A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Reaching All Families: Creating Family-Friendly Schools - August 1996
Some strategies can be easily reenacted through the school year. A school newsletter, for example, can be issued monthly or bimonthly. Phone calls to introduce the curriculum and teacher and tell each parent of their child's progress can be repeated as opportunities arise. Such calls counteract the feeling of many parents that schools only contact them when there is bad news. Giving parents ideas for home learning activities and how to assist with homework can also be done on a continuing basis. Research shows that involving parents in these ways is a very effective means to improve children's school performance. Thus many suggestions are offered in this area for things teachers, schools, and school systems might do.
Newsletters can provide a steady stream of information from the school to the home. They are used by many schools. A quality newsletter may well be the least expensive way of informing families of school activities and expectations.
As their name implies, newsletters provide readers with "news" in an informal "letter" style. They are useful when careful thought is given to: "Why have a newsletter?" "Who is the audience?" "What do we want to communicate?" "How should we present the information?"
Timely, brief, and lively reporting are the hallmarks of an effective newsletter. Newsletters often include:
- How the school is working to improve the basics and discipline.
- Recent accomplishments of students in academic, athletic, artistic, and citizenship areas.
- New services of the school or changes in organization.
- Upcoming school events, schedule changes, conference times, and testing dates.
- Human interest items featuring students, parent volunteers, teachers, and other staff, or written by them.
- Articles on curriculum and teaching innovations.
- Scholarship application information and school-college connections.
- School-business partnerships, particularly family-friendly employers and school-to-career opportunities.
- Activities scheduled for parents, students, and community members and related transportation arrangements.
- After school child care and education programs.
To promote two-way communication, newsletters can:
- Encourage parents to write letters to the newsletter.
- Provide an "op-ed" column that is open to anyone from the school community.
- Contain short questionnaires soliciting reader opinions on a variety of topics.
Format and Design
To attract the attention of parents, newsletters should be attractive, well-organized, and easily read. Assume that some parents may not be comfortable with reading or with English as their primary language. This suggests:
Use language that is familiar and direct.
- Keep both sentences and paragraphs short.
- Use easy words unless a big word is needed for a precise meaning.
- Avoid education jargon and abbreviations.
- Use simple techniques, such as boxes, graphics, and illustrations to call attention to special items.
In some schools, the PTA or parent-teacher organization produces the school newsletter. In schools with parent liaisons or outreach workers, they may assist or be in charge of editing the newsletter. In other schools, the newsletter is edited by a teacher or administrator and, especially in the upper grades, can become the project of a language arts or journalism class.
Many high schools have fairly sophisticated word processing, printing, and typesetting equipment that are used to expose students to career-related communications technology. These publishing centers can be used to produce newsletters for the school and for other schools in the system.
A note on the first principle of newsletters: If the information is important enough to be sent to parents, it is important enough to be sent in the most attractive and readable form.
Positive Phone Calls
Imagine the impact when parents receive phone calls letting them know how much progress their children have made in recent weeks or asking if they need any information about school programs and expectations. Home-school communication is greatly increased through personal contacts such as this between teachers and parents.
When a telephone call from school carries information that is positive, the atmosphere between the home and the school is improved. It encourages everyone to believe that all children can learn.
Benefits of Positive Phone Calls
To be most effective, parents need to receive at least two or three positive phone calls over the course of the school year. Some topics for consideration are
While simple in concept, a positive phone call program does require time and effort. Strong support is needed from school administrators, who must provide teachers with the time, feedback, and resources they will need to implement this program. Teachers also need to be involved in the planning to ensure their commitment.
- introducing the teacher to the parent;
- describing the child's curriculum;
- commenting on the child's progress;
- informing the parent of a special achievement or improvement by the child;
- telling the parent of particular strengths of the child and sharing an anecdote about them; and
- Inviting the parents to open houses, conferences, volunteering in the school, and other school functions.
Since many parents work during the day, teachers may need to contact parents in the evenings or on weekends. Teachers will need to have some accommodations made in their work schedules to compensate them for this extra time.
In order to gain commitment from teachers, schools must be willing to:
- Make time available to staff. Positive telephone calls can be carried on during selected months of the year. During these periods, the workload of teachers can be adjusted.
- Provide a proper facility. The program will not succeed unless teachers have a private and comfortable place from which to make their calls. Schools may need, therefore, to install additional telephone lines in classrooms and in lounge areas.
- Provide translation services for parents as needed.
- Provide a feedback system. Teachers should maintain log books or calling index cards so that the school has a record of positive phone calls. In this way, teachers and administrators can have a clearer sense of the scope and effectiveness of their efforts on a schoolwide basis.
An outgrowth of personalized telephone communication at some schools is the parent call-in. Teachers or administrators set up a regular call-in hour on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. During this time, parents can call to discuss their questions or concerns. These calling hours are announced in school newsletters, flyers sent home, and at school meetings.
