Parent Involvement

Honoring Our Military Heroes

May is Military Appreciation Month.   This month provides our students with a wonderful opportunity to honor and appreciate our service men and women for their tremendous sacrifices for our country.  These military heroes have demonstrated strength, courage, and resilience.   They motivate and inspire our students to model these same characteristics in school and in life.   Be sure that you take the opportunity to recognize these amazing military heroes this month.  Listed below are a few ideas to celebrate and recognize the valuable contributions of our military:

  • Invite local service members to speak to your students
  • Create a large appreciation poster signed by all students for the VA medical center
  • Schedule field trips to military points of interest and museums
  • Highlight military families on social media and in school newsletters
  • Send a classroom care package to service members overseas
  • Invite a service member to your classroom to share their stories
  • Sponsor an appreciation breakfast for military parents
  • Provide activities to support military students with school transitions

It is very important to acknowledge military families within your school for their service.  These simple acts of kindness will have a significant impact on productive and sustainable family and school partnerships.   

2 Simple Steps to Student Success

Are you brand new to the teaching profession or are you a seasoned veteran?   Undoubtedly, you love children and want them to be happy, healthy, safe and successful.  An educator’s day to day grind can be very demanding, even daunting at times and unfortunately, her focus on overall student success becomes distorted by policy and programs, rules and reforms, budgets and bus duty, curriculum and conferences, testing and teacher evaluations and so much more.  We understand her plight, we were teachers and administrators once too.  But we have two simple steps to help educators focus on what is important; students and strong partnerships with families and the community.  A shift in focus can enable parents being more connected with the school and teachers feeling more supported and students having greater academic success. 

Step 1- Read Building a High Achieving School 3 C’s to Success, 2nd Edition

This book is specifically designed to highlight the exact components of a high achieving school that research has proven makes a tremendous impact on students’ success.  We go beyond the narrow view of test data related strategies to a comprehensive and detailed approach to school excellence.  Through our own experience in public education, we have found that building relationships and investing in collective family, school, and community partnerships is a common thread that is evident among all high achieving and successful schools.  So in this publication we will explore all aspects of education, including; creating a climate and culture that is conducive for building trust among all stakeholders, creating strong literacy and STEM programs, navigating and understanding school improvement data and state accountability measures, implementing effective communication techniques, forming school partnerships and implementing outreach strategies, being an effective school leader, and enhancing professional development.  All of these components are significant but coupled with proven family engagement initiatives they become the foundation for school and student success.  So reading, understanding and implementing the principles in this book are key to securing a solid foundation on which to build greater depth to student learning and parent relationships and partnerships.

Step 2 – Read Family Engagement and Nurturing Children to be Independent Thinkers

“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but how it thinks.” – Christopher Hitchins

Just the mention of state standardized tests to any educator can send waves of unease and even anger pumping through her veins.  This book raises the question and provides real answers for how educators can tackle the challenge of preparing children for a highly qualified workforce, with the skills and knowledge needed to compete and succeed in a global economy while still being bond and accountable to a standardized test curriculum and changing family dynamics that can negatively affect student success.  We all know that skill drills and rote memorization makes students good test takers but not critical thinkers and problem solvers.  Add to that the unique health, income, and basic human needs obstacles our children face and we are presented with a real crisis to equip students to become productive citizens prepared to perform successfully in future careers.  So this book will help you break the myth behind parent stereotypes and family engagement practices and give you actual case studies to help you identify and collaborate with different parent groups and stakeholders.  We will also provide you with strategies and solutions and action plans to educate and equip and cultivate empowered parents.  If we work together we will help our children be successful independent thinkers!

Together let’s build a high achieving school and smart, critical thinkers ready for success!

2018 Family Engagement Forecast

In December, 2015, President Obama signed the brand new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) bill and two years later, the U.S. Department of Education has released brand new ESSA Guidelines.  How will these new guidelines affect our school divisions and more importantly, how will they impact a school division’s family engagement efforts and initiatives? 

