At the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (the Met) in Providence, Rhode Island, Elayne Walker of the Big Picture Company has been working out ways to help draw in families to every aspect of school life. Parents help plan their child’s individual “learning through internship” program, help assess student exhibitions three times yearly, and buddy up with new parents to initiate them in school practices. Celebratory events, trips, and training programs on anger management and conflict resolution also involve them closely; and many serve as workplace mentors to Met students. From the experience, Walker has compiled the following list of what makes for effective parent-school relations.
1. Assume all parents to be caring and concerned about their child’s education and welfare. The attitudes with which teachers and administrators approach parents are very important to building the necessary relationships to foster student achievement.
2. Acknowledge and use as a resource the fact that parents are a child’s first teacher, and encourage that dynamic in their education at school and at home. Teachers should share insights about the child’s school life with parents and also get input from parents about how students learn.
3. Recruit families to enroll in your school and involve other family members in student work. When parents start their relationship with a school knowing what’s expected of them, they are more apt to make the commitment to fulfill those responsibilities.
4. Make a commitment on both sides that school personnel and parents will work with each other at set intervals. To develop partnerships with parents, both sides need consistent learning plan meetings or conferences to address student work or needs.
5. Vary the opportunities to involve families, and communicate a menu of opportunities. Because of varying life styles, family members need many opportunities to take part in the life of the school. Helping serve lunch, or attending board meetings or teacher meetings, family activities, and school celebrations create ways to do so at any hour of day or evening.
6. Accept suggestions for parent-driven ideas and activities and support them whether they happen or not. Parents who suggest activities, meetings, classes, or trips need encouragement and support. If a plan is not completed, offer to include that parent in the next school-sponsored event.
7. Develop a database that lets you know the profile of all your families, individually and collectively. This will help you generate telephone lists or group parents by expertise, interest, or geographical area, which helps in communicating with parents and in finding volunteers.
8. Allow parents to create a presence in the school. Designate a room or area in the school where parents can drop by and have coffee or chat with teachers and students.
9. Make clear the principal’s expectations for teachers in regard to family engagement. For example, the expectation might be that all telephone calls from parents will be returned within 24 hours, or that parent requests be honored within a week.
10. At the end of the school year, introduce the concepts in your family engagement plan for the following year. Make plans to start the year with a big event, outlining explicit expectations for both school and parents.
More information about the Met can be had in The New Urban High School: A Practitioner’s Guide, available from the Big Picture, 275B Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903; tel. (401) 456-0600 (401) 456-0600 .