Akilah Alleyne, associate director for K-12 Education at the Center for American Progress, says successful family and parent engagement plans start with community conversations. To help spark these conversations, try these strategies from the National PTA and ParentsTogether:
1. Host a focus group or listening session to find out how families feel about their interactions with the school. For example, the Provo City School District, in Utah, hosted a virtual parent focus group for students receiving special education services. The district invited families to share their perspectives and discuss the strengths and areas for improvement within their child’s school special education program.
2. After an event, ask families how the PTA and school can support their children. Use a mini-poll at each PTA meeting or in the school newsletter that asks about a wide range of issues affecting students and the school. The PTA can then use the parent feedback when making decisions.
3. Talk with families directly, when possible, instead of sending out mass emails. Families can easily delete generic email invitations or throw away a flyer that comes home in their child’s backpack. A personalized invitation can make parents feel welcomed and valued. Noel Grisham Middle School PTA, in Austin, Texas, encouraged a big turnout at a schoolwide dessert night by having students invite their own families.
4. Use name tents or name tags at community events. Brookview Elementary School PTA, in Cleveland, Ohio, hosted Back to School Bingo with cards including every staff member’s name. The event allowed everyone to get to know the school family and learn the names of the people they would be working with.
5. Avoid using acronyms or making inside jokes. Jennifer, a kindergarten mom in California, attended her first PTA meeting in her child’s school district. When she arrived, no one greeted her, and the chair shared a report full of acronyms and references Jennifer had never heard of. She felt excluded and unsure of how to contribute. By forming a welcome committee and avoiding acronyms and jargon, the PTA can become a more inclusive environment.
6. Hold PTA sessions led by experts. APPLES PTA, in Stamford, Conn., hosted a story time that doubled as a training session to help parents and caregivers encourage their children to become successful readers. The read-aloud showed families how to read in engaging ways and emphasized that 3- and 4-year-olds can develop key reading skills even before they know how to read.
7. Create a Facebook group or email chain to stay in touch. Ailen Arreaza’s son Lucas finished his first year of elementary school, where he made many new friends. As the year came to a close, Lucas wondered how he would stay in touch with his friends and invite them to his fifth birthday party over the summer. Ailen and another parent decided to create a Facebook group for all of the parents in the class. This allowed them to stay in touch, share resources about summer camp, and connect about their plans for the following school year.