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3 Practical Strategies for Improving Parent Involvement in Education
Parent involvement is crucial, especially in the early grades. As educators, we work hard to keep parents informed about what we’re doing in the classroom. We use fliers, emails and social media. We give them opportunities to volunteer, join the PTA and attend events.
However, with only a few parent conferences each year, it’s often difficult to find the time to communicate with parents on a more personal level – to share information about their child, as well as specific strategies or home activities that might guide ongoing growth and skill development. We know getting parents engaged at this level is the best way to help them become true partners in our students’ educational journeys, but getting this accomplished in a practical way is a real challenge.
The Relative Impact of Different Parent Involvement Programs
The Center for Public Education has summarized the telling results of a study called “Back to School: How parent involvement affects student achievement.” Researchers classified parent involvement opportunities into six categories: 1) parenting, 2) communicating, 3) volunteering, 4) learning at home, 5) decision-making and 6) community collaboration. After analyzing each one, they determined that some strategies are much more impactful than others when it comes to driving student achievement in a measurable way.
The researchers found that “Programs and interventions that engage families in supporting their children’s learning at home are linked to higher student achievement.” Some of the most successful programs reviewed included those that provided parents with home based activities or even workshops that educated parents about ways to use such activities with their children. Findings were consistent across income levels.
Putting it into Practice
So how can we apply these finding to our own classrooms? And how can we find the time? Here are three ideas.
- Use Assessment Data You Already Have
You’re already using interim assessments to help inform your instruction. Why not share some of the results with parents or use those results to recommend some specific next steps? For example, if you’re using Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) or MAP® for Primary Grades (MPG), you can use the Lexile information in your reports to recommend books to read at home and skill-specific RIT score ranges to give parents a list of skills to reinforce at home. If you’re using the Children’s Progress Academic Assessment™ (CPAA™), you can use the built-in parent reports (which include home-based activities in each skill area) to provide parents with a starting point.
When sharing assessment information with parents, remember to educate them about the difference between formative and summative uses of data. When parents understand that you use interim assessments throughout the year to help identify ways to adjust instruction (as opposed to simply how to grade their child), they will be much more receptive to discussing and working on the child’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Get More Out of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences
Conferences are a great opportunity to share updates with parents. But what if we could make this time even more valuable by asking parents to answer just a few questions in advance? This idea comes from our partner Teri Barnett, Director of Student Learning at the Epiphany School in Washington State.
Teri shares how this works at her school: “Parents and teachers independently complete a worksheet outlining a student’s strengths, affinities, and challenges in areas ranging from social-emotional skills to the 3 R’s. The teacher and the parents then sit down to share their mutual insights about a child and outline a plan to guide the child’s year… it emphasizes the fact that raising a child is a team effort involving home and school. It also provides a springboard for discussions that may be difficult in the future as it has opened up, in a non-threatening way, a conversation about what the child may be working on.”
- Prioritize the Personal Touch
This idea comes from our partner Kathy Rodriguez, a teacher at Milpitas Unified School District in California. Kathy sends weekly progress reports to parents on Fridays, with a short form stapled to the top of students’ graded papers and other work for the week.
Kathy explains: “The top of the form indicates what their child’s behavior was like for the week. For example: ___I had a Fantastic Week! ____I had trouble follow directions. ____I had trouble finishing my work in class this week. Please help me finish over the weekend and return on Monday, etc. At the bottom of the form is a place for my teacher comments, parent comments and teacher’s response to parent comments. Each week I write a comment to the parent regarding something that their child is doing well and I also indicate one thing that they need to work on. I will recommend a suggestion of something they could do at home to help their child.”
To save time, Kathy writes the notes throughout the week as she sees trouble areas or accomplishments. The parents love it and there are no surprises at conference time. Kathy says, “I have seen tremendous growth in my students and it is one way I know I am impacting student learning in my classroom.”
Have you used any of these parent involvement tactics in your own classroom? Do you have a strategy you find particularly helpful for engaging parents and helping them support classroom learning at home?