The Keys to Unlocking the Parent Communication Puzzle

Although research has definitively proven that parents’ involvement in their children’s schools raises student achievement, most educators would agree that the process of getting parents fully engaged in school is no walk in the park. Unless they teach at Captain James E. Daly Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland, that is.

Twice a year, Daly’s teachers, staff, and administrators hold a “Walk in the Park” at nearby Middlebrook Mobile Home Park, where more than 60 percent of the school’s Hispanic students live. It’s a way to say hello to familiar faces, and to break the ice with new families and those who’ve been reluctant to visit the school, which is about a mile away.

“We’ve found that if you want parents to come to you, first, you have to come to them,” says Georgina Fountain, a music teacher at Daly and the school’s Maryland State Education Association representative, who joined her colleagues at the most recent Walk in the Park.

It’s a common sense approach to one of the most vexing problems in education today—how to build  and maintain strong parent-teacher partnerships that allow students to achieve their full academic potential.

So what’s an educator fed up with no-shows on back-to-school-night to do? Read on!

In a recent Parenting magazine and National Education Association (NEA) survey of public school parents and educators, both groups categorized their relationship with the other as “open,” but they also reported significant obstacles to forming true partnerships. But for each partnership challenge revealed by the Parenting/NEA survey, there is an innovative NEA affiliate- or member-led solution.

We’ve outlined six of the most common communication challenges reported by respondents, along with field-tested solutions to solving the challenges.

Challenge 1: More than a quarter of parents feel their biggest challenge is teachers’ lack of understanding of their concerns.

Solution: Listen up!

When parents report that teachers don’t understand their concerns, what they’re usually saying is that they don’t feel they’re being heard. Often parents are contacted only when their child is having a problem with academics or behavior. But parents have a whole calendar year full of questions and concerns about their child, and it’s part of the educator’s job to listen to those worries and help alleviate anxiety for students and their parents.

That was the idea behind Upper Merion Area Middle School’s “Successful Transitions” program in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The program was launched after parents expressed concern about their kids moving from the smaller, safer elementary school to the much larger middle school.

The staff listened.

“It’s easy to forget how daunting moving from elementary to middle school can be for families,” says Jerry Oleksiak, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

To allay the fears of both students and parents, Successful Transitions’ year-long program gives rising middle-schoolers and their families the opportunity to get familiar with their new school through meetings, visits, tours, correspondence with pen pals (current students), and peer mentoring. Students and parents get to know the middle school campus, the school day routines and schedules, and the teachers and older students.

The program was developed by Action Team for Partnerships (ATP), a group of parents, teachers, students, and community partners who regularly meet to identify ways to build bridges between families and schools.

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