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Back to the Top Teaching Blog
August 15, 2016

10 Tips for Family Engagement This School Year

By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    I once sat in a parent meeting at my school with one mom in attendance. One. The school had over 500 students. Fast forward a few years and we teachers were herding the droves of families out the door well after the activity night had ended. Before you say, “But my parents . . . ” know that it can be accomplished in the toughest neighborhoods. I’ve seen it happen.

    According to a Scholastic’s teacher survey data, 98 percent of teachers cited family involvement and support as being key to student success. scholastic teacher surveyAnd it’s no surprise; you know that students with families that are engaged are more likely to show up prepared and ready to learn. How can you get them in the door and keep them coming back? Consider these 10 areas for increased engagement.

     

    Environment | Videos | Postcards | Theme Nights | Food | Parent Learning Events

    Scheduling | Breakfast Meetings | Scholastic Support | Funding

    family engagement whiteboard

    Environment

    Parents don’t come to school for a variety of reasons, but a few important ones include a feeling of intimidation, a desire to not be judged, and prior poor experiences with schools. The key is to get them comfortable with coming to school. To do this, I start with my kids. I get the class excited about an event, like our theme nights, and use them to draw parents in. I make sure to tell my students — and I abide by it — that engagement activities are not “gotcha” moments. This night is all about learning and sharing, not a time for a conference. Parents will appreciate this too! If you have to meet, use the interaction as a way to build goodwill and set a conference date for another day.

    video math class

    Videos

    Family engagement doesn’t have to mean being physically at the school. As a teacher and a parent, I often cannot attend school day functions for my own kids. One way I love using video in my classroom is recording students explaining and modeling how to play in-class math games or complete an assignment. It gives parents a peek into the class, gives a reference video for at-home practice, and the kids love seeing themselves as teachers.

    positive postcards

    Postcards

    This is my single favorite idea from all of teaching. Our school pre-printed cards with typical rewarding behaviors, such as leadership, working hard, or good manners. Each Friday, every teacher would bring one card to the school office that was filled out and addressed for one of their students. The office would mail the postcard (inexpensive because of the bulk postcard rate) to an unsuspecting family. A happy note from the classroom was a welcome surprise that drew families in. As a bonus, a similar card was made for staff and our principal would randomly stick them in the mail. I still have mine.

    financial literacy theme night

    Theme Nights

    One big initiative that really got students and parents excited was creating whole-school themed events. Selecting themes that can cross curricula, such as football, or themes that are found in all grade levels, such as money, are easy to integrate lessons and décor around. Get all teachers involved by having décor competitions. To simplify, have one or two rooms per grade serve as the activity hub. Create independent work stations that show off creative problem solving and typical tasks that parents and students can do together. If the kids are excited about their themed work on display, and anticipate some fun themed activities, they will beg their parents to come to school for the big night. Read more details about our financial literacy night and football themes.

    eating

    Food

    Repeat this mantra: If you feed them, they will come. Our themed events featured takeout meals. Parents came to school at the end of the workday, from 4:00 to 6:00 and were given tickets when they engaged in a classroom. Pre-made spaghetti meals were handed out as parents left. This eased the time required of families, but also took a planning aspect out of their night. In a low-income area, a provided meal was a welcome trade for an hour spent at school.

    parent night

    Parent Learning Events

    We wanted parents to really understand the changes in the Common Core State Standards for math, something they had many misconceptions about. We created three nights throughout the year just for parents to come learn. Only one classroom and two teachers were needed to facilitate at each grade level. We showed where students came from and where they needed to go, and what the crux of the standard was. We also provided a hands-on activity for parents to try. The response was great and fueled both confidence in families to help at home, and meaningful questions about how best to help students.

    family breakfast

    Scheduling

    Picking times that work best for families is key to great events with high participation. If you can overcome the “not my contract hours” mentality, even Saturday morning events can be powerful. In a school where parents didn’t drive and evenings were unsafe, we scheduled events immediately after school for a few hours. Half-days, usually lost to scheduling nightmares, became morning events parents could attend before darting off to work or checking out students.

    family math breakfast

    Breakfast Meetings

    Working scheduling to our advantage, a half-day at the end of first quarter became a perfect time to invite families in for an annual math breakfast. Many parents had the day off to pick up students early, and others were able to drop in before 8 a.m. on their way to work. Our cafeteria provided biscuits and teachers or class parents donated juice and fruit to round out breakfast. Parents and students played math games and worked through stations together. Use our Common Core math night manipulatives to make planning even easier!

    scholastic literacy events

    Scholastic Support

    Scholastic offers an entire family and community engagement (FACE) department dedicated to putting books in students’ hands. Sixty-one percent of low-income families have no books in their home. Literacy events can change that. A literacy event is an everything-you-need box with three books for each child, parent guides to take home so they know how to ask meaningful reading questions, ready-made rotation activities, and a guided read aloud to model on the night of the event. You can model best practices, engage families in learning activities, and send them home with everything they need to continue with their new books at home.

    scholastic face

    family engagement funding

    Funding

    Work with local companies to help fund activities, freebees, and food. Consider that all of your meal doesn’t have to be donated from the same source: get a side at one restaurant and desert from another. Think about your partners in education. Our local power company would bring a big grill and help turn out burgers or would write a check. Often large companies need to make community connections and smaller companies are happy to get their name out there. Even if they can’t offer you funding this time, be sure to invite locals to your events. Getting community leaders in your school to see the impact on students is sometimes all you need. You’ll never know until you ask!

     

    You have to know your community and the types of events and resources that will be most meaningful for them. Remember that families are often more frightened than a preschooler on their first day and many come with unique backgrounds. Maybe they didn’t have a supportive and loving teacher like you and their defense is up. No matter what event works best for you, get in touch, stay in touch, and get families back into schools this year. 

