I often hear other principals mention that they struggle with getting parents more involved in the school. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked how I might tackle this. After much thought and research and a meal or two, I have boiled down my solution for this long-standing struggle.
I've come up with a three (OK, four) part plan for increasing parental involvement in schools. Inform, Invite, Perform, and FEED!
For many, this is the easiest part of the plan. Put out tons of information in several different formats. The time honored newsletter is a great way to start. Most parents will appreciate an email newsletter with tons of information about the school. Remember to create a predictable publication schedule and stick to it; I've had emails from parents asking about my newsletter when it was only a few hours late. Most important for a school newsletter would be to include many voices. Although the principal might have an interesting things to say, it is the voice of the teachers that will really grab the parents' attention. Put the staff on a publication schedule and insist on it.
With the advent of Web 2.0, stopping at a one-way newsletter is just so 20th Century. Start a blog about the school. Create a school Facebook page. Send out Tweets throughout the day to your parents.
Finally, use every opportunity in front of parents to communication a piece of your message. The Band Director allowed me to grab the microphone while the Jazz Band was setting up. I took the chance to speak about some of the work we were doing.
Do not be afraid to ask the teachers to participate via class newsletters, class websites or blogs, and more.
In short, give an overload of information about the school and their child's experience. Parents want to know.
Most folks won't show up if they are not invited. So, invite them. Often. During the school year, I will photograph a really wonderful bulletin board or display of student work, post it to my blog, and invite parents to come in to see it in person.
Of course, to invite someone you must have something to which to invite. In other words, create programs and experiences that include parents. Invite parents to assemblies (if you have the room). Ask them to come in and volunteer in the library. Maybe parents will help out in the office. Parents can read, so get them in to class to be mystery/guest readers. Build a database of parent skills and then ask for help on a project. Ask parents to join a Site Council or Parent Advisory Board. Introduce new parents to the PTO president. Just ask.
Sort of like a baseball diamond in a corn field, ask them and they will come.
Not so fast, I say. Sure, some parents will come every time they are asked. It's the other parents that we are trying to get involved. One sure fire way to have more parents attend school events is to have more students perform. A good concert or play will bring them in. How about an art show with student docents? Talent show, recital night. Make some of these events part of the curriculum - not extracurricular - involve more parents.
But, performing is not just for the arts anymore. A good old fashioned science fair will attract many moms and dads (even some grandmas). There are many variations on the science fair idea that will work as well (states, inventors, countries - depends on the curriculum). While not typically called performing, students presenting their research or their work is a prime time to invite parents in. Don't just show the powerpoint while parents watch. Instead, the child will actually present her work to mom and dad (could be a great prelude to a student-led conference).
If the child has to be there to perform something, the parents will come too.
The parents like food as much as the staff does; as much as the kids do. Serve food and more parents will come. It doesn't matter what as long as you are offering up free food. You might even create a sense of community through some sort of spaghetti dinner or something (but that is the topic of a future blog post).
So, there you have it. My very first three (four) part plan. If you want to increase parental participation: Inform, Invite, Perform, and FEED!
Your comments will go a long way in making this a two-way communication, not just my voice.