Shifting How Schools Involve Parents To Improve Student Achievement

I am sure many teachers can relate to the experience I am about to share.

During the yearly NJASK (now the PARCC Assessment) preparation booklets are distributed to teachers to handoff to their students to bring home to view with their families.  This booklet is to help ease the anxiety many students experience during standardized tests with practice questions, test-taking tips, and a brief explanation of the exam and what is analyzes.  The manual is also to inform families of the NJASK and how they can help prepare their child at home.  As much as would hope these packets are reviewed at home between our students and their families, the chances are they’re not.

Credit. GCSE Main Online

Credit. GCSE Main Online

Here lies problem.

Unfortunately, schools are assessed on how well their students perform on this yearly standardized test.  Teachers prepare as many effective lessons as they can to prepare their students to succeed on the test with support of the school community.  One important group that schools normally do not tap into for assistance in student achievement are the people our students spend most of their lives with; their families.

Families are normally invited to school events to do two things; listen and view.  Families are asked to attend and listen in on PTO/PTA meetings or watch their child play the leading role in the school concert.  Schools need to reform how they involve families so that they can serve as another component to assisting their child at home with their studies and skills to improve their academic achievement levels.

Chapter 5 “Linking to Learning: How will involving parents help your test scores” of Beyond the Bake Sale focuses on how schools can better engage families in their child’s learning by improving the way we use our time in various school events.  School communities need to develop a Partnership 2.0 approach when analyzing how they prepare families to assist their child academically at home.  Attitudes and views among the school need to shift from “do parents care?” to “do parents understand how?”  The book hits on something we all in education should already know; students today learn very different from when their families were in school.  I remember as a struggling math student in high school asking my parents for help.  Although they both graduated high school, it was difficult for them to help me.  I am sure inside they both felt frustrated and bothered that they couldn’t help their child.  Now that scenario was the late 1990s, can you image how parents feel today?



Schools need to do a better job at how we engage families in the learning process, but how?

On page 82 of Beyond the Bake Sale  the authors suggest that all school programs should help families

  • Get a clear idea of what their children are learning and doing in class
  • Promote high standards for student work
  • Gain skills to help their children at home
  • Understand what good teaching looks like
  • Discuss how to improve student progress

It is suggested that school leaders reflect how their partnerships are used during school events starting with; Back-to-School Night, conferences, and meetings.  Do the events link to learning?  Do the teachers clearly translate without jargon the standards that are used to assess each student? Are non-English speaking families provided assistance with translations? Are lessons demonstrate where families participate in the activities themselves so that they understand how to help their child at home?  Is data broken down so that families understand their child’s academic level and the level at which they need to be for their grade/age?

Credit. Oakridge Day and Residential Blog Spot

Credit. Oakridge Day and Residential Blog Spot

So, where should schools start?

  • Invite parents into the classroom so they can observe what a standards-based classroom of the 21st Century looks like.
  • During Back-to-School Night, leave policies and procedures for Flipped Videos and manuals, make better use of the time discussing standards, dreams, goals, and developing relationships.
  • Create Parent Resource Centers where families can have a place of their own within the school to research curriculum, look through exemplarily student work, partake in workshops, meet with teachers, and volunteer their time as tutors.
  • Decorate the school with excellence; families should be able to scan the walls of your school with examples of student work and rubrics with how they were assessed.  This will visually give them a better idea of the academic expectations.
  • Communicate regularly with families about learning; newsletters with objectives and expectations of upcoming student activities, tips on how they can help their child at home, and provide examples.
  • Create opportunities for families to attend events directly tied to learning.  Have families participate hands-on to provide them with the skills they will need to help their child at home with their studies.
  • Put students at the center of Parent-Teacher Conferences and involve them in the process.  Most important, provide information to families before hand on what to look for and ask during their time with the teacher and their child.

The Core Beliefs of Open Partnerships Among Families and Schools

Photo Credit: Katy Ridnouer, Education Week

Photo Credit: Katy Ridnouer, Education Week

Week two of #PTcamp asks participants to reflect on four core beliefs related to open partnerships among families and schools including how to develop the relationship necessary for its success.  The authors of Beyond the Bake Sale identifies the foundation for the work of engaging families.

Core Belief #1:  All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them

Core Belief #2:  All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning

Core Belief #3:  Parents and school staff should be equal partners

Core Belief #4:  The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders

In order for a partnership to succeed, school leaders need to develop a team made up of various stakeholders in education to create a shared vision on family engagement.  These stakeholders should consist of members of the community, parents from multiple grade levels, your PTO/PTA or Home-School president, the administration, main office secretary, and teacher representatives.  It is also recommended that students are also represented on the committee as their voice is usually overlooked but ultimately the most important.

