What's Happening in Character?

How to Overcome Common Challenges & Engage Parents

Posted by Calvary Diggs on Thu, Sep 3, 2015 @ 07:09 AM

This month, our Research Roundups are focusing on Parent and Community Engagement, and this is the second part of a two-part RR. The first RR addressed some common methods and ideas to promote family and community involvement in schools. This article is for those of you who are ready to get parents involved or have already made attempts.

You have ideas, and you’re ready to put the pedal to the metal and send your school on the fast track to parent and community involvement. But if you’re like most teachers, when the gears in your brain are whirling, you come up with a few good ideas and some potential challenges too. The last RR hopefully got your brain thinking, and this one will help address some of the roadblocks. Our list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but here are a few things that might come up and ways to problem solve them.

In General

Here is an article on parent involvement. Although, it’s somewhat dated, it does two things really well. First, it shows that getting parents involved has been a problem for a while – it isn’t specific to you and your school – you’re not alone, so don’t get discouraged!

Second, the article lists a number of “solutions,” or points of advice, for getting parents involved. At their core, these points reflect three core themes present in just about any article you’ll find on involvement: Understanding, Communication, and Outreach. Before we move on, let’s unpack what I mean:

  • Understanding: Schools/teachers must learn the needs of parents/community and establish themselves as a friendly part of existing dynamics.

  • Communication: Schools/teachers find effective ways of contacting parents and the community that are comfortable for both. This can be through home visits, utilizing the PTA/PTO, sending out newsletters, and/or contacting through phone/text/email/home visits.

  • Outreach: Schools/teachers work to meet a need in the community while addressing parent involvement. For example, in communities with English Language Learners, schools could start parent literacy classes.

It’s also important to know what parent-involvement looks like for you or your school, so that when you see it, you know.

Getting parents involved will undoubtedly require some problem-solving, and keeping these themes in mind will certainly help.

English Language Learner (ELL) Populations

This website provides a solid list of ideas for making families of ELLs feel welcome in the school and ways to get them involved. Some of the more interesting ones are learning a few common greetings and phrases in the other language build a sense of rapport with the families. Another is connecting parents with a parent/buddy mentor with knowledge and experience in parenting and education.

Chelsea Public Schools in Massachusetts has a great model for including ELL parents, especially with additional learning opportunities.

If there is a large population of students with the same first language, schools can build a sense of rapport early on by hosting Back to School Nights and Open Houses specifically for those families – just make sure you have (a) translators present.

In addition to providing a personal vignette of the challenges of ELL parents, this research article provides recommendations in the ‘Implications’ section. Some of these include communicating with parents often through various sources (email, text, verbal) and providing translations whenever possible, reporting negative and positive student behaviors to parents (helps build a positive association in the parent-child-school dynamic), connecting parents new to the school with “Veteran Parents” – like in a mentor system, and providing computer and library access to families.

Low-income families and communities & Hunger and Nutrition

This is always a tough predicament to navigate. You love your kids, but they aren’t able to focus in class because particular needs might not be met at home. And although you’re a great teacher, teachers and schools aren’t a cure-all for these sorts of problems. Despite these truths, schools, teachers, and communities can make a difference. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Our Schools of Character of often find ways to help their communities. Take a look at Sappington Elementary School’s “Community Store,” designed to provide particular resources that families might need at a minimal cost.

Remember that when addressing needs that students and families might lack, it’s best to draw community partners in early on. It leads to a greater sense of ownership, commitment, and sustained support from the outside organizations.

And if your school is particularly interested in establishing relationships with organizations and businesses in the community to address particular concerns, it could help to look at the website for Community School Partnerships.

Acknowledging and encouraging parent efforts are really important, especially for low SES communities. So have a definition of parent involvement so that staff knows it if they see it, and they can encourage and praise parents for their efforts.

Here is a link to an article about parent involvement, including recommendations from parents about what schools can do their children. Parents often want more communication, and they feel that they are especially lacking in knowledge concerning how their children can succeed in the educational process. Providing these particular resources through workshops could stimulate participation for these events and in the long-run.

Concluding Thoughts

Although you have some ideas to get started and lots of passion, it’s important to understand that not every parent will be receptive to your efforts. When this happens, it’s best to not get discouraged, avoid judging them, and keep moving forward. Remember this is a process, it’s tough, but well worth it.

Topics: parent involvement, Character Resource Roundup, English Language Learners