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

Ongoing Communications

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:

Interactive Features

To promote two-way communication, newsletters can:

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.


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.

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:

Parent Call-In

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.

Homework And Home Learning

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: Television--Understanding that in many homes television watching plays a major role in daily activity, many teachers: 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.

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.

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: 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.

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: 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.


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This page was last updated January 8, 2002 (jca)