on improving grades
  • regular schedule of notices, memos, newsletters or other communication
  • clear information about choosing programs and activities
  • clear information about all school policy and changes.

This would give parents an understanding of school programs and policies, help them monitor their own child's progress, and help them solve any problems as they arise.

4. Learning at Home
Objective: to provide information and ideas to families about how to help students at home with homework and other curricular-related activities, decisions and planning.

The best practice would include:

  • providing parents with information about skills required for students in all subject at each grade
  • providing parents with information about homework policies and how to monitor and discuss schoolwork at home
  • providing information about how to assist students to improve skills on various class and school assignments.

Parents also need to be made aware of the homework schedule. They should have a calendar with activities including family math, science and reading. Each parent should participate in goal setting and working on future plans.

This helps parents know how to support, encourage and aid students at home. It gives them some understanding of the instructional program and what the child is learning in each subject as well as awareness of their child as a learner.

For teachers, this enables a better design for homework assignments and a respect for family time. Because of the increased interaction, the teacher might recognize the equal helpfulness of single and working parents and gain an appreciation of how less formally educated families motivate and reinforce their children’s learning.

5. Decision Making
Objective: to include parents in school decisions and develop parent leaders and representatives.

Encourage your class parents to become part of the PTA or the School Leadership Team. This gives parents input into policies that affect their children's education and increases their feeling of ownership of school. Further, it gives them a connection with other families that are involved and an awareness of school, district and state policies.

When parents are involved in the decision-making process it can give you an awareness of their perspectives in policy development and help you view the parents in a more equal way.

6. Collaborating with Community
Objective: to identify and integrate resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices and student learning and development.

This would include being able to give families information about health services in the community, recreational and support services, and even summer programs available for students.

The knowledge and use of these local resources by families can help their child increase his or her skills and talents. The family may also take pride in making a contribution to the community. In addition the school can be seen more and more as part of the community.
For teachers, knowledge of these resources can enrich your curriculum and instruction as well as open you up to new avenues for partners, mentors, and others to assist students. The knowledge will help you become a member of your students' community.

The Parental Involvement Checklist from The Project Appleseed website.

Please e-mail me if you have any questions.


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