Study Group – Parental Engagement

Our district does a great job promoting professional development from within.  There are a number of opportunities for us as administrators (as I posted here).  I am involved in a Study Group focusing on 21st Century Learning and Engaging the Digital Learner.  We are concentrating our discussions right now on the book: Leading 21st Century Schools.  We have a private wiki that we add our comments about each chapter to regularly.

This past week, we had one of our Study Group meetings where we met in person (and not just “online” in our wikispace).  We were fortunate to have a guest come speak with us about Parental Engagement (with or without technology).  I want to thank Heidi Hass Gable (@HHG on Twitter) for joining us during our study group session. We learned a great deal and got a number of practical ideas for engaging parents in our schools.

We started our session together talking about iPads, different apps, and answering questions for one another. It was a great sharing session, in which all of us learned a lot I think. Heidi was a great help in this area as well.  As time ticked on, we continued our talk with Heidi about parental engagement.  She asked us a number of questions, including, “What does parental engagement mean to you? What does it look like in your schools? What has been your experience with parental involvement/engagement?”  Very powerful and thought-provoking questions, indeed.

Many of us talked about parent involvement /engagement being dependent on the location of your school.  Most of us discussed how parental involvement has been very superficial – often involving parents volunteering to organize hot lunches or participate in other fund-raising events.  There were very few real examples of how parents are really “engaged” in their children’s learning – at school or at home.

So…. how do you engage families in their child(ren)’s education in a meaningful way?

To make real engagement happen, parents (and/or guardians) need to feel included (even if they are not able to be physically present at the school).  They need to feel like the staff are not strangers. They need to build relationships with us. Once we build these relationships other things will fall into place, but building these relationships is the essential first step.

We talked about how there should be a multi-touch approach for reaching our families. One way just is not enough with our ever-changing, complex families we have in our schools.  Here are some suggestions for engaging families in our schools (thanks Heidi):

Keep new families in mind and at the forefront – ensuring they feel comfortable and welcome.  This could be done in a number of ways:

  • Perhaps have a mentorship approach where a PAC member could be responsible for contacting new families, introducing themselves, and answering any questions these families may have throughout the year.  We often do this with new staff members, why not with new families?
  • Have a video tour posted on the school website for families to watch to help become familiar with the school.  Students could help make this video.  You would want to include things that you would want new families to know – perhaps have a voice thread, explaining important points.
  • Have a map of the school on the website to help families become familiar with the school.
  • Have teacher’s photos on the school website. There is comfort for parents when they have a face to go with the name of their child’s teacher.  Of course, some staff members may not want their image online, so that is something that needs to be taken into consideration first.  Many schools have photos of the staff members prominently posted near the office or in one of the main hallways.  This is also very helpful.

In addition to making new families feel welcome and comfortable, it is important to engage our families in what is happening in our school. There are a number of ways this can be done – again a multi-touch approach is most beneficial.

Daily Class Notes. Have notes posted on the school website about things that are happening around the school or in various classes.  This could be done each day as a school or by an individual teacher on his/her individual class blog.  To engage parents in their children’s learning, it is imperative that we help parents understand what we are doing inside the schoolroom doors regularly.  Instead of hearing their children answer their question, “What did you do at school today?” with, “Nothing.”, the parents read about and see important events on the class/school website and then follow-up with specific questions and/or additional follow-up or learning extensions at home. This is powerful engagement!

  • We talked about how many teachers may not feel comfortable (technologically speaking) having a class blog. Posterous was brought up as an easy tool for updating blogs, facebook, and twitter. Apparently, once it is set up, all you need to know how to do is send an email.  Sounds pretty easy, and user-friendly. It also sounds like a great place to start. Teachers could make this a part of their daily writing curriculum, where a different student each day could write about something they learned, something they liked, or they could write about their favourite part of the day. For those in SD#36 – This may be even easier to do once Sharepoint is introduced in our district.
  • Monthly newsletters – this is often done now, but just a monthly newsletter, is not enough – it’s often too little, too late for families to engage in what is happening in the school.  Because the newsletter is only sent home once each month, it often has a great deal of information. This amount of information may be overwhelming to some of our ELL (English Language Learners) families or it may just take too much time to go through carefully.  Parents may mean to read it over, but in the day-to-day events that overtake our life, the school’s monthly newsletter may fall to the bottom of the pile. Unfortunate, but true for many.
  • Facebook Page – It is so important to go where parents are and not always expect them to come to us.  Principal, Chris Wejr has a School Facebook page for the school community of Kent Elementary. It is a great communication tool.
  • Take Advantage. Think about how we are leveraging parent participation at events they are already attending.  We need to take advantage of the times when parents are already present in the school, to help them understand important things we want them to understand.  For instance, we may want to have a classroom set up to explain centers-based learning, or how to set up an RSS feed, or to explain a specific reading strategy.  So, instead of them just attending the Christmas concert or Science Fair, for instance, have them attend the Christmas concert AND go to one of the learning centers to learn about something we want to focus on as a school.
  • Create a School Success Blog where you post about positive things that are happening at your school each week. Take a look at the pages developed by principals Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) and Shawn Davids (@sdavids51).  This is a great way to engage parents in a positive way.  Here is the Success Blog I just created for our school.
  • I am thinking it would be fun to have students write a short comment each day about something they have learned, done, or enjoyed on that particular day to add to our Success Blog.  Each week, we could have a different class participate in adding blog entries.

You may want to read these blog posts by Chris Wejr.  He works hard to engage parents in his school.

