While teachers play an integral role in leading a student to academic success, parents are the driving force that continually support and encourage their children to succeed beyond the classroom. Research shows that when the whole family is involved, teachers gain an invaluable partner in learning and students achieve greater academic and personal success.
But how do schools empower parents to become involved in the education of their children? We’ve seen an unprecedented need for programs that strengthen the school’s bond between educators and parents to foster a supportive environment for students, but schools frequently struggle to get busy parents to visit their classrooms or attend school events. Families in a rural or low-income areas often don’t have time to build social capital or trusting, mutual relationships with the school, preventing them from becoming the valuable partners we so often need in education. The community can help with this.
At Onaga Elementary in Kansas, the same ideas apply to our approach to education and our mission to include parents in the process as much as we can. Between educators, administrators and parents, our primary focus is to ensure student success. The majority of our time and energy is dedicated to empowering parents and showing them how their decisions affect their children, and community leaders can explore a few of these plans to enhance the parent experience:
- Empower Every Parent
Parents often hesitate to visit their child’s school regularly to meet with teachers, attend events or simply interact with other parents. Many feel anxiety, and fear that they don’t fit in with the educators, which is why statewide education initiatives and after school parent programs are more important now than ever before – they help to allay fears by encouraging parent inclusion and empowerment. Think of parents as the first teacher in their child’s education. From there, help them see what’s happening inside the classroom while also helping them understand what the homework is and why it’s important for their child to complete.
- Build Social Capital
Building a strong community is all about peers helping peers, and parents feeling like they’re in a safe and inviting place to share what is happening at home with other families who may be experiencing something similar. Families unite to achieve similar goals. Their main connection is the school and helping their children achieve academic success, but at the end of the day it’s simply a community of people willing to help their neighbor in any way they can. Establish a strong team with individualized roles that establish a supportive web for families, and encourage families to take on leadership roles as they progress through a parent engagement or academic program.
- Leave Judgment at the Door
Parents and students come from all different walks of life. Each family has their own experiences and challenges they face everyday. Check judgment at the door and embrace the diversity families bring to the table. Diversity plays a huge role in the family dynamic and their involvement in school, and the school should embrace what brings the family together through proactive engagement and education.
- Remember, Anyone Can Change
We frequently see parents show up to events for the first time that look distracted and disengaged with what is going on around them. They sit on their phone and pay no attention to their kids, and don’t want to be involved because they are distrustful about what the school is doing. However, even the most disengaged parents can make a complete 180-degree turn. We had one mom in our program that experienced one of the most dramatic turnarounds and saw how other families were bonding and made a decision to start participating to see what would happen with her children. That same parent now participates as part of our parent panel, the role of which is to talk to families and encourage them to commit to our parent program in order to experience its benefits for the entire family.
Being part of a parent program is a great way to build a community full of supportive families and educators that want to ensure every student succeeds. By regularly engaging with parents, we’re holding families more accountable to learn and understand what their kids are doing in the classroom – and to step in when necessary. Becoming an active member the program, parents meet other parents that have similar concerns and questions, and it allows for a safe place for parents to voice their opinions and concerns with other parents and teachers.
Becky Nider is a Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR) Manager and FAST Team Member at Onaga Elementary School in Kansas. Through her experience working with KRR and FAST, and working as a paraprofessional, she has seen firsthand how the power of parent involvement can change a child’s educational experience.
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