How to connect parents to your school

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is ​a retired educator in Ottawa area. He has a keen interest in promoting technology as a progressive learning tool among the students in his school. ​Paul is active on Twitter (@mcguirp) and blogs on all sorts of topics, including climbing (climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in April​), mental health, politics, a wide variety of education topics and anything else that comes to mind. His blog is called 'Whole Hearted', taken from the author and researcher Brené Brown, whom he admires greatly.​ Paul loves writing for Innovate My School and connecting to other writers and educators whenever possible.

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One of the most important parts of my job has to do with finding new ways to connect our parent community to the school. In some areas where I have worked this has not been a big problem. I have experienced schools with strong parent councils, and parents groups who have the time to put a great deal of time and resources into the school.

"Parents are generally too busy to spend much time in the school."

Not all communities are like that however. For a variety of reasons, it can be a challenge for the parent community to connect to the school. There are a whole host of reasons for this. It might be the culture of the community or it may have a great deal to do with the need of parents to work several jobs to make ends meet. Whatever the reason, it can become a real challenge for the school.

I have written in the past about connecting to the community through social media. This can work really well, but what if your parents don’t have access to social media, or don’t have the language skills to follow school events through blogs or Facebook?

We are beginning to find ways to make these connections, but it really is a challenge for our parent community, who don’t connect in the traditional ways. We have always had a very small school council, and parents are generally too busy to spend much time in the school. They connect to the school through their children, and support the school through their work with their kids at home. What I am learning is that we need to connect with our parents by holding more events that can draw them into the school. I think we are starting to have some success.

Our first real success was a June BBQ that we put on for the whole community. We brought in a special caterer and got some great deals from a local business who rented out inflatable castles and mazes. We didn’t charge any admission, and used money from parent engagement grants to cover our costs. One drawback with this event is that it all had to be planned by staff. Still, it was a great success, and convinced one parent to take on the school council for this year. She is doing a great job now and has focused all her efforts on getting parents out for short, fun social events like a Halloween party and a Christmas sing-a-long.
"Every morning we had coffee and homemade snacks made by our staff."
We also made a real effort during our Education Week activities last year. Instead of holding an event at night that parents would not be able to attend, we had a five-day open house. Every morning we had coffee and homemade snacks made by our staff out in the yard ready for parents as they brought their kids to school. As the week went on, more and more parents stayed behind to talk with each other and some of the teachers. We invited them into the school every day and some did come in to visit the classrooms. One thing we did that I really liked involved taking pictures of the parents with their children. We then asked our photographer to make a montage of all the pictures, and gave all the parents a print of their picture. We were able to take over 30 photos and the montage now hangs in our main hallway. Kids and parents really liked this and it was a really easy way to strengthen the connection between school and our community.

This year we took an idea from another school that experiences similar challenges to ours. We usually hold a ‘meet the teacher’ event about ten days after the beginning of the school year. This year, we invited all the parents into the gym the very first morning. I introduced all the staff to the parents and the kids found out who their teachers were. Afterwards, all the parents were invited to follow their kids to class for another short introduction to the new year.

All these events have one thing in common. I want our school to be our parents’ community centre. I want them to feel welcome at our school - not just on special occasions, but every day of the year. I am hoping the more we hold these social events parents will begin to see our school as their school and gathering place.

We have a great deal more to do. We are now focusing our attention on making the yard more inviting for our students and our parents. We have done a little work in this area by providing more benches and more greenery. I have noticed that in the good weather parents will now linger in the yard before and after school to chat and enjoy the space. We have big plans to do much more in this area which i think will make a huge difference for students and parents alike, but that is another post.

For now, we will continue to look for ways to make our school a community hub for our parents and students. We will continue to break down any and all barriers so that we really become a second home for the entire community.

How do you embrace your local community? Let us know in the comments!

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