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John Monfredo: Welcoming Families to Worcester Public Schools

Saturday, August 25, 2012

 

Getting parents involved in their child's early education is essential

As we begin the new school year it is so essential that our schools view parent involvement as a priority. Over 30 years of research suggests that it makes a difference for students when schools, families, and communities connect their efforts. You don’t need to be a researcher to know that family involvement can make a positive difference in school attendance, student behavior, and academic achievement. As a former principal I can attest to the fact that involving parents in the learning process works and makes for a very positive environment at the school. Most parents are willing to help make their school better but they need to feel that they are part of the school.

What is needed is for schools to develop and ensure that parent involvement is embraced and not just given lip service. Here are some ideas:

WELCOME FAMILY MEMBERS TO THE SCHOOL. If schools don’t, the lack of positive interaction will stifle family-school connections.
- Let's post welcoming signs in hallways that direct families to a staff member who will make sure their needs are met. Place signs on the doors welcoming parents to the school in various languages.

- Invite family members to eat lunch with their children. (I can tell you that it works, for I did it at Belmont Community School. We don’t have to feed the parents, for they can bring in a lunch and spend time with their child. How about having lunch with parents on the first Friday of every month?)

- Invite family members to visit their children’s classroom during instructional time when a new concept is introduced so that they can experience what the children are doing firsthand. (Parents are the child’s first and most influential teachers and educators need to reach out and have all of our parents work in a school partnership. Inviting parents into the school for a special workshop does work and it serves as a way for the parents to assist their child at home.) 

- Have staff make phone calls to invite families to participate in special events, meetings or other activities and call parents with good news. (Here in Worcester we do have the Connect Ed. system where the school can invite parents to special events via the telephone. Hopefully, we are doing this in all of our schools. LET’S GO A STEP FURTHER AND CALL PARENTS WITH GOOD NEWS! It could because a child had success on a test, or just had a great day in school. Let me tell you it works, for I did it for over 20 years. Parents loved hearing good news and were more receptive in coming to school because of the call. At present many parents do not feel that they are part of the educational process therefore we need to invite them to come on in. Let’s start with that one positive telephone call.)

- The Worcester Public Schools has another way of communicating with parents this year. The newest version of Blackboard Connect will allow parents to sign-up for e-mail notification and allow schools to send notices home through e-mail. This new feature will be available this school year. The system will have phone call, e-mail, and text messaging capabilities as methods of sending messages to parents. Principals will be trained on the new features of the system.

- If the school has the room, create a comfortable family resource room inside the school building where families can meet, get to know each other and discuss their interests and concerns. Stock the family room with books, games and learning materials that families can borrow. (This concept also works for I did it when I was principal.)

• REMEMBER ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH - Once first contact is made, school staff needs to continue to contact parents on a regular schedule.
- Let families know communication is not a one-time action. Give them a timeline of when to expect periodic newsletters or other communications. (This does take work, but in the long run it’s worth the effort for our parents are our most important resources.)
- Repeat key actions on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, if families know to expect communications every Friday, they will look for this information. These communications can be about the next week’s assignments, upcoming events, or suggested learning strategies to use at home. (Through Connect Ed and through a monthly newsletter parents should expect to be informed about pertinent information about their child’s classroom and if communication does not occur, parents need to ask about it.)

• TAKE TIME TO TALK TO PARENTS ABOUT WHAT THEY BELIEVE AND KEEP THAT DOOR OF COMMUNICATION OPEN... One of those common assumptions in education is that everyone has the same belief or understanding about student learning. This is actually seldom true. Therefore consider these ideas:
- Educators should meet with family members and talk about key classroom issues such as student learning and classroom expectations. These sessions can be formal or informal.
- Be sure the first contact with parents is a positive one
- Try to accommodate parents' work schedules and cultural differences
- Encourage active parent participation in student learning

Remember, all of us need to work together to support our children. My advice for our schools come next week is to put out the welcome mat and create a school climate that supports family involvement. It’s a WIN WIN for everyone… especially for our children. 

 

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