Research indicates that involving parents' as educators at home with their children is one of the most effective ways to improve students' attitudes toward school and their achievement. This form of parent involvement does not require that parents come to the school, which makes it more accessible for many parents. While research indicates that homework supervision and home learning activities are closely related to higher achievement for children, many parents want help to do these better. The combined efforts of the school system and individual teachers are needed to make this happen.
What Teachers Can Do
Homework--At the beginning of each year, many teachers:
Reading--Teachers are finding it increasingly important to:
- Emphasize to parents, through open house and written communications, that they should expect their children to have regular homework assignments and to complete them promptly.
- Request parents to negotiate clear rules with their children about where, when, and how homework is done each night and set clear expectations that children will tell their parents how much and what kinds of homework they have.
- Encourage parents to ensure that reference materials, such as dictionaries, are available in the home.
- Inform parents of any extra homework help available--homework hotlines, homework centers, after school tutors, and mentors.
Television--Understanding that in many homes television watching plays a major role in daily activity, many teachers:
- Tell parents how important it is to express positive attitudes about reading beginning early.
- Encourage parents to read to or with children each day even in the older elementary grades.
- Send home recommended reading lists or suggestions about how to use household materials, such as newspapers and magazines, to encourage reading.
Learning Activities--Teachers send home ideas for family games and other informal learning activities related to school work, such as word games, puzzles, math challenges, and "kitchen sink" experiments for parents and children to enjoy together.
- Communicate to parents the power of television as a positive and a negative educational experience.
- Inform parents that more than 2-3 hours of television viewing on school nights is related to lower student achievement.
- Encourage parents to select with their children the programs they may watch.
- Recommend ongoing programs which families may want to watch together and talk about afterward.
- Send home notices about special programs parents may want to watch with their children and suggestions for discussing issues that the program will highlight.
Field Trips--Many teachers send home suggestions for using community resources that may provide enjoyable educational experiences for parents and children, such as the town library, local historical sites, museums, music series, and cultural events.
What Schools Can Do
Parent Workshops or Conferences--Workshops or conferences are held by schools on topics such as:
Some teachers and schools also give formal instruction to show parents how to help their children in specific areas, such as math, or how to develop teaching skills.
- How to help children with reading.
- How to make home learning materials.
- How to create educational games with your children.
- Grade level math or reading instructions for parents who want to tutor their children.
- Learning about computers--keeping ahead of the kids.
- How to handle the challenges of teenagers.
Parent Training Programs and Outreach--Schools can respond to parents' requests for assistance with home learning in several ways:
Summer Activities Packets-Schools provide packets of materials, specifically designed for each grade level, that parents can use with their children over the summer. These activities and materials might include:
- Hold ongoing training for groups of parents who want or need intensive help with home learning.
- Provide training and assistance to parents with limited English and those of "at risk" children.
- Hire outreach workers to visit parents in their homes to provide individualized assistance with home-learning activities.
Schools can contact the national Read*Write*Now! program to match children with adults who will read together regularly with them. Call 1-800-USA-LEARN for information.
- Reading lists.
- Suggested summer field trips.
- Lists of community activities and summer programs.
- Math, science, and reading activities to do at home.
- Names of local organizations that provide summer tutoring in reading and other basic skills.
Voice Mail--Some schools have installed telephone answering systems that permit teachers to record homework assignments and suggestions to parents for home learning as well as giving parents a chance to leave messages when they need assistance. Parents and students can call at any time to keep abreast of daily coursework and class activities.
Computer Lending Libraries--Some schools allow students and parents to take home personal computers and software, or offer family classes on computing.
Hotlines-Cable TV--Schools offer parents and students help with homework and other school-related concerns through telephone hotlines staffed by teachers and "homework hours" on cable TV. These interactive resources let parents talk with teachers from their homes and have individual issues addressed.
What School Systems Can Do
As with all forms of parent involvement, the resources and support provided to individual teachers and parents by the school and school system will determine the quality of the home-learning effort. The essential ingredients for support of home learning are:
Policy--Administrators should make it clear that they recognize and are willing to help support the parent's role as educator at home and build positive teacher-parent connections. This philosophy should be communicated to parents through:
Resources--Schools and school systems can demonstrate their commitment to partnerships by providing resources for home learning such as:
- The parent handbook and other policy documents.
- Letters and pamphlets to parents.
- Meetings and other parent forums.
- Personal contacts by teachers and other staff.
- Speeches before local groups and in the media.
Home-Learning Coordinator--Specialists and teachers need time to develop home-learning ideas and materials for themselves and for other teachers to use. Designating one or more persons to coordinate and help with the logistics of gathering and producing materials will ensure that home-learning materials are efficiently and effectively developed.
- Releasing staff to work with families and providing a budget for home-learning activities.
- Providing clerical and printing assistance to teachers when they develop materials for parents.
- Providing easy access to phones for teachers to call families.
- Investing in school programs on cable television.
- Building partnerships with local organizations to jointly support home learning activities.
[Special Practices and Programs]
This page was last updated January 8, 2002 (jca)