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Research proves students whose caretakers are active in their education do better in school, regardless of their background. Their grades are higher, attendance is more regular and they’re more motivated to stay in school. This is why, as a teacher, one of your priorities should be engaging parents and families in the classroom.
However, doing so is usually more complicated than you’d think. Language and socioeconomic boundaries become a stumbling block for parents who would otherwise participate. Some families are also naturally suspicious of the school system. It’s your job to bridge those gaps and keep parents and loved ones involved for the benefit of your students.
1. Build a Relationship Early
It’s essential to start the year off right with your students’ families. At the minimum, you can send a letter or an email introducing yourself and discussing any other important details.
However, you can take this a step further by opening yourself up more to parents before the school year begins. Set up video or in-person conferences the week before school starts or in the evenings during the first week of school.
You can also ask parents for more details about their kids. Emphasize the teamwork you want to establish with them so you can all best support the kids.
2. Open the Lines of Communication
Many teachers send home letters and the occasional call if behaviors pop up and leave communication at that. What they miss is that engaging parents and families is a two-way street. In order to feel part of their children’s education, loved ones need to have ways to talk to you regularly.
Work with your district to find appropriate ways to open those lines of communication. Some prefer you stick with brief messages in planners, official letters or emails. Others are more open to social media or messaging systems like Class Dojo.
It’s best to use similar communication to your colleagues, so parents don’t have to manage multiple apps just to talk to their children’s teachers.
3. Discuss the Positive
Make an effort to vary your communication with your students’ loved ones. Too many educators wait to call home until they see a problem. Caretakers are far less likely to continue contact with teachers when it’s only for issues.
Keep track of your calls or messages about students. Aim for one positive communication about each student per marking period.
4. Ask for Help and Input
Engaging parents and families in their children’s education is much easier when they feel you’re all on one team. Make them feel welcome by asking for their help and inviting them to share their input. Parents may have ideas you wouldn’t have considered before.
They also have unique insights and experiences with their children you’ll never be able to replicate. Accept their knowledge and use it to your students’ advantage.
5. Open Your Classroom
Now that school districts are relaxing their policies on visitors once again, you may be able to welcome parents and families back into the classroom. Send out information about volunteering at your school. Create a Google calendar where loved ones can sign up to come in and help with centers or share a story with the class.
As you move through your curriculum, find ways to incorporate your students’ families. Do they have an exciting career they could share? Perhaps they have religious or cultural traditions they could teach your students. You’ll only know if you ask.
6. Keep “Work” to a Minimum
Many parents long to help their kids with school work but don’t know how or are too overwhelmed to start. Help them out by sending instructions for exactly how they can support their kids at home.
Resist the urge to over-instruct, though. Sending a list of helpful suggestions may encourage further feelings of overwhelm. Instead, give them one or two ways at a time they can help.
7. Set Them Up for Success
When you ask families to work on a project or skill with students, you should give them everything they need to succeed. Some parents may lack the resources necessary to complete what you’re asking.
You should also prepare directions with pictures or in Spanish to support families who speak other languages. If you’re frustrated that parents aren’t completing assignments with their kids or aren’t communicating with you, language or finances may be the barrier, not laziness.
Continue Engaging Parents and Families Through Gratitude
Perhaps the best way to keep engaging parents and families is to make them aware of their contributions’ impact. Your regular communication with them can reinforce this idea.
Always remember to show your gratitude when you see the difference their involvement is making in your kids’ behaviors and performance. Loved ones will be more likely to continue engaging with the school when they feel appreciated and see the outcome of their efforts.