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.
- Make Positive Phone Calls, as Chris Wejr does at his school.
You may want to read these blog posts by Chris Wejr. He works hard to engage parents in his school.
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?