As states continue to work on developing their accountability plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the USDOE has just released a new application for states to use.  This new application is much shorter than the original and includes fewer requirements than the earlier application released by the Obama administration.  The biggest difference seems to be on the requirements for outreach to various groups of educators and advocates and stakeholders.  With less federal control and more state control, this new application template will allow states and districts to implement the law with maximum flexibility.    Because no two schools are identical, just like no two students are alike or learn in the same way, these new guidelines don’t assume that all schools operate the same either.  Too often the Department of Education has gone outside its established authority and created roadblocks, wittingly or unwittingly for parents and educators alike.  So we applaud the new guidelines for their less stringent requirements and more flexibility, however, some experts believe that the new guidelines could have adverse effects on school districts’ capacity and willingness to reach out to parents, educators, and advocates.

Several Democratic Senators as well as the National Governors’ Association, the National PTA, and the American Federation of Teachers also expressed dismay over the scaled down importance of input from the education community.  Under these new guidelines, states will no longer be required to involve their local community of stakeholders in crafting their accountability plans.  At the heart of family engagement initiatives, building strong, collaborative family, school and community partnerships is the key to success.  When these trustful partnerships are established and sustained, student achievement increases.  If these new guidelines do not require states to include ALL stakeholders in the accountability process then key groups, including parents, will be left out and their voice will not be heard.  When school divisions underrepresent key groups in the school improvement process then inequalities coupled with discrimination and violation of peoples’ rights ensues. 

We urge school divisions, as they navigate the new ESSA guidelines and requirements, to not ignore valuable collaboration and input from ALL stakeholders.  We encourage all school divisions to embrace creativity and ingenuity when outreaching to parents and community members and including them in the school improvement process.  Many states have already established programs and outreach initiatives to build capacity among families, schools, and communities.  Maryland has created the “Maryland Parent Involvement Matters Award” (PIMA) program, the first of its kind in the nation, which shines a spotlight on parents and those with legal responsibility for a child who have had a positive impact on public schools.  Colorado is developing decision makers in their program called; “Family and School Partnerships in Education Month”.  Parents/families become a part of the decision making process in the educational options for their children, school and community.  And in Texas, parents and families build capacity through their “Parent Empowerment Toolkit”.  This toolkit is a step-by-step guide on how to build capacity with teachers, administrators and parents.

If you are looking for assistance with the new ESSA guidelines and want more family engagement outreach ideas and strategies then register for the 2018 National Family Engagement Summit on March 21-23, 2018 in Richmond, VA.

ESSA provides the foundation to understand the past and present educational landscape relating to family and school partnerships.  By understanding the new ESSA guidelines, we can better predict where we are headed.  As 2018 approaches, what topics and trends can we expect to emerge which relate to family and school partnerships?    Below is a brief summary of what we anticipate to be on the horizon:

Increased Number of Parent Camps

We will begin to witness a remarkable increase in the number of states hosting their own Parent Camps in the upcoming year.  Parent Camp is an “unconference” that brings together families, educators, community members, faith-based representatives, and students.  The goal of the camp is to facilitate powerful conversations to impact students’ learning.  Parent Camp is a phenomenal opportunity for stakeholders to collaborate, network, and share best practices.   It is organized to embrace the expertise and perspectives of diverse participants.  Georgia Department of Education is beginning 2018 utilizing the Parent Camp model to kick-off their state-wide family engagement conference.   As additional states experience success with this “unconference” model, we can expect to see this become more of the norm. 

More Equity in Family and School Partnerships

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 24.4 million white students in grades Pre-K through grade 12 are enrolled in school compared to 26.3 million minority students.  The growing diversity that we see in our classrooms creates an increased need for states to promote more innovative family engagement strategies integrated into their reform and improvement efforts. We applaud Commissioner Wentzell of Connecticut for creating the Commissioner’s Roundtable for Family Engagement in Education.  This is a creative way to engage stakeholders in meaningful dialogue embracing family engagement while promoting equity and excellence.   

