Tag Archives: Parent Teacher Organization

Using the School Lobby to Engage Parents

Paulus Cheung

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
      • Library
      • Cafeteria
      • Blogs/Social Media
      • Access to online forms
    • Education
      • Websites
      • Apps
      • Curriculum guides
      • Tutorials on using various technology
      • And maybe one with a slide show/running video of student tech related projects
    • Community
      • Pages set up for the local library, social services, tutoring, places offering scholarships, sports, parks, and museums, (not for profit places)
  • 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.

lobby computer stationsResources &  Displaystudent work

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Wishes For Our PTO Next Year

dandelion wish

As this school year comes to an end, and we welcome our new parent association board members I am beginning to think about thoughts on the upcoming year I’d like to share with our new team. A year ago, I was taking on this position with zero board experience; joined by parents much in the same position as I. I simply asked that everyone give 100% to everything they do, connect with as many families as possible…and that we will try new things and know that we aren’t going to get it all right. In the end I hoped that would translate into more participation in various ways.

This past year we raised more money than expected, increased our number of families participating, introduced (with the school) several ways for families to stay in touch with and follow the learning at school through technology, and hosted the first #ParentCamp. I couldn’t be happier, but I also believe we can always do more. So…

Next year, half of our board will remain, and I will challenge them…to do more (while keeping in mind that most work full time), make a greater impact and demonstrate that PTO’s are so much more than fundraisers. Some hopes I’ll share at our first gathering before heading into the summer…

  • Continue to build on diversity in our group. We have a more diverse group this coming year coming year than last – but we are still missing several voices. We need to reflect our school community to guarantee each neighborhood and classroom has a voice in decisions made. To do that we need to continue reaching out to all families and learning more about how they want to be involved, and inviting them to share their voice.
  • Visit, learn about, and/or get to know another school or PTO. One of my highlights from this year was connecting with and seeing how other schools and PTO’s do things.
  • Inspired by Joyce Epstein’s 6 Types of Involvement, how can we improve on or provide opportunities for each of these?
    •  Parenting: Be it basics such as food bank info or sharing resources on how to provide better emotional support.
    • Communicating: Are we communicating basic information to families of all languages? How can we make it easier for families to connect with the PTO and school?
    • Volunteering: Are we providing opportunities for dads, grandparents and community members to volunteer?
    • Learning at Home: What resources can we share with families to support learning at home?
    • Decision Making: What are ways our families can have a voice in decisions made involving how our children are educated or are involved in school outside of the class?
    • Collaborating with the Community: How can we use our community and their resources for more than donation requests? What can we do together that will make our community as a whole better?

We don’t always think of how something looks from another’s perspective. My first two requests are part of that reminder that we a small piece of a larger puzzle. How do the pieces fit together? The last is important to building future parent partners and leaders. Not only will this current team not always be here – but change, fresh faces and new ideas are a good thing.

As a parent, what do you want to see at your school or learn? As a PTO, how do you plan top this year?

image credit: http://www.sxc.hu


SheilaSpeaking

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Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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