At times, parents feel that educators talk down to them or speak in educational jargon they do not understand. School signs often seem unwelcoming. Schools should make every effort to reach out and communicate with parents in a clear way and listen to what they have to say. To ensure that all parents have access to information, written material should be concise and easily readable. Schools should be parent-friendly. Some school newsletters for parents include a glossary of terms to help parents understand school improvement efforts. Other schools use regularly scheduled telephone calls to stay in contact with families.
When schools develop improvement plans, families ought to be included at every stage of the process to get their input and to give them a sense of shared responsibility. Many schools, supported by the new Goals 2000: Educate America Act, are now developing such plans. They are working to raise academic standards, improve teaching, make schools safer, introduce computers and other learning technologies into the classroom, and to make many other vitally needed changes. The full involvement of parents and other members of the community is instrumental to the success of these efforts.
Schools can give parents a more effective voice by opening up the school governance process so that more parents can participate. Many schools hold evening and weekend meetings and conferences to accommodate families' work schedules.
Staff development can help teachers to understand the benefits of family involvement and show them how to remove barriers to involvement. It can also explain techniques for improving two- way communication between home and schools, and suggest ways to help meet families' overall educational needs.
Often the first time a parent comes to school is when a child is in trouble. Schools can help reduce tensions by making initial contacts with parents friendly and respectful. Schools can also reduce distrust by arranging contacts in neutral settings off school grounds. Home visits by family liaison personnel can be particularly helpful. Some programs have used home-school coordinators to run weekly clubs for parents, helping to build parenting skills and trust between families and schools. Schools might also encourage parents, teachers, and students to meet at the beginning of the school year to agree on goals and develop a common understanding.
Reaching families whose first language is not English requires schools to make special accommodations. Translating materials into a parent's first language helps, but written communication alone is not enough. Ideally, a resource person, perhaps another parent, should be available to communicate with parent communicate with parents in their first language. Interactive telephone voice-mail systems that have bilingual recordings for families are also useful. In addition, English-as-a-second- language classes for parents and grandparents may be helpful.
Educators can creatively use new technology for voice-mail to homework hotlines to educational CD-ROM programs- to get parents more involved in the learning process. For example, voice mail systems have been installed in several hundred schools across the country. Parents and students can call for taped messages that describe classroom activities and daily homework assignments. Audiotapes and videotapes can also be used to enhance communication with parents. These are especially helpful in reaching family members who do not read. Even with all the new technology, teachers and other school staff can still use the old telephone to connect with parents. Schools can help by providing teachers with classroom phones.
This can be especially effective in reducing schools safety problems that are connected to problems in surrounding neighborhoods. Parents, community residents, and law enforcement officials can help by joining together in voluntary organizations, friendship networks, and neighborhood watches to solve common problems. Schools and community and religious organizations can help by offering after-school cultural and recreational activities. Community-supported students services have also succeeded when families, schools, and community representatives have made the effort to get involved.
The Family Involvement National Education Goal
"We believe that strengthening the connection between families and schools is so important that we have made it one of America's National Education Goals. The Goal declares that by the year 2000, 'Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.'"
-- Richard W. Riley
U.S. Secretary of Education
In Houston, Texas, administrators from Robert E. Lee High School went to their students' homes and sat on stoops with family members to "cut contracts" with parents, enlisting their help in the effort to reduce school violence. The Result: A safer school and steadily rising test scores.
In Murfreesboro, Tenn., schools stay open until 6 p.m. to allow parents to work without worry, knowing their children are involved in constructive activities.
At the Sterne Brunson Elementary School in Benton Harbor, Mich., parents help teachers and administrators by working as classroom aides and office support staff.
And in New York City, teachers link the classroom to the home by operating a telephone homework hotline that students or parents can dial in the evening to get help with assignments.
These are but few examples of the many ways schools are encouraging greater family involvement in education. They're discovering that school-family partnerships are important way to help children learn and a great way for schools and families to help each other.
Despite the many advantages of partnerships, schools and families remain disconnected in too many communities. There are many reasons why schools and families fail to join forces. Sometimes parents say they don't feel welcome at school. Often, work schedules and other time constraints, language barriers, or the sheer drag of daily life get in the way. And sometimes parents who didn't like school when they were students are reluctant to get involved again as adults.
On the other side of the coin, too many schools don't put out the welcome mat for their students' families or simply overlook the great value of getting families involved. Here's what can be done:
"Parent who know their children's
teachers and help with the homework
and teach their kids right from wrong --
these parents can make all the difference."
-- President Bill Clinton
State of the Union Address
Greater family involvement in education is supported by the Family Involvement Partnership for Learning, which includes over 100 education, business, family, community, and religious organizations nationwide.
Your school is cordially invited to join the Family involvement Partnership. For information, call one of the partners, the U.S. Department of Education, at 1-800-USA-LEARN. Or write us at:
Family Involvement Partnership for Learning
600 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202-8173
When you write, be sure to include your name, title, school or other organizational affiliation, and address. We'll send you helpful material, including the landmark study on family involvement, Strong Families, Strong Schools: Building Community Partnerships for Learning. Also, ask us how your school or area can become a local site for one of our monthly satellite town meetings that bring together Americans from around the nation to discuss ways to improve our schools.
Last Update: 10/4/98
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