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Strategy 2: Get Smart about Communicating with Parents and Community Members

Think back to the last conversation you had with a parent about your school. Was it confrontational or positive? Do most of your conversations with parents involve crisis situations or do they focus on meaningful discussions about how to improve student learning? Do parents leave feeling as if their opinion doesn’t count? Or do they feel respected and heard even if you agree to disagree? How do you know? In what ways do you follow-up with parents?

Communicating with parents regularly is an important way to engage them in the life of a school. But too often contact with a parent occurs only when a student is in trouble or does poorly in class. Instead, work closely with your colleagues to develop strategies for communicating more often with families and community members. Whether it’s greeting parents daily as they drop off students or regularly involving community members in decisions about student learning, you are making an important connection with parents and asking them to help shape the school’s direction.

That’s not to say this effort is not without its challenges. In lower-income neighborhoods, struggling parents may juggle two jobs or care full time for young children with little time left over for school activities or meetings. Some families may be wary of public schools because their own experience in school was bad. Still others face language barriers.

How do you overcome these obstacles as you reach out to families from lower socioeconomic and linguistically diverse communities? By getting smarter about how and what you communicate.

Rather than rely on students to convey information, develop strategies to reach out directly to parents:

  • Neighborhood walks: Walk door-to-door in your community with two to three teachers representing different grade levels. Talk to parents whose children attend your school and hand out relevant information.

  • Phone home: Ask school volunteers to call parents and personally invite them to a school event, set up a telephone hotline for parents and place phones in classrooms so parents can talk directly to teachers. For homeless families, visit shelters and talk with parents in person.

  • Tap different media outlets: Promote school events and community meetings in neighborhood newspapers and on community cable stations.

  • Create a school newsletter: Keep parents and community members apprised of the most current information with the help of a weekly or monthly newsletter.

  • Camera! Film! Action! Create short videos for parents focusing on the issues they care about most such as helping their child with homework or how to volunteer as a teacher’s aide.

  • Develop parent folders: Compile important information—such as the school’s mission, goals and policies—in a folder and distribute widely to parents and community members. Consider adding a school calendar (see box), tips for parents or volunteer activities for community members.

  • Visit families: Help place some parents at ease by meeting them where they are most comfortable—in their home. Be aware that some families may feel uncomfortable with this idea so be sure to find out what is most appropriate.

  • Send home a district calendar: Design a calendar in languages reflective of your community that highlights important contact information and district dates such as parent-teacher conferences and early dismissals. Highlight student art throughout the calendar.

Successful schools vary the way they communicate with parents and community members. And, many communicate both in print and verbally because some parents don’t take the time to read information or may not read at all. They also identify staff members who are fluent in languages reflective of the community.

Core to this effort is keeping parents and community members up-to-date on what’s happening in your school. Provide information about school curriculum, student achievement, new reform efforts, events and ideas to help children learn. Whatever information you provide, make sure it’s relevant to parents and community members.

One district in Tulare, California, has created an annual calendar jammed with student work and lots of helpful information for parents, including safety tips, arrival and dismissal times, and information on how to directly contact the superintendent and school board. The district invites parents to meet with their child’s teacher at any time during the school year. It also includes a tear-off sheet that parents sign and return to the school noting they have talked about the information in the calendar with their children. You may want to consider designing a similar district calendar that collects all the important information parents need to know in one place.


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