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  Family and Community Involvement: Reaching Out to Diverse Populations
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Strategy 3: Provide Extra Help for School Staff and Parents

Unfortunately for educators, there is no official manual on engaging hard to reach parents and community members. And, for all the emphasis on parent and community involvement, few colleges of education offer courses to future teachers, principals and superintendents on Community Engagement 101. This means it’s up to districts and schools to help staff members understand, design and implement parent and community engagement strategies.

This work typically begins by working with staff members to craft a common definition of public engagement by examining the school’s goals, brainstorming how involving parents and community help meet those goals and exploring the obstacles that may get in the way of these efforts. Integral to this work is staff understanding of the importance of family and community involvement in the daily life of a school.

Provide all staff—from teachers to custodians to cafeteria workers—with opportunities to learn more about the cultural and language barriers that hinder parent engagement. Invite different “cultural experts”—community leaders, business owners and parents—to discuss at staff meetings how different cultural perspectives may influence a parent’s role in their child’s education. Share tips and strategies. Identify what additional training or help staff might need. From these conversations, develop an overall community engagement plan for your school with the help and direction of all staff members.

Here are some subjects to explore:

  • Understanding your community’s culture and attitudes about public schools

  • Developing a parent and community outreach plan

  • Collaborating with parents to understand how their child learns best

  • Involving parents and community members in the daily life of your school

Just as training is important for educators, so too are workshops and resources for families. Traditionally, parents and community members served as audience members at a school play or fans at a sports event. Training that helps families and communities better understand the deeper role they can play in schools and how to perform this role lays the groundwork for successful schools. Think about holding an informal workshop or providing resource materials that deepen understanding about the issues parents and community members care about most.

These topics are a good place to start:

  • What a good school looks like

  • The nuts and bolts of our public school: the budget, curriculum, student learning and other issues

  • How the school system works

  • Creating a home learning environment for your child

  • What it takes to be a school volunteer

Other helpful areas to explore focus on the nuts and bolts of running a school: budgets, curriculum, reform efforts. Explore ways to deepen parents’ understanding about these issues and others so they can make informed decisions about what’s best for the school.

You may also want to provide families and community members with volunteer training in different areas including tutoring, student supervision and front office duties. Be sure to give some thought to where and when you’ll hold these workshops or training sessions. Key to this effort is making them as accessible to as many parents as possible.

Here are some ideas:

  • Create a family resource center in your school that is devoted to informal gatherings, workshops or meetings with parents and community members. Keep schedules flexible so parents can attend sessions at night, during the day or on weekends.

  • Consider repeating the same workshop more than once to accommodate as many participants as possible. Provide transportation if possible.

  • Hold workshops in neighborhood churches, community centers, restaurants and other locations that are close and comfortable for community members.

As you work with colleagues to define public engagement in your school, consider these questions:

  • What is our school’s mission?

  • What are our goals over the next year?

  • In what ways did our school engage families and the community in setting these goals?

  • Is our community united with us on these goals?

  • What role will parents and community members play in helping us meet our goals and overall mission?

  • How will we measure results?

  • In what ways will we report back to the community and families about those results?

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