Parent Communication: TO vs. WITH

Using Tech to Meet Parents Where They Are

Power of Positivity – The Friday Five

Building Trust With Parents

As leaders, it is important for us to be models, cheerleaders, learners, and helpers.  We are the inspiration to many who may not even think of changing anything.  With these things in mind, and thinking of our digital immigrant teachers, it is important to start small.  For instance, give teachers one idea and move on from there.  Help teachers as they need assistance.

As leaders, we need to remember that learning is messy. We should not feel like we have to be the expert. Be uncomfortable and be okay with it.

As you can see, we talked about a lot of great ideas during our Study Group session.  I look forward to our next meeting together in January.

We are all learning together.

If you want to know more about Heidi, you can learn more by reading her blogs or following her on Twitter @HHG.

I have listed only a few ways to help engage parents in our schools.  So, now some questions for you…

What does parental engagement mean to you?

What does it look like in your schools?

What has been your experience with parental involvement/engagement?

Published by Tia M. Dawson

There are many things that define who I am as a person. First of all, I am a mother of 3 wonderful children! I can not express how fortunate we are to have our children in our life! Secondly, I am an elementary educator who recently returned to the classroom after 12+ years as an elementary school administrator. Lastly, I am passionate about helping others, learning about abuse, helping others in abusive relationships, and helping others understand their worth.

5 thoughts on “Study Group – Parental Engagement

  1. Great blog!!! Such a good questions. I think the fact that we talk about engagement means we are truly focused on getting past the superficial-ness you are referring to when talking about newsletters. It is so important that we make sure that parents are an active, important part of our school community and not an after thought that we simply convey information to and ask to fundraise for us. Love that Surrey is working so actively on this issue. Well done Tia.

    1. Hey Shawn,

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, engagement is so very important – especially today in the digital world. Technology allows us to do so much to engage and involve our parent community. We need to take advantage of technology and the difference it can make.

      Thanks again, Shawn,

  2. Great post. I am also working hard at my school to connect with parents. We have several online ways to do this. They can all be accessed through our website at
    We have a school facebook and twitter account. We also have a “good news” blog and student showcase website to give our parents a glimpse of what goes on at their child’s school. Finally, we use constant contact to send school wide emails.

    1. Hi Mike,

      I look forward to looking at your website you posted. There are so many ways to meaningfully connect with families. I can’t wait to see what you all do. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your ideas (and website). What is Constant Contact, by the way? Is it difficult to set up?

      It is so important for parents to be able to see what is happening in the school. Blogging is a wonderful way to do this!

      Thanks again,

  3. Such an interesting post. I’m a single parent who works full time during the same hours as school is in session for my daughter. While I want to be involved in my daughter’s school and education, it seems I’m stymied at times. If I might perhaps make some observations that may (or may not) help in your discussion.

    In the school my daughter attends there seems to be a great divide between parents who have the ability to come into the school during regular school hours (either they are stay at home parents, work from home parents, or parents who work different hours than school hours) and the parents who generally do not have the ability to come into the school during regular school hours. The parents who are able to come in often volunteer at the school doing such things as helping in the office, helping in the classrooms, helping children learn to read, working on PAC committees and working on fund raising activities. These parents become very familiar with the school and get to know the teachers and admin staff. They know which classroom is the designated music or computer room. They can speak to their chilren’s teacher whenever it is convenient. They can come and hear the poetry readings, see the plays, and attend the assemblies. They can sign up for in-take meetings because they are there in the school when the sign up board is posted. They can check the school activity calendar in the office and see what is upcoming.

    On the other hand, for parents who cannot come into the school during the daytime, it is another story. We may come into the school itself only a few times per year so while we may know how to get to the gym because we’ve attended a concert, we don’t know where the music room is or which room “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones” teaches in. We don’t have access to the school activity calendar so we don’t know what days the Christmas concerts are scheduled for until it is posted in a newsletter. Unfortunately, that newsletter may be sent out only 10 days before the actual concerts so it can be difficult to arrange time off work which such short notice. Forget about coming in to hear your child reading poetry or acting in a play, because we only get a day or so notice of that. Sometimes we might like to participate in a school fundraiser but we can’t because the items that are being purchased (i.e. spring flowers, poinsettias, frozen foods) are being distributed only between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on a weekday. I’ve attended PAC meetings and let them know that I’m quite willing to help out where I can but that I’m pretty much only available in the evenings. I’ve been told that almost everything they do is done during the day and on the school property so we’re at a stalemate. If I want to have a parent teacher meeting after report cards are issued, it seems the only times the teachers are available are either right before school starts or immediately after school ends for the day – again not a very good time frame for working parents.

    I’m not saying it’s all bad. The school does have a website and they do try to put information on it but sometimes they do get behind in posting or they don’t post information far enough in advance. Some teachers are trying to use daily blogs so parents can learn what their children have been up to during the day but it appears to be only those teachers who are comfortable with using technology.

    I think if administrators and teachers were to assume that parents are working during daytime hours and need notice of events in order to attend then that could help on some of the issues. Posting a map of the school, both at the front entrance and on a website, and listing which teachers are teaching in which classrooms would be helpful. If any classrooms are designated for music or computers then that could be listed too. Perhaps closing the school for an afternoon or two and having the teachers available from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. for parent teacher meetings after report cards would enable more parents to come in and meet the teachers. I remember that this was done back when I was in school and I graduated 30 years ago, so it’s nothing new. More and more we have either two working parent families or single working parent families so I think we must try to accommodate that fact. The days are gone when the majority of families had a parent at home during daytime hours.

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