My second-grade teacher was easily one of the most influential teachers I had throughout my education. She was supportive, kind, and encouraging to every student in my class. I still remember the day she spent the entire hour we normally dedicated to social studies convincing us that the words ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ should never be used as insults towards another person—an important lesson for second graders to learn.
However, despite how engaging she was in the classroom, her real magical teacher power was her engagement outside of the classroom. My parents knew what I was learning before I could even tell them about it because of my teacher’s thorough, weekly newsletters. She always brought me into the conversation at parent-teacher conferences so it became more of a discussion rather than a meeting.
My teacher understood the importance of parent engagement in our education.
She had special, unique ways to involve parents in their child’s education. In part one of the Beyond Bake Sales series, we learned why parent engagement in schools is so important. We also gave some tips for parents to become more involved. Now the attention is on the teachers. Read on to discover how, as educators, parent engagement is possible.
Part One: Meaningful Parent Engagement in Schools
In part one of this series, we discussed some of the benefits of parent engagement in children’s education. We discussed how any parent can be engaged on a superficial scale, by contributing to bake sales and chaperoning field trips. But more meaningful parent engagement benefits the child and community.
Essentially, parents need to be able and willing to continue their child’s learning beyond the time they spend in the classrooms.
This could look like allowing more time for imaginative play to support children’s cognitive and emotional growth. Although it can be difficult for working parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, these meetings are key to fostering a teacher-parent relationship beyond just emails and newsletters.
The benefits of this type of deeper involvement cannot be understated. Students whose parents are more engaged in their education have a higher success rate. They are also less likely to act out in the classroom and have better attendance overall.
So, we know that meaningful parent engagement is important. Let’s understand how teachers and school administrators can develop ways to involve parents in their child’s education.
How to Involve Parents in Childhood Education
1. Start with Communication
In part one, we met Veronica Crespin-Palmer. As a teacher turned activist, she helps parents and schools navigate children’s education. In her TEDxMileHigh talk, she mentions several barriers families face when they try to be involved. “Barriers like school communications that are only in English when a family’s native language is Nepali,” she says.
Teachers, weekly newsletters, and individual student feedback are very time consuming, meticulous tasks. If you are going to the trouble to provide all of this information for parents, it would be best if the parents could understand what they are reading.
If applicable, send a newsletter home that is both in English and languages you know are spoken by the families of your students. When you know the parents of a certain student speak a language you are unable to translate, make sure the student understands what the information says and have them be the translator or hire an online translator. You can’t expect a parent to know and continue their child’s education at home if they can’t understand what they are learning in the classroom in the first place.
2. Get Creative
Newsletters and parent meetings are a good place to start. But don’t be afraid to implement more unconventional ways for parents to understand what their child is doing in the classroom. In an article written for the National Education Association, several educators shared unique ways they were able to engage the parents of their students.
One teacher mentioned adding a disposable camera to her students’ supply list. “I snap special moments that happen during the school year (things that parents miss). When it’s filled, I send it home. Parents can have it developed and send in another if they wish. It’s a great way to capture school experiences.”
Child learning can go far beyond what they read in books and learn through worksheets. Life lessons are learned through experiences. What better way to include parents in these learning moments than to capture it in a photo.
Another teacher mentioned her classroom newspaper. Her students write and edit the weekly newsletter in the form of a newspaper. They choose what events to include and each edition goes home with every student. “It’s a fun way to communicate with parents and publish students’ writing.”
These are just a few examples of creative ways to involve parents in their child’s education. While some of these strategies require teachers to invest more time, the educators that contributed to the article swore that the sacrifice was worth it. Their jobs were much easier when parents were more involved.
3. Find a Way to Incorporate Both Parents
In part one, we discussed how engagement in schools and child care, in general, often fall inherently on the maternal figure in a family. While parent engagement in education should be a joint effort, it can be hard to appeal to both parents.
The Guardian reported a clever way to entice fathers to attend parent nights. “I know of schools that have done things like getting the manager of the local football team to give an address at a parents’ evening–it got a lot of dads in,” says Janet Goodall, a lecturer with expertise in parent engagement at the University of Bath.
The manager of a football team might not be as attainable for all teachers. But, finding a way to entice both parents to attend information nights and conferences will ensure your efforts are heard by the whole family. Hopefully, both parents will take the information you give them and find ways to be equally involved.
4. Include Family Beyond the Parents
Back to my magical second-grade teacher. Every spring she hosted a ‘Grandparent and Me Day’. It was a day our class prepared for throughout the month. We produced a short play and picked out our favorite projects from the year to put on display.
On the day of the event, our grandparents joined in on the second half of our school day. We put on our play and they got to see our best work from the year. The day ended with ice-cream. Not only was this a special memory I will always have, but it was also a clever way to incorporate the whole family into our education.
Both of my parents knew what I was up to at school, and after Grandparent and Me Day, so did my grandma. She enjoyed getting to meet my teacher and see my work—and I loved showing it all off.
Grandparent and Me Day took some preparation and extra time, but I know how special it was to my grandma and me, something my teacher recognized. She knew all of the work would be worth it when our class could share a special day with our grandparents. She also knew she could gain support and engagement from more than just her students’ parents.
US Teachers Need More Support
It would be unfair to publish this call to action for teachers to give more of themselves and their time without recognizing their circumstances. “US teachers overall make some of the lowest relative salaries of educators in any developed country,” according to the World Economic Forum.
So why, in comparison, do U.S. teachers make substantially less money than teachers in other countries? The Washington Post argues that part of the problem is due to the way Americans view education. “Europe’s social welfare states generally perceive education as a right rather than as a privilege,” says foreign affairs reporter Nick Rovack. “The importance of public education has translated into higher pay for teachers, who also often benefit from robust employment laws for public servants,” he says.
As a society, our mindset around public education needs to change.
Teachers must be viewed as vital professionals for the next generation’s future and paid as such. It is important to involve parents in their child’s education, yes. But teachers cannot do everything themselves, and we cannot expect them to take on more work without the proper support.
It’s All Worth it
In her talk, Crespin-Palmer advocates for the power of families when they are fully incorporated into their children’s education. When she made an effort to include parents in the classroom, her job got a lot easier. And, the students in her kindergarten class started to excel far beyond other classes.
Taking some extra time to find ways to involve parents in their child’s education will lift the entire community. Your job will be easier. Your students’ grades, behavior, and attendance will improve. Parents will be more willing to support you if they know you are willing to support them.