HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Prioritizing Parent Engagement

by Michelle Barton Issue: Time

The most accurate predictor of long-term student achievement is not socioeconomic status, innate ability or even attendance at a prestigious school. The best predictor of student success is the extent to which parents are engaged in encouraging their child’s learning and the extent to which they involve themselves in their child’s education.

A parent’s investment of time and energy in their child’s educational upbringing is both a precious gift and a scarce commodity. Parents want to be involved in their child’s education, but many parents (working parents in particular) find it challenging to find the time to attend school functions, volunteer at school or remain involved in school life on an ongoing basis. As Jewish day school leaders who seek to educate the “whole child,” it is incumbent upon us to focus our attention on parent education and parent engagement as crucial components of our schools’ missions. Part of educating the whole child means communicating with and enlisting the help of our students’ parents—their very first teachers. We know that when schools partner with parents to create community, cohesion and opportunities for learning and growth, students thrive.

During this particular time of uncertainty, connection and parent engagement are more important than ever. We will need to think even more creatively about the ways in which we meet our families’ needs. When thinking about and planning parent engagement opportunities, there are several critical questions that school leaders must first ask themselves:

What is the objective, purpose and meaningful takeaway of the engagement opportunity? Is it for the purposes of community building, parent education, increased communication, volunteering, academic involvement or something else?

What are some events or gatherings that already exist at your school that can be enhanced by inviting parents to attend? Can these be offered virtually? Perhaps parents are not currently invited to Kabbalat Shabbat or morning tefillah, but if they were, they would have a chance to meaningfully participate in their child’s daily routine.

Does the time of day that an event is offered allow many parents to attend, participate or view it? Can the event or learning session be offered more than once at a different time of day, on a different day of the week, or recorded for later digital viewing?

Here are some ideas to help with parent engagement efforts.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

• Create Family Fun Nights (organized by the Parent Association as an off campus event).

• Invite parents to attend Kabbalat Shabbat, Torah service, tefillah or morning school-wide assemblies, or classroom morning meetings.

• Set up a coffee bar or another location on campus for parents to gather and shmooze with one another before or after carpool.

• Create parent-only morning meetings—by grade level or division, and led by the school counselor or division head—so parents can get to know each other on a deeper level.

• Host an event such as a Pancake Breakfast, Muffins with Moms and Special Friends, or Donuts with Dads and Special Friends, where parents gather with their children and other parents over a meal first thing in the morning.

• Partner with your local synagogue and host grade level family Shabbat dinners or Havdalah services.

PARENT EDUCATION

• Host Parent Coffees, a platform for discussing grade-level specific topics, social-emotional topics, academic content areas, developmentally appropriate practices and more.

• Invite guest lecturers and educational speakers.

• Create workshops to assist parents with middle school, high school or college admission processes.

COMMUNICATION

• Publish an annual calendar with important dates listed far in advance so parents can plan to attend.

• Post daily happenings across campus on various social media channels so parents can be aware of the goings on (and have talking points to use with their children), even if they can’t be physically present on campus.

VOLUNTEERING

• Invite parents to serve as chaperones or drivers on field trips.

• Create a Helping Hands program, in which teachers request ongoing parent assistance with anything from cutting and gluing a special project to shopping for a special cooking activity or serving as a guest reader in class.

• Have the head of school invite a parent to serve on a committee or task force to develop parent leadership.

• Invite parents to assist with teacher appreciation events.

• Ask parents to participate in and help set up schoolwide celebrations of Jewish or secular holidays; some preparation can be done during the day in-person or at night in advance of the event.

ACADEMIC INVOLVEMENT

• Call home to report positive interactions with peers, classroom teachers or other faculty members.

• Develop explicit and articulated goals for each child that are then monitored at home and at school via a behavior chart or Google doc, in order to stress the home-school partnership.

• Prioritize parent-teacher conferences.

• Send timely, informative and meaningful progress reports/report cards.

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Time

This issue looks at ways that school stakeholders experiment to use their time more effectively or in service of particular goals. Time is considered one of the “commonplaces” of education, something assumed to be as unchanging as the classroom walls and the sports field. There are the daily schedule, weekly schedules, and annual calendars; calendars for development, admissions, sports, assemblies, and more. And then COVID-19 burst into our lives, ripping up all of those calendars, throwing our best-laid plans out the window and challenging us to recreate them as best we can, in the eye of an ongoing storm.

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