    I once sat in a parent meeting at my school with one mom in attendance. One. The school had over 500 students. Fast forward a few years and we teachers were herding the droves of families out the door well after the activity night had ended. Before you say, “But my parents . . . ” know that it can be accomplished in the toughest neighborhoods. I’ve seen it happen.

    According to a Scholastic’s teacher survey data, 98 percent of teachers cited family involvement and support as being key to student success. scholastic teacher surveyAnd it’s no surprise; you know that students with families that are engaged are more likely to show up prepared and ready to learn. How can you get them in the door and keep them coming back? Consider these 10 areas for increased engagement.

     

    Environment | Videos | Postcards | Theme Nights | Food | Parent Learning Events

    Scheduling | Breakfast Meetings | Scholastic Support | Funding

    family engagement whiteboard

    Environment

    Parents don’t come to school for a variety of reasons, but a few important ones include a feeling of intimidation, a desire to not be judged, and prior poor experiences with schools. The key is to get them comfortable with coming to school. To do this, I start with my kids. I get the class excited about an event, like our theme nights, and use them to draw parents in. I make sure to tell my students — and I abide by it — that engagement activities are not “gotcha” moments. This night is all about learning and sharing, not a time for a conference. Parents will appreciate this too! If you have to meet, use the interaction as a way to build goodwill and set a conference date for another day.

    video math class

    Videos

    Family engagement doesn’t have to mean being physically at the school. As a teacher and a parent, I often cannot attend school day functions for my own kids. One way I love using video in my classroom is recording students explaining and modeling how to play in-class math games or complete an assignment. It gives parents a peek into the class, gives a reference video for at-home practice, and the kids love seeing themselves as teachers.

    positive postcards

    Postcards

    This is my single favorite idea from all of teaching. Our school pre-printed cards with typical rewarding behaviors, such as leadership, working hard, or good manners. Each Friday, every teacher would bring one card to the school office that was filled out and addressed for one of their students. The office would mail the postcard (inexpensive because of the bulk postcard rate) to an unsuspecting family. A happy note from the classroom was a welcome surprise that drew families in. As a bonus, a similar card was made for staff and our principal would randomly stick them in the mail. I still have mine.

    financial literacy theme night

    Theme Nights

    One big initiative that really got students and parents excited was creating whole-school themed events. Selecting themes that can cross curricula, such as football, or themes that are found in all grade levels, such as money, are easy to integrate lessons and décor around. Get all teachers involved by having décor competitions. To simplify, have one or two rooms per grade serve as the activity hub. Create independent work stations that show off creative problem solving and typical tasks that parents and students can do together. If the kids are excited about their themed work on display, and anticipate some fun themed activities, they will beg their parents to come to school for the big night. Read more details about our financial literacy night and football themes.

    eating

    Food

    Repeat this mantra: If you feed them, they will come. Our themed events featured takeout meals. Parents came to school at the end of the workday, from 4:00 to 6:00 and were given tickets when they engaged in a classroom. Pre-made spaghetti meals were handed out as parents left. This eased the time required of families, but also took a planning aspect out of their night. In a low-income area, a provided meal was a welcome trade for an hour spent at school.

    parent night

    Parent Learning Events

    We wanted parents to really understand the changes in the Common Core State Standards for math, something they had many misconceptions about. We created three nights throughout the year just for parents to come learn. Only one classroom and two teachers were needed to facilitate at each grade level. We showed where students came from and where they needed to go, and what the crux of the standard was. We also provided a hands-on activity for parents to try. The response was great and fueled both confidence in families to help at home, and meaningful questions about how best to help students.

    family breakfast

    Scheduling

    Picking times that work best for families is key to great events with high participation. If you can overcome the “not my contract hours” mentality, even Saturday morning events can be powerful. In a school where parents didn’t drive and evenings were unsafe, we scheduled events immediately after school for a few hours. Half-days, usually lost to scheduling nightmares, became morning events parents could attend before darting off to work or checking out students.

    family math breakfast

    Breakfast Meetings

    Working scheduling to our advantage, a half-day at the end of first quarter became a perfect time to invite families in for an annual math breakfast. Many parents had the day off to pick up students early, and others were able to drop in before 8 a.m. on their way to work. Our cafeteria provided biscuits and teachers or class parents donated juice and fruit to round out breakfast. Parents and students played math games and worked through stations together. Use our Common Core math night manipulatives to make planning even easier!

    scholastic literacy events

    Scholastic Support

    Scholastic offers an entire family and community engagement (FACE) department dedicated to putting books in students’ hands. Sixty-one percent of low-income families have no books in their home. Literacy events can change that. A literacy event is an everything-you-need box with three books for each child, parent guides to take home so they know how to ask meaningful reading questions, ready-made rotation activities, and a guided read aloud to model on the night of the event. You can model best practices, engage families in learning activities, and send them home with everything they need to continue with their new books at home.

    scholastic face

    family engagement funding

    Funding

    Work with local companies to help fund activities, freebees, and food. Consider that all of your meal doesn’t have to be donated from the same source: get a side at one restaurant and desert from another. Think about your partners in education. Our local power company would bring a big grill and help turn out burgers or would write a check. Often large companies need to make community connections and smaller companies are happy to get their name out there. Even if they can’t offer you funding this time, be sure to invite locals to your events. Getting community leaders in your school to see the impact on students is sometimes all you need. You’ll never know until you ask!

     

    You have to know your community and the types of events and resources that will be most meaningful for them. Remember that families are often more frightened than a preschooler on their first day and many come with unique backgrounds. Maybe they didn’t have a supportive and loving teacher like you and their defense is up. No matter what event works best for you, get in touch, stay in touch, and get families back into schools this year. 

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