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
The best chance for teachers and other school staff to become acquainted with the families of students is through personal contacts. In face-to-face contacts people exchange a wide range of information: detailed views and concerns as well as observations of each other and the meeting surroundings. The parent-teacher conference is a common if brief form of personal contact which may be arranged for all families once or twice a year. Richer contacts are likely to occur in home visits because they demonstrate strong interest in students' families. Parent liaisons can also help schools respond to the needs and concerns of families. How to make the best use of these strategies is explored in this section.
Regular parent-teacher conferences for all families are an essential building block of home-school communication. Parents provide important perspectives and information that can be extremely valuable. Teachers need the help of parents to do the best possible job of educating every child and can help parents play an active role in education at home. Conferences are a time for listening and sharing. They can reinforce the idea of working as a team.
Conferences also provide an opportunity for teachers to explain the criteria and grades used on report cards. In fact, many schools schedule conferences right after a reporting period. Some use the conference itself as the means to distribute report cards.
Conferences are successful when teachers and the school system create a climate that invites collaboration with parents. Creating this climate involves planning and effort. The following suggestions indicate ways teachers, principals, and school systems can maximize the effectiveness of parent-teacher conferences.
Before The Conference
Principals and District Officials--Principals and district officials play a critical role by coordinating activities and providing encouragement to teachers. Some organizing principles are suggested.
Prepare Teachers for Conferences
- Use in-service meetings to orient teachers to the system's goals and effective procedures for conferences.
- Role playing exercises can help teachers, especially new teachers, to anticipate and deal positively with typical parent questions.
Involve Parents Well in Advance
- Allot sufficient time for teachers to conduct conferences and provide substitutes if added time is needed.
- Provide child care and refreshments, and transportation if needed.
- Arrange translation services and let parents know that they are available.
- Develop a flexible conference schedule that will provide options for working parents and parents who have more than one child in the school.
Teachers--The role of teachers in arranging conferences involves planning and preparation. Some tips on preparation include
- Let parents know about upcoming conferences through various channels--letters, newsletters, radio and television announcements, PTA meetings, and community cable television channels.
- Survey parents to identify their areas of concern.
- Send parents a conference planning sheet which outlines a set of questions they may want to ask teachers.
- Ask parent volunteers to telephone parents to confirm their conference times and encourage them to attend.
- Contact parents well in advance to arrange the conference.
- Send a personal letter or make a phone call outlining a specific but brief agenda that will interest the parents.
- Indicate that individual conferences are being held with all parents, and how important they are.
- Encourage parents to review class work brought home and to note questions, concerns, and comments to bring to the conference.
- Confirm the conference time by letter.
- Prepare for the conference by developing a conference folder with samples of the student's work and a list of the teacher's concerns and questions.
- Create a comfortable and private physical environment with enough adult-sized chairs and no desk separating teacher from parent.
During The Conference
Establish Rapport With Parents--Develop a relationship with parents by asking them about their work or about an interest you may know they have.
Accept Parents as Advocates--Provide parents with opportunities to speak about their children. Do not interpret a parent's advocacy as belligerence or as a criticism.
Emphasize the Positive--Indicate appreciation of the unique qualities of the child.
Establish Priorities--Pick one or two areas for growth and improvement so that parents are not overwhelmed.
- Research suggests that parents use a teacher's knowledge of their child's personality or interests as a screening device. They are more willing to listen to a range of feedback about their child if they hear the teacher comment on the child's special qualities first.
- Recount a brief anecdote or story about the child before sharing positive or negative information on the child's performance.
Learn From the Parents--Together, parents and teachers make a great team for student learning.
Action Steps--Close the conference with some action steps.
- Involve parents in creating solutions to problems.
- Devote at least half the conference to parents' concerns, ideas, and questions.
- Identify concrete suggestions for how the parents and the teacher will together help the child.
- Emphasize the parents' role in the education of the child, and ways the teacher can assist them.
- Provide resources and materials such as booklets that families can use at home to build student skills.
- Give parents specific times when they may call you.
- Plan to meet again if advisable.
