Bridging the Gap Between Home and School

This is the blog post to read if you are a school manager, coordinator, or freelance teacher looking to build stronger relationships with parents and caregivers.  Read on to learn practical ways to build trust, confidence, and establish a genuine partnership between home and school.

Introduction

We have long known that parental engagement is directly linked to student achievement and with the recent shift to online classes, building a strong partnership with parents and caregivers has become more important than ever. Without it, attempts at remote teaching could easily lead to mismatched expectations and disappointment. 

In contrast, we have seen how educators who prioritize relationships with families experience better levels of student motivation, participation and behavior during online lessons.

In this post , we’ll be:

  • exploring this idea of school community and why we need it more than ever
  • understanding the difference between family involvement VS engagement 
  • Looking at a range of ways to enrich communication with families, involve them and ultimately engage them as partners in this remote learning process.  

The Importance of Community

There is no doubt about the important role that parents and caregivers play in their children’s school lives.  In fact, research has shown there is a direct link between parental involvement, the supportive home environment and academic achievement [1]. The students are not and have never been the only stakeholders in the young learner classroom but perhaps until now, it has been much easier for teachers to just “get on with it” and for parents to “leave us to it.”

Many educators and school management teams feel they are already doing their bit to involve parents.  They are sending emails home regularly to keep families updated.  Whenever there is a problem, they arrange a meeting to talk.  There might even be a special app that parents can use to talk to the school if they need help.  However, research tells us that these actions alone are not enough to create the kind of school-family connections that are going to raise student achievement.  For this remote teaching and learning experience to be a successful one, we can and we must do better. 

Educators can get involved and support families with guidance but this is not enough.  There needs to also be time devoted to listening to parents and caregivers and learning from the insights that only they can give us about what is happening at home.

Ways to involve and engage families

Using the NNPS partnerships model [3], we can identify and encourage specific types of parental involvement that can directly impact the remote learning experience in a positive way. 

  • Parenting
  • Communication
  • Learning From Home
  • Decision making

Let’s take a look at what each of these areas might look like in practice.

Parenting

Teachers can help parents and students succeed by providing them with information and resources to set up the home conditions that are physically and emotionally conducive to learning.

  • Send suggestions for activities and routines that can contribute to emotional and physical well-being. 
  • Tips for dealing with challenging behavior such as these Parenting Cue Cards.
  • Establish how families can encourage and guide students and make it clear that they are not expected to “teach” their children.  

Communication

Now, more than ever, maintaining effective and frequent communication with families needs to be a priority.  It is key to strengthening the relationship with families, building trust and confidence.

There are several options for creating a channel of communication with parents and the best choice will depend on many individual factors including what the platform the school has been using until now, school policy regarding the level of contact teachers can have with families, and the profile of the families themselves.  

  • Centralize channels of communication so it is as straightforward and make sure everyone feels supported and, if necessary, trained to use it.
  • Create a culture of feedback by regularly asking for it.
  • Check in with the students and families on a regular, mutually agreed on schedule to encourage open 2-way communication.

Learning From Home

In the spirit of making everyone’s life easier, send helpful tips on how to manage at home learning effectively.  This could be on topics such as:

  • setting up a work space
  • organizing a daily routine
  • encouraging effective study habits
  • the importance of off-screen breaks for fresh air, exercise and fun.

Provide activities that invite students to involve their parents or caregivers. This encourages parents to talk more with their children about what they are learning and find connections with how that language or skills might be used in the real-world.  Download this handout for 5 activity ideas.

Decision making

Building a genuine partnership means not just sharing responsibilities but also decision making.  This will only happen if opportunities are given for parents and caregivers to share their views, give feedback and establish shared goals for the improvement of remote learning programs and ultimately student success.  The kinds of questions that families can help answer are:

  • Where are students struggling the most with remote learning and how can we adapt our program structure to fix these problems?
  • How do students feel about or engage with different types of content delivery?
  • What are the desired outcomes for learning during the lockdown period and how much support can parents provide?

Conclusion

Suddenly, with this shift to emergency remote teaching, it has become painfully obvious that without a genuine partnership between home and school, this whole experience is not likely going to be a successful one.  

We need parents now more than ever because they are the ones who are helping their children (your students) participate in live meetings. They are supporting them with any other work you assign, making sure the work is completed.  All the while they must also try to keep their children healthy, happy, and learning during this lockdown. We need their support right now, and they need ours!   

It is time to fully embrace this idea of school community and get families involved and engaged.  This can be done by finding ways to enrich communication, support and guide as well as listen and accept feedback.

Be sure to check out Claire’s recorded webinar on Bridging the Gap Between Home and School HERE.

REFERENCES

[1]. PTA, N. (2000). Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs. (pp. 11-12). Bloomington, Indiana: National PTA, National Education Service.   

[2]. Ferlazzo, L., & Hammond, L. A. (2009). Building parent engagement in schools. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth.10-14

[3] Epstein, J. L,  Sanders M. G,  Sheldon, S.B, and Associates, (2019) School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action, 4th edition,. Corwin Press.

See www.partnershipschools.org for more information.

Author: Claire Venables

Claire Venables has been dedicated to ELT since 2001. After a decade in Spain, she moved to Brazil in 2011 where she has worked in the creation and implementation of bilingual programs in schools, the development of teacher development courses, as a national and international speaker, materials writer, active member of the National Association of Teachers of English (BRAZTESOL), and board member of two special interest groups (SIGs): VOICES for Women and Young Learners and Teens. Despite her wide-ranging experience, she is and always will be most passionate about teaching children.

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