The first day of school goes hand-in-hand with new faces — both students and their parents or caregivers. Who will volunteer as room parents? Will it be easy to find chaperones for this year’s field trips? Each school year is different, but one thing that doesn’t change is the need for extra help in and outside the classroom. It can be lifesaving for the teacher, but studies also link parental involvement in school to individual student success. Engaged supportive families also have a tremendous impact on turning a school into a true community of learners. Here are ten ideas for getting parents involved the first day and keeping them involved throughout the school year.
- Make the first move. Let families know you are excited to be working with them to help their students achieve great things. Some districts invite parents into the classroom the first day. This creates a positive first interaction with parents and the school. Welcoming them with refreshments and a short informational session about any new programs at school makes families feel comfortable to come back and engage with the school throughout the year – no waiting a couple of months for parent-teacher conferences.
- Sign them up! Start the year with a volunteer sign-up sheet. On that first day or at back to school night, provide opportunities for both fulltime working parents and those who have more time to offer. Activities can range from reading with students one-on-one at school, making copies, or helping to prepare materials for future lessons/experiments from home and dropping of the materials before the lesson. Be sure to explain that different volunteer opportunities will be available throughout the year for parents who may be able to offer more time at a later date.
- Provide a detailed structure for volunteer opportunities so parents and visitors know exactly what will fit into their schedule and skill set. You may want to organize opportunities by time commitment, needs for each day of the week, or by skill/expertise so families can easily find a way to contribute.
- Be positive. It is like the saying: You attract more bees with honey. Having a positive attitude when approaching parents attracts more help and fosters a respectful relationship.
- Plan ahead. Try to schedule your field trips as far in advance as possible giving parents an opportunity to clear their schedules to chaperone. Providing a condensed calendar of key events throughout the school year is always welcome by parent who plan months at a time – you don’t want anyone to miss out on helping with a great outing!
- Communication is key. There are so many ways to deliver information these days, that you may have to choose a few different methods. Find out if parents prefer email, notes home in the backpack, or a blog/website they can sign into. It will also depend on the age of your students how much and how often you communicate with parents. And remember to provide information about the class, school events, or upcoming field trips in students’ home languages or provide a translator at school meetings.
- Incorporate social and multimedia. Face-to-face meetings are always best, but if you have a busy parent who is an expert in a topic you are studying, perhaps a scientist at a local university, a musician, or works at a museum, have him or her record a brief tour of their place of work or have them Skype with students and do a Q&A.
- Suggest homework activities that involve parents. But be sure to provide an alternative homework activity as well. Send home suggestions like prepare a meal with a family member at home and record the steps you take. Provide a summary of the meal, what you liked or what worked best, and how you might change the meal next time. Though it can be difficult to find time to help students with homework, families will appreciate being part of a fun, engaging activity with their student. Parents will understand what the class is studying while getting some family time.
- Create a wish list. List the items or services needed in the classroom and send it home and post it outside your classroom door. Try to make it easy to obtain items from the list by including a picture and providing specifics about where the items can be purchased or ordered and average cost.
- Set up visitor and volunteer training days throughout the year. When everyone is aware of school expectations, needs, procedures, and rules things tend to go more smoothly. With regularly scheduled trainings, parents are reminded how important their involvement at school is and allows parent to get involved at various times of the year.
We hope you have a wonderful school year filled with lots of creative, engaged volunteers!