Once you have found the strategies that engage your parents, and have started to develop a cohort of families who respond to school communications and attend events, it’s time to start thinking about involving parents at a deeper level. Parents and families can be great resources, providing not just a presence, but expertise in many fields, perspectives from many different experiences, and inspiration for students and staff. Research is clear: deep and consistent family involvement benefits students directly and the school as a whole. From face painting to financial planning, parents can help deliver high quality programs and events, and boost sustainability for events and programming within the community.
You will need a coordinated, deliberate approach to deepening parent and guardian involvement if you really want to make things happen. This means intentional outreach on the part of designated school staff and other team members who have regular contact with parents, as well as a proactive Parent Association.
Some things to consider:
Assess your needs. What role can parents and guardians play that would fill a void or enhance the class/school culture? It may be a role in a single event or an ongoing role. I mentioned in a previous piece on empowering parents to advocate for their children that when my son was in 2nd grade, I was recruited to direct the play that the class performed for the whole school. The staff certainly could have taken on this task, but they saw a need that coincided with an opportunity and chose to get parents more fully involved.
Know your resources. Broaden your idea of who in the family is a valuable resource. Are there older siblings who can teach technology or serve as a host or DJ? They will be eagerly welcomed by younger students and relish the attention and accolades. Parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, and grandparents can get involved. For my son’s 2nd grade play, the teacher knew that I was teaching drama after school to students of different ages. She tapped into what I was good at and and loved doing, and took some of the burden for the event off her own plate in the process. I had an opportunity to get to know more of the students in the class and to guide them in cooperating on a group effort, affording them the chance to shine in their performance and to bond with another trusted adult at the school. It was a win, win, win situation.
Generate enthusiasm. Share your delight with students as well as with their families. When kids are eager to participate in a project or event, their excitement is contagious, and parents genuinely enjoy the experience. Advertise the event so other parents and families attend—put flyers up in the community, hang posters in the school hallways, and send colorful eye-catching flyers home. You’ll be honoring the time and energy of participating parents and generating built-in recruitment for other families to share their skills and knowledge on future occasions.
Raise the stakes. Do you have a parent in your community who works in publishing or another writing-related job? Invite him or her to be a “talk show host” for a book release party when students write their own short stories. Or to host a series of panels on the creative writing process. Do you have high school seniors applying to college and worried about costs? Find out if any parents work at a local college and can bring a colleague to the class to discuss realistic financial aid options with students. By tapping into family expertise and connections, you pay homage to the parents and guardians, validate students’ efforts, and expose students to a professional in the field, elevating the level of achievement, learning, and ongoing satisfaction.
Be grateful. Show your appreciation for this level of involvement with a variety of celebratory options. Food and refreshments are always welcome. A certificate of accomplishment is simple to create, and a great way to acknowledge a particular contribution. Teach students how to give specific, relevant praise so that family guests are encouraged by the class to come back. Small gifts as tokens of appreciation are inexpensive and easy to acquire, yet they mean a lot to the recipient. Back to that 2nd grade play, the teacher thanked me for directing with the gift of a small potted African Violet. I had that sweet flowering plant for 15 years; it moved twice with me. And I never forgot where it came from.
What strategies have you used to deepen parent involvement in your school? Share them in the comments section below.