Last night I was finalizing my agenda for the first meeting with our 2013-14 home & school team (PTO as some of you may refer to it). This is the second year serving for most of us and the vision hasn’t changed much. We want to continue finding ways to engage more parents in the world of learning at our school. Last year we focused on building connections with parents and between families and the school with face to face interactions and expanding on our use of technology. But what this year? How do we increase participants and the level at which they’re involved? We could continue to do the same thing…but I, personally, would get bored. Who wants to hear people say the same thing over and over? I don’t even like saying the same thing twice. Last year the idea of a parent resource center/room was thrown out there, but some didn’t feel parents needed a “room” (not that there was a room open…just in discussion). Parents might not need a room, but they do need the resources that would be found in that room.
Thinking about why and where parents interact with schools
The why is simple, because of their children. At our school, I think we started to touch on that last year. We began incorporating the children in everything we did, not just in events. That included our monthly meetings (which each month we gave one club 15 minutes to share their learning or accomplishments) and in our monthly newsletter (where we filled 75% of the pages with student work). The where? Many places, but the one parents visit most often in the course of a year, is the lobby. As a new family, it is the first place you go…and it is the one location you will return to time and time again throughout your child’s school years. Why not use it for more than a waiting room?
So often parents are asked to come to the school…and then sit idle off to the side; doing (and sometimes learning) nothing new. If we want parents to take a proactive role and be engaged, we should encourage them to touch, explore and learn anytime they are there. In thinking how our group can encourage this, I began to think about what engages my children in learning? What are the characteristics of places such as museums that attract us to learning and exploring….not just once, but to return for more? Which of those traits could be used in a school setting to engage parents? (Keeping in mind we don’t have the same budget a museum has.)
A warm welcome, both with signage and people. (This part is a given…but feel if I leave it out, it would be odd.) For schools such as ours with multiple languages spoken, sign(s) with welcome in various languages greeting you when you walk in. As far as the people…I’m not a fan of enclosing the office staff, but I also understand the need/wish for security. For me, I’m OK with the walls and windows as long as the staff is friendly, attentive and accessible to all families.
Interactive and hands-on. (This is the part I think we are missing) Museums encourage learning not through lots of comfy chairs/sofas and papers, but through bold statements of color and structure and interactive stations, clearly designated for a particular task. The “tools” are not neatly put away – but out and ready for use or viewing.
What could we add to our school lobbies?
- Student work: not just art work on display but samples of writing, projects/experiments and use of technology. Hearing about it or seeing pictures is nice – but sometimes nothing beats the real thing.
- TV Monitor: showing photos of the students in action learning, struggling, having fun and being good citizens; live stream of assemblies or class activities; scrolling news bits pertinent to that week.
- Computer stations: Clearly marked and pages/tabs set up for specific tasks to eliminate the non-tech savvy individuals fear of navigating and saving time for those only there for a few minutes (since there isn’t necessarily someone there to walk them through).
- School specific
- Main Website
- Blogs/Social Media
- Access to online forms
- Curriculum guides
- Tutorials on using various technology
- And maybe one with a slide show/running video of student tech related projects
- Pages set up for the local library, social services, tutoring, places offering scholarships, sports, parks, and museums, (not for profit places)
- School specific
- Hard copy Resource Center: items families can take with them to read/do at home. This shouldn’t be tucked in a corner – but in a visible and easily accessible location.
- Books: Well not just books, but all kinds of reading material. Newspapers and various local cultural publications. Again, tucked away on a book shelf doesn’t invite one to pick it up and read/browse. These need to be on display and at their fingertips, asking to be picked up, paged through and read.
Give parents a warm welcome, open door and opportunities to expand their knowledge to better help their children succeed and I think they will participate any available chance. The above tools can spark conversations not only between parent and child, but also between parents and between parents and the school; propelling new ideas. The school should be a learning center for not only children – but everyone in the community.