How To Increase Positive Parent Involvement

     If you're like me, you believe that education is truly a partnership between school and home. Creating that partnership can be much easier said than done, however. With the overwhelming demands on teachers' time, as well as all that parents have on their plates, it can be a real challenge to make opportunities when parents can be actively involved in the life of the school. Consider exploring some of the following ways that parents and teachers can work together to increase positive parent involvement.

No homework on nights you want families to participate in an event. 

     One of the best strategies our staff followed was not to assign homework on nights with a PTA meeting, a performance, or anything at which we hoped families would attend. The dinner, homework, bath-time, bedtime routine is just too full with an evening meeting added. Give everyone a night off and ditch the homework!

Feed 'em!

Yes, it sounds overwhelming, but taking care of another piece of the busy evening routine is to provide dinner when you want families to come to school. I've seen PTAs provide a simple hot dog/chips/drink for as little as $1.00 per person. I've even seen simple meals provided for free. One year, a goal of my PDP was to have a mini "curriculum night" once a month. My principal agreed to pay for a bag meal from a local  hamburger place. It did take some organization, order-taking, and picking up, but parents did show up. More about this below.

Offer parents a time where the agenda is their own.

     Continuing with the mini curriculum night mentioned above, my goal was to give parents a time when they could talk to me about their curriculum questions and concerns. Parents quickly learned that we were not having parent/teacher conferences, discussing personal issues, or having a gripe session. I guided them to share the questions that came up at home about homework or classwork. "What does 'modeling' mean?" "How do you explain the process?" "Will my child be penalized if they try but the answer is incorrect?" "How can there be more than one right answer in math?" It was exhilarating to help bring together what parents knew about a subject with the concept-building that we were doing. They almost always went home feeling a little clearer and less stressed.
     You might also plan a night when kids can share with their parents a science experiment or other activity. Having moms and dads working alongside their kids makes great home-school connections. For example, if you provide a light dinner, you could make ice-cream-in-a-bag for dessert!

Assign low-stress homework activities where parents can be involved.

     Parents are so eager to know what their children are learning. Worksheet after worksheet can be dull and stressful, especially if it may be graded. Consider sending home a simple game that parents can play with their student. To include a little accountability, parents might fill out a short feedback form asking if they like the game, what changes could be made, and what content they thought their child learned from it. This works really well with math. 

Create a "wish list" that parents can fill.

So many parents simply cannot come to school to participate in activities, but they want to be involved. With administrative OK, keep a wish list on your website or newsletter of materials your class needs. From tissues to items for science experiments, it feels good to a parent to be able to contribute.

Find a format for easy communication. 

Parents can only be involved when they're informed. There are so many ways to keep parents aware of what is going on. From paper newsletters to texting apps, there is something for everyone. If you haven't revisited your current format, consider doing a little "shopping" and see if something new might serve your parents better.

There are so many ways that parents can be involved in their child's education. I hope some of these give you food for thought. How have you had success increasing positive parent involvement? 

Want to read more about increasing parent involvement? Check out these blog posts from some of my amazing teacher friends!

All Things Special Ed - Increase Parent Engagement  
Carrberry Creations - How to Create Powerful Parent-Teacher Communication 

Pat McFadyen
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What Does Top-Quality Grade-Level Work Look Like?

     Every classroom in every grade revolves around content work. The work can be discussions, games, projects, research, technology, art-work, and other formats, but a great deal of it results in written products. Students and parents can often be confused and even stressed about just what that final product should be or look like. Of course, we want the content to be mastered and correct, but there are conventions to "top-quality" work. There is always showing ownership (Lord, how many times in a career do we say, "Put your name on your paper"?), neatness, and legibility. As teachers, we don't expound on these conventions because it's fun to fuss or because we don't have enough to do. We are trying to instill proper work habits that will transfer into our students' adult lives. We want them to be able to navigate their own careers and work goals with the tools they need to be successful.
     One year, I finally realized that showing was better than telling my 5th grade students. Instead of once again lecturing them about the quality of their work - a lecture they obviously weren't listening to - I decided to create a portfolio of sorts, an exemplar that students could reference when they needed to.
      I first decided what guidelines I was looking for in my students' work. What exactly DOES top-quality 5th grade work look like? I chose these parameters to start with:
  • It is reasonably neat.
  • Math work shows your thinking.
  • It is complete.
  • It is checked for accuracy.
  • It is turned in on time.
     Then, I settled on the old tried-and-tried 3-ring binder (I'm a fool for binders!). I gathered multiple examples of 5th grade work that showed these elements and put them in the binder. Keep in mind that I was not looking only for the A+, 100, "perfect" papers that some students can consistently create. I wasn't looking for perfect. I don't believe that "top-quality" means perfect. After all, we're working with young humans, here. I wanted to display age- and grade-level appropriate work samples that students could reasonably emulate and learn to produce on their own.
     I had a few older samples stuck back from earlier years, but I had to choose many pieces from the classes I had that year. I chose teacher-created and student-created work, long-term projects and quickies, tests, quizzes, and writing samples. If I had it to do again with our current technology, I would take photos of larger things such as 3-D projects and posters and put them into the notebook. To preserve privacy, I put a label over student names and, sometimes, the grade. Again, I didn't want students to wrongly assume that the only good work was beautiful and mistake-free.

     When my portfolio was complete, I discussed its purpose with my students. I housed it on the tray of our whiteboard where all could see it and use it during the day. I have to tell you here that students often browsed through it during their breaks and down time. I loved seeing them use it in such a leisurely way! I knew that they would steadily process what they were seeing and that those elements would eventually show up in their own work.

     A wonderful, but unintended, consequence of our notebook was that I was able to share it with parents, too. During conferences or casual drop-by visits, I could point to some great work samples for specific activities. It really seemed to help my parents when they saw that 5th grade work could actually look like it was done by children and didn't need that adult "touch" added to it.


     Could you try this in your classroom? I believe it would be appropriate for any grade level, any subject(s). Give this method a try and let me know how it works for you. Or, I'd love to hear another method that works for you!
     We're all in this together!
Pat McFadyen
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Need A Helpful Little Nudge?

     Every life has conflict. From the most mundane glare over a disputed parking space to damaged  relationships, we will all be faced with conflicts. It doesn't have to escalate to the Hatfields and McCoys level to bring a negative vibe into your life. I truly believe that it's not having a conflict itself that is so challenging, but rather how we deal with it.
     Of course, no one should ever accept any form of abuse. It's the day-to-day misunderstandings as well as the incidents that can become long-term that we must decide how to address. I'd like to offer up the philosophy in the meme above as a way to reflect on how we might diffuse or eliminate conflict by simply being generous and taking a step back.
   I'm not even saying that we need to admit wrong when we're really right. Certainly don't support someone else in wrong-doing. "Eating Humble Pie" can certainly mean saying you're sorry if you hurt someone, but it doesn't have to. If someone else needs to feel that they're being heard, or that their thoughts and feelings have merit, or they need an emotional lift, it can be so soothing and refreshing if we take a step back, validate their feelings, and reach out a healing hand. That can be a bite of Humble Pie, too. If we can do it on-the-spot, so much the better. If time has passed, that healing can still take place. If you are in a situation like this, consider making that call, bestowing that forgiveness, and reconnecting. 
Pat McFadyen
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