Research continues to underscore what common sense has always told us: Families have a major influence on our students’ personal and academic success. According to an annual report by the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, students with engaged parents, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status are more likely to:
• Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs.
• Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits.
• Attend school regularly.
• Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school.
• Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.
So how do we better engage parents?
5 Ways Schools Can Improve Parent Engagement
Stop trying to involve; start trying to engage
Many of us have a habit of using “involvement” and “engagement” interchangeably, but I would argue that there is a clear distinction between engaging parents and involving them.
A school striving for family involvement talks; it makes a list of projects, needs, fundraisers and tells parents how they can help. But schools who engage rely on their ears; they view the school-parent relationship as a partnership, a reciprocal relationship where faculty not only leads, but also listens and allows itself to be led by parents.
Make the first encounter a positive one
Too often our first encounter with parents doesn’t happen until we either need something—volunteers, donations, and the like—or are calling them with foreboding news about their son or daughter’s behavioral or academic problems. This is a mistake.
What if the first encounter was one in which we gave back to them, or one in which we simply called them to report good news about their child? No fundraising, no signup sheets, no membership recruitment or bad news…just a simple phone call where you call to introduce yourself and brag about something their child did at school.
Open new lines of communication
According to a 2013 survey by We Are Teachers, 64 percent of teachers still use hard copy flyers and notes to convey messages to parents, but it turns out that one third of parents prefer electronic communication. You may not be able to eliminate your ink, paper, and postage costs right away since not all families have access to home computers or smartphones, but you can open new lines of communication for free by simply starting a school blog or Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Follow up with parents
Have you ever given a gift, but never received acknowledgement or thanks from the recipient? That stings a little, doesn’t it? Imagine how parents feel when they volunteer at our schools, but only get a generic shout-out in the following month’s newsletter—or worse yet, get no acknowledgement at all.
Always let parents know how much you appreciate them. You might consider sending them student-created thank you cards, hand-written notes from you, or even a short thank-you video that you post to your school’s social media pages.
Allow them to contribute more than their time
Partnerships, like relationships, thrive when both parties communicate openly. If you truly want parents to be a part of your team, allow them to contribute their ideas, not just their Saturday mornings or weekday evenings.