Dr. Joyce L. Epstein, Director of both the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools, as well as professor at Johns Hopkins University, has dedicated her life to researching the importance and impact of parent engagement in schools.
She is quoted in this article from Families and Students Together as stating, “The way schools care about children is reflected in the way schools care about the children’s families. If educators view children simply as students, they are likely to see the family as separate from the school. That is, the family is expected to do its job and leave the education of children to the schools. If educators view students as children, they are likely to see both the family and the community as partners with the school in children’s education and development.” In other words, in order to best serve our students as children, parent and family engagement is essential.
Strategies for Engaging Parents
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our ability to reach families in person as we have before. Where we were able to hold monthly or bi-weekly family nights in person before the pandemic, we’ve had to pivot and creatively develop new strategies for engaging parents. Communicating with and engaging parents in the education of their children using technology is now one of the best ways to reach home.
- Class Dojo
Class Dojo is one of the easiest ways to communicate with parents and families. It is also a great tool for positive behavior management in the classroom. It is a program that is designed for use through their webpage or the app on your phone. You can sign up as a parent, teacher, student, or school leader for free! As a teacher, you can praise your students through the dashboard by assigning them points earned. You can also create a class page to share information and photos from class with your families in real time, directly to their phones. Parents and educators can also message each other with announcements and questions.
This tool is incredibly important because it can help build your class or school culture. It takes the mystery of what is happening inside the school building away and creates a transparency that allows parents and families to feel included in the learning process.
- Virtual Conferences
Parent conferences can be one of the most powerful ways to come together in support of a student. Due to COVID-19, most schools are not allowing visitors in school buildings or in-person meetings to occur. Zoom is one platform that can help keep the lines of communication open between educators and families. Arranging a virtual meeting to discuss academic performance and behavior is extremely important because much can be lost or misinterpreted through email and written communication. Face-to-face meetings are always preferred and most effective, but if that is not an option, the next best thing is virtually with video.
Another important part of this communication is to include the student. Especially at the secondary level, students should always be a part of their education and be an active participant in decision-making. In the interest of supporting and nurturing our students’ growth into being responsible decision-makers, we must provide opportunities for them to witness collaborative decision-making among stakeholders and to participate in making decisions that affect them personally. Within this safe environment of support and care, students can begin to develop their voice and advocate for themselves.
Remind is a free app for use on any smart device such as a tablet or phone. It is easy to set up and is a very effective way to reach parents, families, and older students. Remind allows two-way messaging between parents and educators that protects personal phone numbers. Some ways this can be used is for announcements such as school closures, reminders about class events and assignments, and for updates on individual students. This app was a huge help for our high school teachers when communicating with our graduating class last spring during the shutdown.
- Virtual Town Halls
It is the responsibility of schools to engage parents and families and support the development or reinforcement of positive community communications. Without being able to meet in person for events such as Doughnuts with Dads or Muffins with Moms, family movie nights or potluck dinners, creating and nurturing these connections has grown more difficult than before.
One way to combat this is to hold virtual town halls. These could be held on Zoom or any multi-user video platform. To do this, set a date and time, then create a flyer and distribute using email, robo-call, Remind, Class Dojo, or by sharing on your learner management system. Include school leaders, parent engagement coordinators, teachers, staff, parents, and families. Take attendance and consider raffling off gift cards or other prizes.
The topic of discussion or presentation should be relatable to most attendees, as well. It is key to make sure that there is a moderator identified and that parents and families have enough time to participate and speak, if they desire. This type of engagement has been successful in the absence of the ability to meet in person.
The best thing about these resources and ideas is that they ensure equitable access for families. They can all be used on a cell phone with only internet access. Although it may be easy to forget, many low-income families cannot afford unlimited data cellular plans. Almost everyone has a phone, so almost everyone can access the internet. To assume that everyone who owns a cell phone has a plan that allows for phone calls and texting would be erroneous. These web-based apps and programs can be used without cellular data.