Successful charter schools go to great lengths to tap into “parent power” and create a tight-knit community around their school. Some institutions hold daily morning meetings which parents are welcome to attend. Others entice parents by offering computer labs with internet access or language classes.
Why is family engagement consistently moving up on the list of priorities? For charter schools, failure to get parental support is not an option. With parents actively choosing to join the school community, mutual trust and respect are essential to maintaining enrollment levels year-to-year, and effectively, guarantee the school’s survival.
Why does it matter?
Supportive parents don’t just motivate their own child to do better – their involvement can help raise the academic expectations for an entire community. Engaged parents contribute valuable skills that enhance school’s offering and give students access to diverse role models.
For the school, establishing consistent parent communication translates into lower attrition rates. More students stay enrolled and more families might become interested in applying, getting the word from other parent advocates. Research suggests that involved parent community can contribute to increased teacher retention, too.
Having a community of engaged parents can prove priceless in crisis when schools face threats to funding, facilities, or autonomy.
How to get started?
1. Make Reaching Every Parent a Priority
When you ask teachers, they will tell you that the first step to engaging parents at school is simple and boils down to one thing: communication.
Consistent two-way communication is the first step towards sustained engagement and advocacy. Here’s where technology can make things a lot easier and save your teachers hours every week. Implementing an integrated, school-wide parent communications system will give you an essential foundation and a powerful platform to communicate. ClassTag is an example of a tool designed with engagement in mind.
“ClassTag has given me the tool to reach all parents simultaneously. The communication seems much improved and parents feel really informed. A lot of my parents like ClassTag because they can check messages right on their phone” – says Leslie Aden, who is consistently reaching all parents in her classroom thanks to ClassTag.An effective communication system can save teachers hours every week. #edtech Click To Tweet
2. Set Clear Expectations
The beginning of a school year is the perfect opportunity to build parent relationships upfront. Aim for 1-to-1meeting between a teacher and every parent, clearly communicating high expectations and explaining the reasons behind them. It’s a great opportunity to figure out what type and level of involvement are feasible for a parent, reach an agreement and get them to commit.
3. Set an Example for the Entire School
The weight of managing parent-school relationship shouldn’t fall on overworked teachers. School leaders can support classroom-level engagement by sending regular school-wide communication celebrating student achievement and community successes. It’s also your role to build in time for involvement into everyone’s schedule. For example, you might choose to suspend regular classes to train teachers for family meetings with the aid of a social worker. Send a strong message that family engagement matters!Teachers can't do it all! We need school leaders to build in time for parent engagement Click To Tweet
4. Seek Parent Feedback
Parents are much more likely to engage if they have a say about what’s happening in the school. Surveys are a great start, but it’s not just about listening to parents’ voices – the key is to take action on their recommendations. Letting families experience the positive impact of their input and ideas helps create a “virtuous circle” of engagement.
5. Go the Extra Mile
Sometimes it’s simply impossible to activate a community without addressing very fundamental issues first. In many charter schools, some families struggle to fulfill their basic obligations towards children. The way to connect with parents from low-income areas is by providing essential “wrap-around services” first. These might include support in meeting housing needs or food needs, job search advice for refugee parents or English classes for families. Assisting parents in improving their quality of life makes the school a valued community hub and builds trust.Charter school parents can't be engaged if their basic needs aren't met. Click To Tweet
6. Empower Parent Leaders to Create Advocates
Many believe that charter schools face an “ever-present existential threat” and school leaders notice the valuable role parents can play in protecting funding and facilities. Having a trusted group of parent leaders to rely on in a time of need is something every charter school leader aspires to.
When asking parents to get involved in system-level advocacy, pick your battles wisely. Start by asking for support with an issue parents deeply care about, and one where their support will result in “a win”. The process of developing trusted parent leaders will take time – consistency matters. Advocacy is a result of consistent communication and support at a class level, followed by integrated, school-wide engagement efforts.
Are you interested in a proven system for reaching every parent in your school and building a supportive community? ClassTag is free for parents, teachers, and schools. Adding your school takes just a couple of minutes – get started now! If you want to learn more about ClassTag and get personalized advice from our founders & the team, meet us at the National Charter School Conference at booth 1129.