Some Suggestions for Bringing the Community to School

  • Sponsor evening study groups where parents can explore the same educational issues teachers and administrators are learning about — integrated curriculum, advisories, heterogeneous grouping, exhibitions.
  • Have public exhibitions of student work, formally presenting the best projects before the community. Make sure student work actually addresses important questions in rigorous ways; weak presentations trivialize Essential School ideas. Invite community members to serve as a panel of judges, especially when their expertise makes that particularly relevant.
  • Redistribute money to pay parents modest hourly fees to help as classroom aides. They can work individually with students to keep them up to speed where necessary in difficult readings or projects.
  • Take parents, students, and school board members along to symposia and conferences on important change topics. Supply good readings on school reform to everyone who shows interest in running for the school board.
  • Don’t explain — experience! Get parents and community members into the classroom to actually try out the same kinds of assignments their kids are being asked to do. Some schools have “family math nights”; others get adults exploring essential questions in collaborative groups.
  • Some “choice” schools require parents to attend teacher-parent conferences if the student is to remain enrolled. Many also insist students be present at conferences, as the key players in their own education.
  • Advisory groups spur parental involvement, because concerned parents can contact one person who knows their child well, not several who don’t. Many schools have regular “advisory breakfasts” where parents come in for coffee and conversation about (and with) their kids.
  • Invite small groups of half a dozen people influential in the community to meet with the principal to share their perceptions of student learning. Church leaders, higher (or lower) education people, business people, and civic leaders appreciate the attention to their concerns.