After the Conference
- Keep brief notes about the conference; follow through and remember parents' concerns.
- Note and address any suggestions made and questions raised during the conference.
- Keep parents informed of any steps that you or other school personnel have taken and follow up with parents on actions that they were going to take.
- Share non-confidential helpful information about students and their families with colleagues, and seek the same from them.
- Contact other school staff where issues discussed involve their work.
- Follow-up the conference with a phone call or a note to all parents to show commitment to working as a team.
A home visiting program can show that the teachers, principal, and school staff are willing to "go more than halfway" to involve all parents in their children's education. Home visits help teachers demonstrate their interest in students' families and understand their students better by seeing them in their home environment.
These visits should not replace parent-teacher conferences or be used to discuss children's progress. When done early before any school problems can arise, they avoid putting any parents on the defensive and signal that teachers are eager to work with all parents. Teachers who have made home visits say they build stronger relationships with parents and their children, and improve attendance and achievement.
Administrators and teachers must agree to participate in the program and be involved in planning it.
These programs are successful when
Strategies For Successful Home Visits
- teachers' schedules are adjusted so that they have the necessary time;
- home visits are scheduled during just one month of the school year, preferably early; and
- visits are logged so that teachers and administrators can measure their benefits.
Who does the visiting?--Wherever possible, teachers should visit homes of children in their classes. If this is not possible, the principal should ensure that every home that requests a visit receives one.
If teachers do not speak the parents' language, a translator needs to accompany them.
Scheduling--These suggestions may be helpful:
Making parents feel comfortable--Here are some useful tips:
- Some schools have scheduled home visits in the afternoon right after school. Others have found that early evening is more convenient for parents. Some schedule visits right before a new school year begins. A mix of times may be needed to reach all families.
- Teachers should be given flexibility to schedule their visits during the targeted time period.
- Teachers of siblings may want to visit these children's homes together, but take care not to overwhelm parents.
- Some schools work with community groups (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs, housing complexes, 4-H, Y's, and community centers) to schedule visits in neutral but convenient space.
- Send a letter home to parents explaining the desire to have teachers make informal visits to all students' homes. Include a form that parents can mail back to accept or decline the visit.
- The letter should state clearly that the intent of this 15-30 minute visit is only to introduce the teacher and family members to each other, and not to discuss the child's progress.
- The letter might suggest that families think about special things their children would want to share with the teacher.
- The tone of the letter should try to lessen any parents' worries. One school included a note to parents which said, "No preparation is required. In fact, our homes need to be vacuumed and all of us are on diets!" This touch of humor and casualness helped to set a friendly and informal tone.
- A phone call to parents who have not responded can explain the plan for home visits and reassure parents that it is to get acquainted and not to evaluate students.
- Enlist community groups, religious organizations, and businesses to help publicize the home visits.
Parent liaisons are members of the community who work with teachers, administrators, and parents to coordinate and advocate for family involvement to help students learn to high standards. Parent liaisons are often hired on a full or part time basis to provide continuity for the school's parent involvement initiatives.
Parent liaisons are the primary contact people who respond to the needs and concerns of particular parents and families. They may work especially to involve "hard to reach" parents. And they create ongoing mechanisms for parents to play various roles at the school and at home.
In these capacities parent liaisons can:
Parent liaisons can provide the leadership and resource coordination for many of the outreach strategies presented in this booklet. They are a legitimate use of Title I funds under the federal Improving America's Schools Act.
- Coordinate and implement outreach to traditionally non-participating families.
- Discuss with parents home learning activities suggested by schools (see Homework and Home Learning section).
- Conduct surveys of parent and teacher needs and interests and play matchmaker in promoting parent-teacher partnerships.
- Coordinate parent education events and parent volunteers.
- Create and publish school newsletters or other forms of communication.
- Coordinate school tours and orientation sessions for new families.
For school systems with limited funds, the position can be filled by members of an organized volunteer program. In small systems, the parent liaison functions and position can be systemwide rather than building based. In large schools, several parent liaisons might handle different grade levels.
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This page was last updated January 8, 2002 (jca)