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September 2014 | Volume 56 | Number 9
Teaching to the Teenage Brain
All parents want to see their children succeed. Low parental involvement is generally not an indicator of low interest, but rather of community barriers that prevent schools from effectively engaging parents. As a school leader who has served in several high-poverty environments, I have found that it is possible to remove many of these barriers and engage families in meaningful ways.
To begin building a positive rapport with your families, identify parents who have relationships across the community. Express how valuable their input is to your school's success and ask them to participate in a focus group. It is often hard for parents to explain why other parents are not involved, but asking specific questions can help identify barriers to engagement:
Gathering feedback and discussing solutions with these parents has helped our district generate further questions, conversations, and surveys to extend to all of our families. The more information our schools have, the more strategic we can be in providing families direct assistance through resources, education, and employment.
If your families do not often read the newspaper, have access to the Internet, or read materials that come home, consider advertising school events in other venues. In addition to using traditional methods of communication, our district places flyers at the local chop suey restaurant and in our community grocery stores. We also notify families of upcoming events through text messages, automated phone calls, and public service announcements on local radio stations.
When concerns about crime in our community were increasing, our district decided to sponsor a town hall meeting. We leveraged the opportunity to not only address the issue of crime, but to also engage families in sessions on achievement, community services, and school volunteerism. There are many ways to foster parental engagement, but we have been especially successful through events like these and by providing our families with basic resources.
To make your schools a true vehicle for the community, consider offering the following services:
The key to high parental involvement is removing barriers by building genuine relationships that result in a culture of understanding, support, and collaboration. As our district has discovered, when we support our families, our families have been instrumental in supporting our schools.
Tiffany Anderson is the superintendent of the Jennings School District and an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri.
Copyright © 2014 by ASCD
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