Core Belief #1:  All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them

“This first core belief is the most important of the four.  Assuming that all families want the best for their children is the first step in cultivating and maintaining strong partnerships” (p. 29).

To assist schools with this belief, the authors make suggested steps for implementing a plan of action.  One key component to the conversation is to find out what expectations the parents have for their children and what are their ultimate dreams.  The school should then take the expectations and dreams the parents mention and align it to the school’s vision and goals as well as it’s curriculum, then communicate it back to the families.

Core Belief #2:  All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning

“Regardless of how little formal education they may have or what languages they speak, all parents can contribute to their children’s learning” (p. 32).

Members of the school need to feel that no matter how diverse the families are, they believe everyone have has something to offer.  The book highlights three key concepts that influence the choices parents make about being involved in their children’s education:

1.  How parents develop their job description as a parent “role construction”

2.  How confident parents feel about their ability to help their children “efficacy”

3.  Whether parents feel invited- both my their children and by the school  “sense of invitation”

To assist parents with their capacity to support their children’s learning, the authors suggest that schools develop activities and events that educate, celebrate, and acknowledge the diversity of the school.  As a team, develop an actual description of what an involved parent is and share it with the families.  Build up a families’ confidence by offering workshops and tutoring sessions to that they may gain the skills necessary to help their child at home with content, projects, reading, writing, and more.  Finally, the school should connect with the community by hosting various events outside of the building and into different locations around town.  This can be done with home visits, setting up a meeting at the local Boys and Girls Club, or even a local ice cream parlor.

Core Belief #3:  Parents and school staff should be equal partners

“Parents feel that they are supposed to help their children at home and come to school only when asked” (p. 26).

This is probably one of the biggest obstacles in improving family-school partnerships.  During our Voxer conversation in #PTcamp, many participants mentioned that members of the school, especially teachers, do not really understand how to engage families to make their classrooms more transparent.  As a teacher, I can attest to this.  Prior to joining Twitter, I was’t comfortable with the idea of involving families even though I knew it was important to the success of their child.  I especially didn’t know how; no tools except the phone and email.  After participating in various Twitter chats, I learned about and Remind; two tools I use today to communicate with each of my students’ families.  I especially like Portfolio because of its capability for two-way communication and it has a component to read and send messages in various languages using Google Translator.  Below is a comment a parent made about my use of Portfoliyo to connect with them during the 2013-2014 school year.


The authors suggest that the power should be shared so they parents see themselves as equal partners in education.  This can be done by placing parents on school committees so that their lens is part of all collaboration efforts.  The School Improvement Committee should develop a short survey in the form of a checklist to evaluate how often parents are consulted in important school decisions.  Use the results as a platform for change when it comes to parents and school staff as equal partners.

Core Belief #4:  The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders

To create a climate and culture that supports partnerships with parents, strong leadership is essential from both the principal and teachers” (p. 39).

Standard 3 of the ISLLC standards focuses on the role of a school leader to promote the success of every student by collaborating with faculty and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources.  The authors suggest that “lopsided power dynamics create families to see the school as a powerful and forbidding institution and that reaching out to parents is easier than reaching in” (pp. 39-40).  As the leader of a school, principals need to provide the resources and support to teachers to implement and sustain partnership programs. School leaders should support teachers with; meeting with families at various times of the school day, providing professional development and research-based tools focused on communicating with parents, and embed events into the school calendar where teachers and families can collaborate during school functions such as; pot luck dinners, workshops, and inside a Parent Resource Center.


US II Global Project

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As our society develops, the use of the internet and social media becomes more important each day.  Through Twitter, two educators from New Jersey and one from Michigan have decided to create an online global project focused on the historical era of the Great Depression.  Amanda Fernicola from Waldwick High School in New Jersey, Dana Sirotiak from Hackensack High School in New Jersey, and David Fouch from Forest Hills Northern High School in Michigan, have developed a research-based project for students in US History 2 classes to complete using Google Presentations.  The three contributors planned the entire project using both Google Docs and Google Hangout out.  The three teachers are members of each others’ Professional Learning Network (PLN).

The students in US History II have been broken into groups consisting of students from all three schools to work on the project. The project will ask students to research how specific areas of the United States were affected by the Great Depression. Students will be asked to describe the social, political, and economical impact on the Great Plains and the East Coast.

Prior to the students beginning their research, students and educators from all three schools will have participated in a Google Hangout on January 9th, 2014. For two weeks in January, students will be given some time in class to work on their project. Once the project is completed, students will present their projects to their respective classes. As students complete the assignment, they will be asked to complete a self-reflection on their performance and the overall assignment.

A recording of January 9th “Meet and Greet” on Google Hangout will be shared here.  A post project reflection will also be shared for viewers to use as a guideline on how they too can create a collaborative, global project for their students.