Students may not always want parents and teachers to communicate, but there are few more important elements to effective education. Myriad challenges inevitably arise, though- many of which reveal a disconnect between teachers and the community in which they teach.
Ideally, teachers and other school staffers are members of the community and understand it deeply. Ideally, they are fluent in the culture and the needs of the homes from which the students come. Without this natural integration, schools need to make community learning & connection a top priority. If for no other reason, because without this understanding, school-to-home and home-to-school communication will be like a faulty game of telephone.
Here are five ways to increase connection between school and home, especially in areas of low income, limited English fluency, or simply low parent involvement:
1. Know the Facts & Use Them:
There are many misconceptions about students in low-income areas. In particular, that the parents are less concerned or less aware of the necessity for communication. This could not be further from the truth.
“If parents know their involvement is so important, why aren’t they more involved? Not surprisingly, for 2/3s of parents who believe they should be more involved it’s lack of time: 38% identified work or a full-time job as a major obstacle and 26% said other demands on their time and scheduling conflicts interfered with their involvement.
Of greater interest to educators are the reasons cited by the remaining 1/3 who do not attribute their lack of involvement to time:
- 12% cite a lack of information, communication and knowledge of what is going on;
- 6% say they would like to have more contact from the school;
- only 5% cite their own lack of education and knowledge about what is being taught in school as barriers;
- 37% of parents of children in low-performing schools list one of those 4 reasons for lower levels of involvement while only 21% of high-performing school parents do; and
- only 42% of parents at the low-performing schools feel they are as involved as they should be.
“High performing schools do a better job of communicating with parents,” the study reports. Almost twice as many parents in high- performing schools said their schools were doing a very good or fairly good job communicating with them about their child’s academic performance as parents with children in low-performing schools(83% vs. 43%).”
This is why it is so critical to make sure that teachers and staff are flexible and layered in their communication.
2. Plan for Mobility:
When students come in and out of schools, it is a challenge to make sure that none of the passwords and reminders and email lists and text chains and blog addresses go unconnected. When you are building your parent packet at the beginning of the year, always make several extras, ready-to-go. Students in lower-income areas are more likely to have to switch schools and will need the support of having a teacher who is ready at the get.
3. Mentors & Liasons:
Insure that all students have an adult champion. Create student-centered groups of parent & mentor liasons who periodically check in on student progress, drop a note or bit of encouragement, and help connect home and school.
Mentoring programs can also be extremely helpful. Make use of older students, community programs, and existing partnerships like NHS & YMCA.
4. Principal Involvement:
If your principal isn’t already doing these things, encourage him or her to do so or submit a request at the next faculty meeting to put together a committee to work on them. These are research-based activitiesthat are proven to be effective in connecting schools with communitites and therefore increasing communication:
- Relentlessly ensures the school is safe.
- Initiates conversations and supports professional learning about the influence of poverty.
- Organizes collaborative efforts to address student mobility and other poverty-related factors that negatively influence learning.
- Initiates and promotes policies, structures, and practices that link students and families with medical, dental, and mental health services, as well as other sources of support in the community.
- Examining data related to barriers to student participation in extracurricular activities and leading collaborative efforts to address them.
- Initiates and promotes policies, structures, and practices that connect schools to families and the community, such as service learning and using the school as a community center.
5. Focus on Connection:
Do home visits. Get to know parents and siblings as much as possible. Make sure that all documents are translated and that tranlsators are available (and advertised) for conferences if needed. Right when school starts, check and double-check and triple-check that whatever communication method the parents have chosen is working. Are they returning your test emails? Are you texts being read? Is the student returning paperwork? Find what works. One year I printed off one copy of the newsletter each week (in contrast to an email for everyone else) and send it home as a hard copy to a mom who assured me it would get lost in her inbox otherwise.
Without trust, these practices will fall flat. This last one, connection, helps insure that your other steps are effective.
What has worked best in your classroom to build community and increase communication?