Vignette #9 – In her efforts to better connect parents with the work and culture in her classroom, a second grade teacher creates year-long and wide ranging opportunities for parent participation.
Now a parent of college aged kids, Jennifer Costa remembers often feeling “shut out” of her children’s classrooms while they were growing up. She recalls wanting to know more about her kids’ learning by volunteering in the classroom, but not having the confidence to find her way into what often seemed like “gated” territory. As a second grade teacher in a large urban school, she has worked tirelessly to throw open these gates and make her classroom a safe and open space for the families of the children she “guides.” With eight first languages in her classroom this year, Jennifer knows that many of the parents can feel intimidated at the thought of becoming “classroom helpers.” Jennifer skillfully acknowledges the sentiments of many parents who may feel ill at ease in the school setting alone. She combats these common mindsets with a “throw open the door” orientation for parents where she affirms that they are all welcome and that there are places for everyone at the “school table.” From signing up once a month to come in and wash the classroom cups to helping out with weekly reading groups, Jennifer has created a “Volunteer Board” that truly welcomes participation by all.
Jennifer offers “training sessions” for parents on everything from “how to help a student work through a math problem” to “how to transition and walk students from the classroom to gym class.” Parents comment that these “trainings” not only give them access to the classroom, but help them better understand the expectations for the children on a daily basis. Highly aware that the fear of failure and “not knowing” often keeps parents out of school, Jennifer is transparent about her own experiences and highly assuring that parents’ presence in their children’s school lives is success in itself. For the many parents whose work schedules do not allow for time in the classroom, Jennifer offers opportunities for small projects they can do (often with their children) at home to prepare for the classroom. She recalls the experience of one father whose son insisted they take on the job of “day book staplers.” Charged with the task of stapling the bindings on October’s writing journals (all materials went home with Christopher in an easily transportable envelope – stapler included!) the father not only shared the pride he and his son felt in getting the class writing journals ready, but also the new understanding that came from interacting with class materials at home. The stapling project turned into a conversation about how important this daily “day book” writing exercise was to his son, and the father admits to then having a much greater appreciation for this part of the classroom curriculum.
In fact, the parents and students of Ms. Costa’s classroom often share that they “feel like they are on the same page” throughout this second grade experience. By November, most kids have had at least one family member contribute/partake in some classroom activity, and there is agreement that time with classroom kids and/or materials helps the families better understand Ms. Costa’s expectations for both behavior and work in the classroom. One parent shares that she likes Ms. Costa’s “use of a bell” for transitions so much that she now uses this at home to help things go more smoothly with her four young children. Another parent confides that it is the consistent culture of welcoming parents “without judgment” that makes Ms. Costa’s classroom a place of such connection between home and school. Beyond “classroom helpers,” Ms. Costa takes every chance she can to welcome parents with special interests and talents into the classroom. The kids loved it when Nico’s dad came in to teach them how to make pasta from scratch. It became a “math lesson” with a recipe that went home (along with a sample) to each family. As a K-9 trainer for the BPD, Samantha’s mother (with her furry companion) was also a hit for students (and parents, who are always welcome to stick around for these early morning visits). Always looking to expand her web of inclusion, Ms. Costa is currently working on a classroom website project that will enable her to record these special events (and other classroom activities) to send out to parents not in attendance. With greater understanding of classroom culture and expectations, Jennifer insists that families become valuable members of her “teaching team.”
- Getting Parents Involved – This short article outlines ways to get and keep parents involved in the classroom all year. From gathering a group of parents to “prepare a notebook of home or community activities for use during vacations” to recruiting and training classroom volunteers, this article gives tips on how to sustain meaningful contact and connection throughout the year.
- “Putting Parents to Work in the Classroom” is a short video that highlights a parent participation program that trains parents to help out in the classroom. Mentoring by other parents who have “been through the program” helps to establish bonds and educate the whole community.
- This “Research Spotlight on Parental Involvement in Education” synthesizes the research on parent involvement over the last decade. The article also links to related research articles that examine the benefits of parent engagement on school and life success for children.