What’s Good For Parents is Good For Schools

My daughter is ending her first public school. Her kindergarten “moving up” ceremony was Tuesday night where she sang the ubiquitous “First Grade, First Grade” to the melody of “New York, New York” (which, my mother points out, I sang at my own moving up ceremony prompting her to bawl, both at the actual moment and at every mention of that moment since).

I am sure that the steps of the moving up ceremony are ones her teachers and her school have moved through over and over again. I know they feel important to the staff, like the first day of school feels to everyone, but I know it is nevertheless routine.

I think of my own parent-involvement routines from my classrooms: “back-to-school night” to introduce myself and our curriculum, inviting parents to writing celebrations, going on class trips with parent volunteers, and parent-teacher conferences. As a teacher these things felt important, they were also procedure.

Now, however, everything feels different. I have a child in school, her brother is in Pre-K next year and soon in the public system himself.  I. Am. A. Parent. (oh goodness.)

Just as I look back at my first class of sixth graders and think, “Well, at least they knew I loved them because holy cow did I not know much about teaching then.” I have a new awareness of what it feels like to be a parent coming into a school. I now wish I had done so much more.

by woodleywonderworks used under Creative Commons lic

Every Parent Wants to Know

Parents want to know [everything] because they want to help. The more we let parents and guardians know the more they ultimately can help their children and, in turn, us.  Many schools post grades online (and yes, many teachers have wonderful and terrible experiences in relation to those postings), but grades are simply the end result of an activity. Consider instead how you communicate with parents at the start of learning.

  • Communicate the focus of the month in every subject.  This could be as simple as an email form letter with topics, or in a more elaborate way suggest activities parents and guardians can take on at home.
  • Help parents see the journey. Weight loss before and after photos are dramatic and inspiring, if even for a moment. Consider ways you are providing a “before” and “during” or even “after” image of growth for parents.  I am learning that we really can see it, but in other ways we really can’t. My daughter can write words and sentences (huge and visible), but how she thinks about science is less clear (teach us how to see this). As the year moves on, consider times for these inspiring updates.
  • Tell parents important events and ways to give back waaaaay in advance. I love our “month at a glance” calendars our daughter brings home. Many schools share these with families. Know that we stick them right up on our kitchen wall where it’s impossible to miss. Include both trips and events, but also ways to be involved for parents that can come into school as well as those who would like to give back from afar.

Every Parent Wants to Be

Parents want to be present and active parts of your community (but we don’t want to pester). Schools often are concerned when there is a lack of parent involvement. I’m guilty myself of the teachers’ lunchroom complaint, “some of these parents never show up.” What I have reflected on this is year is how hard it is to be all the places I want to be and also how difficult it is to reach out and ask.

  • The more invitations the better. Often times parents and guardians want to support their children’s schools but don’t know how or are afraid to ask.  I think of a school’s role as needing to be more like television advertising.  The goal of those advertisements is not to make you stand up right now and go purchase the product, instead it’s to influence the way you think about the product so next time you are shopping you think, “wow, I have a feeling this soda will make me more fun to be around.” If invitations 1-24 don’t get involvement, 25 just might. Don’t give up. Keep ’em coming.
  • Balance safety with a welcoming spirit. I have visited schools where the focus is on school safety and security. Good. I have also visited schools where the focus is on school safety and security and community. Breath of fresh air Better. Think of how the TSA underwent a massive retraining as complaints about customer service rose. I travel a lot and am acutely aware of how much a TSA officer’s friendly, “flying anywhere exciting today?” greeting or “Let me help you with that” offer goes a long way to feeling welcome.
  • Call on expertise. Sometimes parents don’t know what to give back or don’t believe they can contribute. In conversations early in the year, seek out individual family strengths, keep a list, then call on them later: “Mrs. Carter, I remember you said you love to paint, we were going to do a science project on life cycles and I was wondering…”

Every Parent Wants to Feel

Parents want (no not just want, love, LOOOOVE) to feel cared for, just as their students. 

As I said, my daughter’s “moving up” ceremony was last night. I noticed the large paper flowers carefully made and hung throughout the auditorium. I noticed the music carefully chosen. I noticed the felt green “mortar boards.” I noticed the children’s names printed in the program. I noticed the hours of practice to get “This Land Is Your Land” out just right. I noticed the teachers who stood for way to long to make sure every parent got a photo with them and their “diploma.” I noticed these details. We all did.

Know that every thing you do for us–for all parents–means way more than you realize.

Your few extra moments typing  “The Class of 2021” onto green paper will stay in our keepsake box for years. Will be taken out in 8 years when our children move to high school and again 4 years later as they pack up for college. When you put your love into what you do for our children, you are reaching every family in a profound way.

Continue to reach out to your parent community. What you strength for them, will strengthen your school.


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6 thoughts on “What’s Good For Parents is Good For Schools

  1. What a great post! I feel that being a parent of school-aged children has made me a better teacher because I understand the parent perspective so much better. I agree with everything you said. This year I started a classroom blog and the response I got from parents was great. They loved seeing the learning that was going on in the classroom. As a parent, I would love to be able to “see” into my children’s classrooms.

  2. Absolutely love this post! Contemporary learning environments must invite and encourage family engagement. The research evidence surrounding this sentiment is astounding. Henderson and Mapp et al (2002) believe “When schools and families work together, children have a higher achievement in school and stay in school longer.” Harris, Power and Goodall (2007) inform “schools need to place parental engagement at the centre rather than the periphery of all that they do. Parental engagement in children’s learning makes a difference. It is THE most powerful school improvement lever that we have.”
    Take a look at Professor Alma Harris and Dr Janet Goodall’s research paper “Engaging parents in raising achievement. Do parents know they matter” for further information. In Australia we look to Canada and America for inspiration surrounding family engagement. Especially in the work of Joyce Epstein. We also enjoy the #ptchat chat!
    We would be happy to connect with those interested in family engagement.
    @everyparent (Australia) National partnership broker program.
    FB: https://www.facebook.com/aussip.partnershipbrokers

  3. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on parent/teacher conferences. How do we make them more collaborative and less a one-way dissemination of information from teacher to parents?

    • That’s a great question. One way I’ve seen some schools do this, slightly depending on grade level of the student but not always, is having the student lead more of the conference. Students set their goals, collect evidence of their progress with you, then they lead more. In some setting EVERY teacher is together with the parents during the conference, that does take a lot of planning though and might be challenging for large schools. Great question really worth studying!


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