We are also seeing an increase in the number of leaders who are joining the Family Engagement State Leaders Network.  This network is expanding as more state leaders recognize the valuable role of family and school partnerships.   This network is led by the American Institutes for Research and builds state education agencies’ capacity to implement and sustain effective family and community engagement initiatives.  We can expect to see similar networks at the district and local levels to facilitate the capacity building of leaders to support and scale quality family and community engagement programs.   

Greater Advocacy in Support of Federal Education Funding

We can expect to see increased advocacy and support of federal education funding.  Federal funds are a critical investment in the future prosperity of our nation.  ESSA recognizes that education is the foundation that each child needs to achieve the American dream.   Educational budget cuts are in direct conflict of the commitment that Congress has made to our children and stakeholders.   Educational advocates will continue to hold politicians accountable to craft a budget that raises defense and non-defense discretionary caps.   In the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act (HR 3354), educational advocates were successful in getting Congress to include an amendment to support funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers.  Advocates have already started reaching out to Congress about their continued support to fund Statewide Family Engagement Centers at $10 million in FY 2018.  

These emerging hot topics are definitely going to stay on our radar in 2018 as we see how the family engagement landscape continues to change throughout the year.   We are certainly pleased that we are finally seeing family and school partnerships become a valued priority for states and districts.    We look forward to collaborating with educational colleagues and stakeholders around the nation as we work passionately and proudly to ensure that we are making a lasting impact on the lives our nation’s schoolchildren.

Equipping Families to be Positive Advocates

Adapted from The Parent Coordinator’s Manual, by Stefanie Prokity & Darla Edwards

As educators, have you had the experience of parents saying to you, “I want to help my child but I just don’t know how”?  This can be an overwhelming feeling for parents and families when they have the desire to work with their children but feel ill equipped to manage the educational expectations that come with academic standards and high-stake testing requirements; as well as the educational policies and procedures that are required for schools to comply with.  So what role do we as educators have in equipping families to be positive advocates for their children?

First of all: What is Parent Advocacy?

·         Advocacy is a process of supporting and empowering parents to express themselves with clarity information concerning school policies, procedures and student expectations at each grade level.

·         Another part of advocacy is to equip parents and families to defend and promote their rights and responsibilities in a confident, positive manner.

As educators, we can have an influence of helping equip families to be positives advocates for their child’s education.  Below are a few tips to share with families as you provide training on parent advocacy:

1.       Inform parents of the policies, procedures and regulations regarding the specific laws in your state and rights as parents in the school system.  Provide handbooks and policy manuals for families to view and discuss.  Offer “coffee chats” as a time for open dialogue between parents and administrators so parents can voice their concerns and ask questions concerning their child’s education.

2.      Help families connect with educators and administrators who make decisions about their child’s education.  Provide opportunities for families to meet School Board members, central office administrators and community leaders who effect school policy and school change.  These events will encourage families to become engaged partners with their child’s school.

3.      Provide parents with the tools to maintain an organized record keeping system of their child’s educational records, assessments, progress reports and communication data.  Demonstrate organizational methods to help parents keep data records on their child’s educational progress. Navigation of the school’s procedures will smooth the transition for families as they are equipped to advocate for their child.

4.      Assist parents and families in establishing an effective communication format with their child’s teachers and school personnel.  Emphasis that two-way communication is vital for creating family and school partnerships that will impact student achievement.

5.      Equip parents with strategies that will help their child be more successful at school and home.  Provide trainings and resources that will empower parents to feel confident in helping their child with homework and study skills.  Many parents will appreciate the opportunity to practice their technique for assisting their child with homework when they have teachers who will model and demonstrate the effective strategies for the reading and math skills they are using in the classroom.

6.      Stress the positives and help families identify ways to improve their child’s experiences and success in school; and how to collaborate together to implement solutions to problems and concerns.  By building positive relationships with families that show mutual respect and trust, collaborative partnerships will lead to overall student success and school improvement.

If parents are given the tools to help them prepare and plan for their child’s future, they will experience satisfaction and success.  Parent advocacy forms a collaborative, proactive, goal oriented strategic roadmap that will ensure student success when families are equipped to be positive advocates for their child’s education.