A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997

Successful Local Approaches (continued)

Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff

Without the information and skills to communicate with each other, misperceptions and distrust can flourish between parents and school personnel. In fact, most parents and school staff in Title I schools receive little training on how to work with one another. For example, almost half of principals (48 percent) in K-8 Title I schools report that lack of staff training in working with parents is a great or moderate barrier to parent involvement (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Initiatives to bridge the information gap between parents and schools are at the center of each of the 20 schools reviewed for this Idea Book. Through workshops and a variety of outreach activities such as informative newsletters, handbooks, and home visits, parents and school staff across these programs are learning how to trust each other and work together to help children succeed in school. Their approaches include helping parents support learning at home, preparing parents to participate in school decision-making, and providing teachers, principals, and school staff with strategies for reaching out to parents and working with them as partners. These approaches share an emphasis on training and information that is grounded in the needs and goals of families and school staff, and that focus on changing the negative attitudes that parents and school staff may hold towards each other.

Training to Inform and Involve Parents

All of the schools and districts interviewed by telephone for this study offer parents training and information through workshops held weekly, monthly, or several times throughout the year. Parent training activities across the 20 programs focus on one or more of four areas of parent involvement: parenting, learning at home, decision-making in schools, and volunteering.

Parenting workshops. Workshops on parenting help families learn about child development and how to support student academic learning. Parenting workshops cover a number of different issues, such as children's language development and learning styles, parent nurturing and discipline strategies, child abuse prevention, and nutrition and health practices. For example, Stockton's Parent Resource Center offers four to six parenting workshops each month on topics such as the relationship between child achievement and parent expectations, "protective parenting" skills to prevent children from engaging in unhealthy behaviors, and anger management. The center also trains "mentor parents" at intensive three-day institutes. As mentors, they help other parents learn about strategies for helping children learn and outreach strategies that build partnerships between schools and families.

Schools can also help build parenting skills by assisting parents in reaching their own academic and vocational goals. In collaboration with local community colleges, many programs connect parents to adult education courses to receive a General Educational Development (GED) credential, college credit, or develop job-related skills.

Helping parents support learning at home. Every family functions as a learning environment, regardless of its income level, structure, or ethnic and cultural background. In this respect, every family has the potential to support and improve the academic achievement of its children. When parents hold high expectations for their children and encourage them to work hard, they support student success in school.

Many parent programs offer workshops, hands-on training opportunities, or conduct home visits that help parents support their children's learning at home. These sessions offer ideas to families about how to help students with curriculum-related activities, homework, and other academic decisions and planning.

Several other parent programs inform parents how to develop study skills to prepare for required tests; parents also learn how to interpret test results to identify the areas in which their children may need further assistance. In focus groups some parents voiced their frustration at receiving the results of student testing and the school's ranking but no information about what the numbers mean. In addition, parent workshops offer parents important information to help them plan for their children's educational future. For example, Roosevelt High School, a schoolwide program in the Dallas Independent School District, Dallas, Texas, invites parents to an evening class to review the state assessment instrument and the skills their children are expected to demonstrate on the test. Next year, the staff will provide parent training on helping students develop study skills to prepare for the required tests. Parents will also receive training and information on how to prepare their children to attend college (e.g., completing financial aid forms, obtaining references, preparing for required standardized tests).

Preparing parents to participate in school decision-making. Many programs encourage parents to join school committees that make decisions on curriculum policies, parent involvement activities, the school budget, and reform initiatives. In schoolwide program schools, administrators and teachers can play crucial roles in keeping parents informed about the program and the guidelines they need to follow. One focus group parent said, "[The principal and Title I home-school liaison] make sure we keep up with what is going on with the Title I plan and procedures....we discuss this in our school advisory council meetings...we know who we receive the funding from and how we spend it. The parents helped write the Title I [schoolwide] plan." In addition, several parents participating in focus groups said that they had been involved in writing the Title I required school-parent compact, and commented that their participation provided some clear guidance on what parents need to do to help their children succeed academically and also gave them the sense that they were doing their part. Many schools offer training to help parents become effective decision-makers.

Volunteer preparation. Rather than simply asking and expecting parents to volunteer in schools, several programs offer parents training on how to volunteer useful assistance to school staff and students.

Information and Training Provided Through Family Resource Centers

Family resource centers offer many types of supports to families, including parenting classes, the organization of volunteer activities for schools, and the provision of information and ideas to families about how to help children with homework and other curriculum-related activities. Some also provide families with services such as the transportation and child care needed for families to participate in center activities, as well as referrals for health, employment, or housing needs. All operate under the guiding philosophy that schools and families need broad-based support to educate children.

Outreach Strategies to Keep Parents Informed

Schools that are successful in building school-family partnerships develop and use outreach mechanisms to channel information to parents on an ongoing basis. These mechanisms include distributing weekly or monthly parent newsletters, posting fliers in places where parents congregate, developing parent handbooks, making telephone calls, and conducting home visits. One focus group participant underscored the importance of school-home contacts that share positive information about children as well as problems the child may be having.

Several of the programs profiled for this report have developed special strategies for ensuring that each family receives personal, customized communication from their child's school throughout the school year:

Maine's SAD #3 uses parent outreach to help bring community members and school staff together in support of shared educational goals. The district sponsors Community Day, an annual community-wide outreach and training effort. It brings families and community members together with teachers and school staff to participate in team-building activities, set educational goals, and devise strategies for accomplishing these goals. As a result of one recent Community Day, the town of Liberty initiated a plan to open a community library. Open to the general public, the Community Day activities are advertised through direct mailings, spots on a local cable station, newspaper advertisements, and local grassroots networking.

Information and Training for School Staff

Some schools offer teachers, principals, and school staff information and strategies on how to reach out to parents and work with them as partners. This can be especially beneficial to school staff who typically received little or no preservice training in these skills. In addition, changes in family structures and community life can require new or different family outreach strategies from what may have been effective in the past. Professional development activities may include sessions on making telephone calls, home visits, and other contact strategies, students' home culture and appreciating diversity, communication skills for parent-teacher conferences, and involving parents as leaders and decision-makers in the schools.

Special training for teachers and other school staff can play a key role in dispelling some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that become barriers to effective partnerships between parents and teachers. Parents in some schools, for example, take teachers on Community Walks that introduce teachers to the local neighborhood and help them understand the lives of their students outside of school. One parent in an inner-city high school described the purpose of these walks at her school:

We had to educate them [the teachers] about the community [and] what children here may be going through... [On] Community Walks some teachers were actually amazed that some of the parents live in nice homes that are well taken care of. On these walks it became apparent that the teachers had a lot of stereotypes about the kids they were teaching and their families...
Other schools have found that engaging parent coordinators or parent volunteers to train school staff not only builds parents' leadership skills but also offers teachers the opportunity to learn about families from parents' perspectives.

Additional training activities include the following:

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