Parent involvement is crucial for all students to have a successful year. Some schools will welcome it, but sadly assume parents aren’t interested in participating in school processes. It’s important to let them know you are the kind of parent who wishes to be involved, you just need to know how.
- What methods are used for parent/teacher communication? Many schools use newsletters, back-pack notes, or automated telephone communication for updates on events and new policies. Sometimes, they use online communication platforms that gives parents access to information about their child’s grades, tests, absences, completed or missing assignments, and an online connection to his or her teacher(s).
- Will parents be invited to participate in any decision making processes? All schools have a PTA (Parent Teacher Association), PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), SAC (School Advisory Council), or some kind of committee or council that invites parents to help with supporting the school. The PTA/O is an important group to be part of, but maybe you wish to participate in more than planning fund-raising events or the school’s yearly field trip activities and t-shirt designs. Maybe you're interested in being part of the team that decides on what the school’s mission or area of academic focus will be. The School Advisory Council decides on what performance measures (targeted issues) will be included on the school improvement plan (every school has to write about areas in need of improvement and how it will work towards improving these areas) and this ultimately helps the principal create the annual budget. This means the School Advisory Committee will be reviewing assessment scores, and determining areas of focus (math, reading, science, etc.).
It’s important to know what opportunities for involvement will be made available for you, but it’s also important for you to let the school know that you want to be involved and support the school.
- What about other ways parents can be involved without going to school? All parents wish to be involved, but often times can’t because of time. The every day demands of work and family life makes it hard for parents to volunteer in-person. Ask about whether or not you can participate in meetings by teleconference call. Maybe they can send you the meeting notes and you can offer your thoughts and suggestions by email. What about donating your time in other ways? Maybe your skilled at creating spreadsheets or flyers. Offer to create a class phone-tree that allows you to keep parents informed on events. Maybe you can offer to help scout parent volunteers for field-trips or school activities.
In order for parents to be meaningfully involved, it’s important to understand school policies, and systems. This is especially important if the Department of Education makes big changes in school programs. Ask if the school provides training to parents on topics such as:
- The State Standards – what is your child required to learn in order to pass their grade level?
- IEP (Individual Education Plan) or Transition processes – will someone be able to help with understanding this long, comprehensive document and process?
- RtI (Response to Intervention), MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports), and other topics that involve your child’s learning success. Will I be given information on this process? How will I know what tier my child falls into after the universal assessment? How will I be informed if he continues to fall behind? How can I be involved in helping my child stay on track?
Bullying has become a national epidemic and the numbers are on a steady incline with unfortunate incidents reported annually. All schools are required to have developed a Bullying Prevention Policy. Many schools are allowing students to use their devices (tablets/phones) at school and welcome the technology in the classroom. This is great, but how will they minimize the opportunity for Cyber-Bullying or inappropriate use of the devices at school? Don't forget to ask how you can support their policy.
Every school has a disciplinary process and the school’s handbook of conduct will detail unacceptable behavior and the consequences that follow, but does it mention how it incorporates the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support? Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support is a team-based process that was established by the Department of Education to prevent and/or replace challenging behavior, promote good behavior, and teach new skills. It is a system that is used by all schools and parents should be involved in the development of the plan and how they can help support the process. The PBIS process may be used together with the RtI (Response to Intervention) or MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) processes – depending on what term your child’s school uses.
At the start of the school year, you’ll be communicating with your child’s teacher(s) about your child’s learning needs and preferences. However, it’s important to know how they plan to meet your child's learning needs. Does the school use differentiated learning or universal design for learning (or both) as part of its curriculum? I’ll provide a quick explanation about the differences between these very two important teaching styles.
Differentiated Instruction is a teaching style that focuses mainly on the learning needs of the individual student. It may mean adapting or modifying a classroom activity or lesson that’s being taught in a manner that makes it easier for the individual student to read, practice, write, and remember. It’s a reactive teaching style that works around barriers.
Universal Design for Learning is a teaching style that focuses on the environment, classroom’s climate and learning materials. Its focus is about making sure all students can access the lesson and class activity. It’s a proactive teaching style that removes all barriers.
Your overall goal as a parent is to help your child succeed. Your child’s teachers want this too. Together you can help your child learn better study habits, increase their organizational skills, and make the learning experience something to look forward to and not dread. Assisting your child by reinforcing what’s being learned in school is a wonderful start. Ask about the lessons being covered in the teacher’s class and how you can help support the lesson at home.
Most schools, or shall I say, elite schools that understand how valuable parent support is for student achievement will welcome your questions with a smile and look forward to your support. However, if you attend your back-to-school parent night meeting and you're disappointed by your questions being ignored, or you simply don’t feel welcomed – please be patient. Relationships are forged not forced. It may take time to build your relationship with your child's school. Sometimes, parents can take on the role of a leader. Moms and Dads can take the lead in showing others that relationship building combined with an eagerness to learn and help is not a threat to a school. In fact, that involved mom or dad could be the very thing the school needs. That mom or dad could be the greatest ally and support the school has ever had.
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