While some education reformers might argue that poverty is not a reason for students’ lack of success, I haven’t heard anyone claim that parental involvement doesn’t impact student learning. As a matter of fact, I would argue that a students’ best chance of overcoming poverty is parental involvement in their education. While we have little control over what goes on in the home, the first step in fostering parental involvement is creating a school environment in which parents (as well as students) want to participate. To get parents involved you have to get them in the door.
When I worked at a neighborhood school (I now work at magnet schools) we found it difficult to get parents to come to school even though parents lived nearby. Teachers frequently complained that although the auditorium was packed for our holiday performances, parents rarely showed up for parent conferences or any of our academic functions. At my last science night at the school, however, I had a full house while the teacher next door had only two parents show up. It wasn’t my charming personality that brought them in (the teacher next door was far more charming), I had learned to make academic events engaging and create an environment that was welcoming to parents as well as students.
Here are my tips for a well attended event:
Make it Convenient. Events and conferences need to be at a time when working people can attend. When parents don’t show up it’s often because they can’t, not because they don’t want to.
Get the kids to bring their parents. If Science Night is Thursday, I remind students about the event every day for a week about the upcoming event so that excitement builds and there’s no way anyone can forget. The same is true for parent conferences, Back to School Night, etc. If the students want to come, they’ll bring their parents whenever possible.
Learn the language. If your parents do not speak English, you need to learn a little bit of their native language. Many teachers resent this and there’s no law that says you have to. However, if you want parents to feel comfortable, you need to at least be able to say hello. I speak Spanish horribly. Students usually laugh when I speak it. However, parents have always appreciated when I am able to conduct parent conferences in Spanish and attendance has increased once parents know that I can communicate with them. Substitute another language with Spanish if Spanish is not the language of your community.
Give control of your room over to students. I let students put their own work up on bulletin boards. This means they know where their own work is and feel more ownership of the room. I do straighten the boards up a little if they end up looking too messy but I’m not one of those teachers who won’t put up a bulletin without the use of a level so if things are slightly off kilter but student created I prefer it.
Teach students to be hosts in your room. Once I asked a parent if she’d like to see the report her child had been working on and the parent told me, no. However, when I tell Suzy, a student in my class, to show her mom around, no one ever refuses. Parents prefer to hear from their own child what they’ve been working on in class.
Make it an Event. We used science night as our movie premiere night. Many fellow teachers thought that was cheating. Our movie was about animal camouflage so I think it counts. The evening began, however, with hands-on activities centered on the butterfly life cycle, then continued with student presentations, and as if that wasn’t enough, we scheduled a volcano explosion (the old vinegar and baking soda trick) as the finale to our evening. The evening was undoubtedly fun.
Make it Visual. Particularly if you have parents who speak another language, school is a much more comfortable place if they are able to understand what’s going on. Movies, hands-on activities, and explosions lend themselves to comprehension more easily than lectures.
I could add, serve refreshments though I confess I rarely do. It’s a great idea.
What are your tips?