What does it have to do with my classroom?
Teachers are an important part of any program designed to improve connections between schools and families.
Tawnia McCray, a third grade teacher at Clara Barton Community School CS 50 in Bronx, New York talks about getting parents involved in her school.
Teachers can help design interactive homework1. Teachers can work to link their school curricula with interactive homework assignments designed so that all parents can help children with homework. (See the "Demonstration" section for examples of interactive homework assignments.)
Teachers are an important part of the system by which parents get information about their children's performance. Action Teams can work to help teachers improve communication with parents through parent/teacher conferences, newsletters, report cards, and other handouts.
There are also many ways that parents and family members can contribute to the school, with a varying range of time commitments.
A parent talks about volunteering in her children's classroom.
- help teachers xerox homework packets;
- help answer phones at the school;
- help the art program hang student work on the walls;
- help raise money and write grant proposals;
- help coordinate bake sales and school photos;
- help translate flyers, newsletters, and school information;
- help put out a weekly, one-page newsletter that includes sections about what is happening in the classroom (the children can write and submit material to this section).
Parent and family involvement doesn't have to require many hours, but it can be designed to meet the individual needs and abilities of the volunteers.
Activities can also be planned to encourage and introduce families to age-appropriate books and interesting ways to read to young children. At higher grade levels, they can offer parents information on how to help students develop good study habits and ways to create an environment at home that supports and nurtures learning.
The type of activities and involvement that are most important and feasible in any school will depend on the specific education and improvement goals of your community.
A parent talks about the ways her daughter has benefited from participating in a school-to-work partnership program.
It is important for teachers involved in family and school partnerships to truly play the role of "partners"-- working with parents as equals rather than coming from a position of power and authority. It is also important for teachers, who may be working in very wealthy communities, to be able to work effectively with parents who may be very empowered, both economically and politically. Either way, teachers should come to see parents as resources rather than adversaries, which unfortunately happens in many schools. Teachers and families can improve outcomes for their students and children by working together on the common goals of improving the education of children. Through this process they will learn to understand differing communication styles prevalent in various classes and cultures.
For teachers, an important part of the process of working in partnership programs may be using the "listening skills" teachers so often encourage in students. In this way, conflict can be handled more effectively. Teachers must be sensitive to the anxieties parents have about their children and to any cultural differences that may hamper communication.