Vignette #8 – A teacher discovers that by creating welcoming opportunities for parents to come into school to see and engage in the process of their children’s work, he can effectively share his classroom expectations for learning and behavior and make strong connections between home and school.
In a quest to connect with parents and help them better understand what is expected of their children in his classroom, sixth grade ELA teacher Mark Holmes brainstorms ways to get families into his classroom for events beyond “back to school night” and the parent teacher conference. He is inspired by an article he reads about a science teacher who opens her classroom to families once a month for “Family Fun Science Night.” With refreshments and various stations set around the room for logic problem solving and other experiments, the families learn science together and the parents gain a greater awareness of the science curriculum. Mark loves the idea of having families gather together, but he wonders about drawing families in for a less “hands-on” subject like his specialty, English. Hesitant to put parents “on the spot,” he decides to open his classroom for a monthly “viewing of student work” gallery. With many parents claiming that their kids rarely show them their work at home, Mark figures that this is a good opportunity for students to share with their parents – not only the product of their work, but the process that led them there. While most of his students complete their work independently at home, many often share that they don’t feel like their parents quite understand how much effort it can take to complete a writing assignment. Mark not only hopes to build a bridge between home and school, but also one between kids and their parents.
Alternating between a monthly morning and evening session to provide opportunities for various schedules, Mark titles these “open work gallery” sessions “What’s the Scoop?” He serves ice cream at the evening sessions and frozen yogurt in the morning! Admittedly quirky, the frozen treats prove to be a draw and help make this merging of home and school feel celebratory. Poetry month welcomes the largest showing of parents, who seem delighted to hear their children read their poems. Mark begins each session by explaining the assignment and the steps involved from first draft to polished piece. He also takes the time at each session to update parents on various school and community activities that are coming up. The sessions are short – a half hour after “drop off” for the morning and an hour for the evening sessions, but Mark finds that they come to serve families and his students in various ways. Parents get a sense of the culture of the classroom and get to know more about Mark’s style, expectations, and relationship with their kids. The students gain a sense of pride in their work and seem to thrive with the promise of a monthly built in audience (even when it is not their family in attendance). They also have learned how to articulate the process of an assignment, and have become more adept and willing to explain work to their parents at home. Finally, Mark gets a chance to get to know his students’ families better. He listens to their concerns and wonderings about his classroom, and the expectations of the school in general. Mark builds in time during the evening session for parents to ask questions. It seems clear that frequent communication and access to the school make the parents more comfortable.
When challenged by a colleague about the “work” entailed in holding a monthly gallery, Mark assesses what is involved. While it does take planning, preparation, and a willingness of regular parent engagement to make these a success, Mark shares that his everyday needs to communicate with parents have decreased, at least for the parents of students who are able to attend the sessions. As families gain more comfort in the classroom, Mark hopes to tap them to visit the classroom to share some of their skills and interests with the students.
- Science Family Fun Night – From the UNC School of Education, this article shares how one teacher opens her classroom to families one night a month for Family Fun Science night. The outreach even welcomes parents into the building to learn science, get a better sense of what their children are learning, and help better enable them to help at home and engage in discussions around science with their kids.
- YES Prep Cultivates Parent Engagement – This five minute video on “Cultivating Parent Engagement” shows how a school has created opportunities for parents to be involved, connected, and aware of the academic and behavioral expectations for their children at school (and home). The video shows a student exhibition where families come and engage with students and their work. It also shows home visits and meetings with parents/students to discuss expectations and make plans for student success.