Every summer, I spend some significant time looking back on the past year. I do my very best to determine what went well, and areas where I think we need to improve. I then try to chart the course for the upcoming year. Of course, I bring the outline of my ideas to my administrative team (usually during our annual retreat), where we dissect them, make adjustments (including adding some items and subtracting others) and come up with a more formal plan. The next step is to bring them to my Leadership Team, who in turn shares them with their various departments and teams for some feedback and final adjustments. I am sure this is very similar to how you operate in your building or other leadership position.
The reason I share this with you is that I am currently finishing up the first stage and I am coming up with a few areas where we need to improve. One of the biggest areas where I think we need some work is on parent engagement. Not parent involvement. These are two very separate things. We have tons of parent involvement, a great PTA, plenty of volunteers, awesome financial support (I know I am very lucky). ENGAGEMENT is an entirely different thing. I am currently reading Peter M. DeWitt’s book Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most, which is a great read. He states it like this:
“Too many times family engagement means to educators that parents should support what teachers want. This is very one-sided. Family engagement shouldn’t be about making sure the needs of the school are met. Family engagement is about a collaborative relationship between staff and parents with students at the center.”
THAT got me thinking about the role of our parents in our kids education. I started to think about how are parents are engaged, and I found that we were wanting. So, as I started to plan for next year, I came up with some ideas on how we can increase or parent ENGAGEMENT. Here is what I came up with:
I truly believe that we do a pretty good job with this one. We utilize a variety of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, weekly e-newsletter) and we have almost zero complaints from parents about information flowing from the school. Read that again…FROM the school. This year I want to work on information and communication flowing TO the school. We are going to work with parents to share great things their students are doing outside of the school walls. I am also going to encourage parents to utilize two-way communications on our social media networks.
Parent Advisory Committee
I already have an advisory council made up of students, but I am going to step out of my comfort zone and do the same thing for parents. Taking DeWitt’s comments to heart, I want parents on there that don’t necessarily agree with me. I see this as a win-win (even though it makes me terribly nervous). Parents win because they have a voice in the process that they made not have felt they had before. The school wins because we now have a group of parents who can act as ambassadors for the school in the community. Win-win.
This year, to the best of our ability, we are going to make sure that parents feel welcome to the school. I’m not saying that we don’t already do this, because I think we do. But I want this to be a focus of our entire staff. There are parents out there (you can name them in your building) that no matter what you do, they are not going to be satisfied with our efforts. But that doesn’t mean we don’t make EVERY effort to welcoming every parent. Part of that welcoming every parent includes events that invite them in to be a part of the educational process. Not events where they sit and get talked to (we all know how that feels), but events where they can actually come in and be actively engaged in what their students are learning. If they understand
Parents as Partners
DeWitt talks about making parents partners in the process, and he is right. We met with our central office Family and Community Engagement department to come up with ways to encourage parents to become partners in the educational process. We are going to share a Google Doc with parents, asking them for ways that they can help us, engage with the school as a whole. This could be a business that will share resources or volunteers, individual parents who can contribute by acting as authentic audiences for our PBL lessons or be guest experts in the classroom for a lesson. We are going to do the same thing with staff (many of whom live in the community) to see if there are spouses or other people they know who can contribute.
There is a great PDF put out by the Virginia Department of Education that has some wonderful ideas on how to engage parents in your school. You can find it HERE. please feel free to share any ideas that your school uses to increase parental engagement as well.