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5 Tips to Increase Parental Involvement at Schools

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Teachers know that parents have a huge impact on their children’s learning. That’s true whether parents are talking to their kids about homework or taking part in a PTA meeting. So how can teachers take advantage of this huge source of support?

Start by using the Web to collect and communicate information. “Class Web sites with postings of upcoming events, needed supplies and information about curriculum are a great way to keep a lot of information in one place,” says Amy Wright, the principal of Edwin R. Opstad Elementary School in North Bend, WA. “Weekly email newsletters, with paper copies for those families without Internet access, are also helpful.”

Here are five tips to get parents more involved and to improve your students’ experience:

1. Enlist Parent Volunteers for School Events

It’s no secret that school staff members are overworked. They teach all day, and on top of that, they need to plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, grade homework and, with some luck, find a minute to breathe. Teaching is an around-the-clock job—and that’s why parents are such crucial volunteers for school events.

When working with parent volunteers, connect them with opportunities they’ll enjoy, says Heather Gallagher, the director of advancement for the Woods Charter School Foundation, in Chapel Hill, NC. One parent may be a music buff and may want to DJ a fundraiser. Another might prefer to sell raffle tickets and cheer when someone wins an iPod.

“We give our parents different options,” she says. “I always say, ‘Don’t do it because you have to. Find something that you’re interested in or that fits your schedule well so that it helps you connect to the school.’”

Gallagher adds that it’s important to remain flexible with parents’ schedules. Finding time to plan an event can be tough, and schools can help by offering opportunities for parents to work independently at times that suit them best.

2. Ask Parents to Help in the Classroom

You can bet teenagers don’t want to see their mothers during 4th-period history. But for younger students, seeing Mom and Dad at school can be an exciting event.

And parents can be a huge help in the classroom. That’s especially true with a messy—and potentially chaotic—lesson that involves arts and crafts. Again, the key is to remain flexible and accommodating.

“You have to feel out what they’re comfortable with,” says Katie Prussia, a 6th- to 8th-grade reading and language arts teacher at Mullens Middle School in Mullens, WV. She gives parents a list of duties to choose from. “That’s how you keep the parent volunteers coming back: giving them a positive experience, too.”

3. Keep Parents Updated on Homework

Of course students’ educations don’t end at the sound of the last bell. Parents continue to support crucial after-school learning, so keep them informed about homework and progress.

Some parents might be technophiles, says Caleb Cummings, a 1st grade English-as-a-second-language teacher at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago, IL, and they are likely reachable by email. But other parents, including those who don’t have Internet access, might require low-tech methods. Ask parents their preferred mode of communication and use it for routine communication.

“If I saw a student who is consistently not doing the assignments, then I would probably just call the parents,” he says.

Keep a log of your phone calls with parents and photocopy notes you send home. Then file all these records in a large binder so you can easily find them when following up or planning for parent-teacher conferences.

4. Crowdsource School Supplies from Parents

While every classroom needs paper, pens or other basic school supplies, it’s particularly important to provide them for children who can’t afford their own. Prussia solicits the generous support of her school’s families.

“I have a stash of notebooks and loose-leaf paper,” she says. “I have tissues and pencils and pens—things that parents have given. Parents know they can help students that can’t get these things. It’s the good in them that allows some of these students to be successful.”

5. Show Parents You Appreciate Their Help

No matter how parents contribute, be sure to show your appreciation. You can get creative and organize your school’s choir to sing a song of praise for parents. Free food is also a perennial favorite at school events. It’s hard to ignore a PTA meeting when there’s a stack of free pizza involved. Or get students to write thank-you notes or make drawings and paintings.

Even small gestures make volunteering parents feel appreciated and energized to do more for your school. And with these five tips, you’ll be able to create a stronger bond that will benefit your students.

Gabe Rivin is the owner of The Piedmont Pen, a freelance writing and editing company. He used to work in middle schools where he taught English and journalism and tried to keep order in the lunch hall. He currently writes for a wide variety of clients, including school districts, businesses, news sites and professional basketball teams. Find Gabe on Linkedin.

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