To paraphrase - no school is an island. Your school cannot exist in a vacuum and connecting with families and the community should be part of your DNA. You should understand community needs because you rely on families to send you their children and adolescents to become educated members of society.
With today’s technology, there are nearly limitless opportunities to engage with everyone around you. The neighborhood school has often served as a resource in the community. Let everyone in to see what you need and what you can do for them.
Why Connect? The Benefits of Engagement and Collaboration between School and Community
First and foremost, studies show that children perform better in school when their parents are involved. Local community members act as role models to the children you teach; with their engagement, you can ensure you are teaching the same values and information.
Parent engagement contributes to higher grades, higher test scores, better behavior, and enhanced social skills. With parental involvement, students are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, become pregnant, or fall prey to other poor health outcomes.
If parents and family members are unaware of what you do for their children or actively work against your teaching, not only is the child ill-served, but your school’s reputation suffers. Not every program works for every school, but it is possible to bring people together. Dr. Joyce Epstein, an expert with thirteen.org, identifies six types of activities that bring parents, schools, and neighborhoods together:
- Engage with parents and other family members to provide a united educational home for each child.
- Keep the lines of communication open so everyone understands the goals, lessons, and events surrounding the child.
- Persuade community members to volunteer their time to bring them into contact with the children and give them a close-up view of what your school is doing for the community.
- Reinforce the lessons you teach at home by engaging with parents, because exposing a child to the same lesson in more than one place gives them a chance to talk it over with trusted adults.
- Involve families and communities in making decisions because unilateral decision-making often causes hurt feelings.
- Collaborate with the community so you can both can leverage each other’s strengths.
Humans are social animals. Typically, school is the first place many of us experience the world outside the home. Creating connections throughout a child's life eases the transition from a single entity to a social being.
In case you still aren’t convinced that the school-family connection is essential, think back to the recent teacher strikes in school districts across the country. The strikes highlighted issues that only the community can address, from class sizes to providing more youth resources.
Promoting Parent and Community Involvement
There are several steps you can take to engage with families and other community members.
- Develop interactive homework linked with the curriculum so parents can help their children with homework and become aware of what they are learning in school.
- Ask for volunteers to help with administrative tasks such as printing or copying homework packets, answering the phones, helping out in the art program, or coordinating bake sales and other fundraisers.
- Ask for help in translating fliers, newsletters, and other information if the school is in a community where English is a second language.
These activities don’t need to take up too much of someone’s time, but they will allow them to see inside the workings of the school and illustrate your needs more clearly.
The best way to promote engagement is through thorough planning. Your school needs a well-planned program for parent engagement, including a clear vision of what that means and how teachers can support connections.
Parenting support is a useful way to connect. Few people are “trained” to be parents when they have children, but as a school, you have unique insights into behavior. You can help build parents’ knowledge and skills so they can support positive attitudes toward school and health.
If you seek volunteers, prepare a variety of ways to help. Not everyone is cut out to be a “room mother.” Have duties that can be performed at home or on a flexible schedule.
Event Ideas to Bring the Community Together
Plan events on days and times parents can attend with their children. For example, set up a pizza and game night. The kids and staff can make pizza, or parents can sign up to bring food or drinks. Select a range of games everyone can play, both "thinking" games and active ones.
A similar idea is holding a pot luck dinner or pancake breakfast. For each event, identify ways to include all family members and make them feel welcome.
A talent or variety show brings out America's Got Talent in everyone. Children can perform together, as solo artists, or perform with their parents. Get the staff members to bring their best singing, dancing, or magic acts to keep everyone entertained.
Coordinate a day of community service. Ask for community assistance to clean up a park, weed the school vegetable garden, or repair school equipment.
Celebrate specific family or community members with mother's, father's, and grandparent’s days, fire safety lessons, and getting to know the local police officers. Don’t just ask parents to talk about their work; try to get them in when their knowledge supports a particular lesson.
Use Childcare Management Software to Connect with Your Community
With the right software solution, you can bridge any communication gap and keep everyone in the information loop. A parent portal provides excellent opportunities for engaging with the parents of your students:
- Create a newsletter to send regularly via email to parents highlighting recent activities and announcing news ones for the future.
- Upload photos and videos showing the children at their lessons and activities. Be sure to publish images from special events.
- Publicly thank community members through the portal.
- Use email or text to ask for assistance or resources.
- Ask for feedback during decision-making processes to improve your offerings.
Childcare management software makes it easy to engage parents, family, and community. It’s simple and takes advantage of everyone's capabilities. Parents will have a sense of ownership, and the community gains an understanding of your brand and your value to their world.