Effective Ways to get Parents More Involved in the Classroom
Parental support is a big indicator in student achievement, according to the National Education Association. That doesn’t always mean, however, that parents participate in their children’s lives the way they should. Luckily, getting parents involved in the classroom doesn’t need to be difficult. Good teachers who want their students to succeed should find ways to encourage even the most uninvolved parents to step up their game in small ways.
Initiate parent contact early on
This does not need to be as aggressive as it sounds. Rather, Project IDEAL recommends that teachers merely make sure that they have as many small, low-pressure interactions with parents as they can within the first few weeks of school starting in order to better understand who is raising their students.
These interactions can take many forms, such as inviting small conversations during drop-off and pick-up, making short introductory phone calls, or sending home a letter. This letter could ask questions “about the interests of the child, additional siblings, languages spoken in the home, parent interests, work schedules, phone numbers, eating habits, allergies, and any other information that could help the teacher better understand the child.” Only if contact is difficult to establish in one of these forms should the teacher insist on a more formal introduction.
Provide opportunities for easy participation
Field trips are all well and good, but parents who cannot take a full day off of work during the week will miss out on these opportunities again and again, even if they want to go along. This goes for holiday celebrations and field days that are long or occur in the middle of the day as well.
Instead, provide smaller opportunities for classroom participation, such as early morning activities that only take an hour or two. That way a parent can help with the activity before leaving for work, or take off a small portion of the day instead of the whole thing. Plan birthday and holiday celebrations for the very end of the day instead of lunchtime or early afternoon to increase the likelihood that parents will be able to attend, and keep your classroom open as long as you can during after-school functions like Parents’ Night to increase the number who will be able to make it and the time they will be able to stay there.
Bring the classroom to parents
In her article “Setting a Parent Trap,” Emma Chadband recommends a series of steps a teacher can take to bring the classroom to parents. Or, in other words, trap them into involvement whether or not they’d ordinarily do so on their own. Her many recommendations include:
- Sending home postcards with pictures of student work on them, reporting on student progress
- Baking something special for parents night to give them small, “sweet” reasons to visit the classroom
- Going where the parents are, like grocery stores where they commonly do their shopping
- Involving the children in their conferences
- Being flexible with meeting times to work around parent schedules
- Setting up parent-oriented meeting times in cafeterias that help families build community amongst themselves
- Instituting home visits if necessary and your school allows it
- Being culture conscious, so as not to unintentionally preclude parent participation and student success
Although these ideas represent a wide variety of approaches to parent involvement, they all share the core principal of widening the classroom beyond its usual bounds so that parents with schedule restrictions or general disinterest can easily participate in the learning environment without going out of their way.
Make it mandatory
Staying updated on schoolwork may not be a parent’s first choice, but by institutionalizing small steps that familiarize them with their student’s schoolwork, they will spend at least a few minutes each day involved with their child. In addition to traditional letters for field trips, immunizations and so on, send home calendars that remind parents of important dates, and require signatures on big assignments or projects. Also make sure to request parent input on anything from projects to field trips to give them classroom buy-in.