Engaging the Community with Family Engineering Nights

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

“Now I understand what engineering in elementary school looks like!”

A dad raving about the Family Engineering Night

“Easiest and most fun event I have ever volunteered for at school.”

A teacher leading a station

“Loved how it got all members of the family involved in problem solving!”

A response from the parent survey


How much to do you involve your families with school?

If you’re like me, involvement with families consists of newsletters, emails, volunteering in the classroom, attending performances or academic celebrations, and conferences. As I started analyzing and reviewing how I was engaging families in the new science standards, I quickly realized this was purely a one-way system. Families were merely an audience for whatever I deemed relevant.

As I researched more about the traditional family involvement paradigm I’d been adhering to for so long, I realized I was missing an important and critical opportunity to have families as partners. So I started unpacking my beliefs and biases about families, and I thought about ways I could reframe and reshape what I’ve been doing. I was ready to move beyond the status quo and start pushing my practices to move out of my comfort zone!

The opportunity to start this work fell on my plate as a mandate. In my new role as district Elementary Science and STEM Specialist, I was informed that all 15 elementary schools would be hosting a family engineering night, for the first time EVER.

We’ve completed five of our school events and received overwhelmingly positive responses from teachers, volunteers, families, and students — a few of my favorites opened this post.

Here’s how we did it — and you can do it too!

Read more

Tips to Enrich School-Family Partnerships

Super reader teachers her mom how she uses pointer power when she reads

Super reader teaches her mom how she uses pointer power when she reads

The classroom is filled with parents, siblings, and grandparents eager to learn from kindergarten super readers. All around the room, students dressed as their favorite reading superpower are sitting alongside their their families, immersed in stacks of books, teaching their families how to use superpowers as they read.

When they get to challenging “kryptonite” words, students demonstrate how they use picture power to study the picture and think about what word might make sense. This is how we celebrate reading. It’s an opportunity for students to demonstrate their growth and for families to learn about how they can continue to support their child’s reading at home. It’s a bridge from school to home. This is one of the many ways that we engage families at our school.

Engaging in meaningful school-family partnerships is foundational to improving student outcomes. Families are an essential resource as we strive to work together to best support our students. Over the past few years, our school has grappled with this question: How do we build meaningful school-family partnerships? While our practices are always evolving, I’ll share some of the ones that have successfully enriched our school-family partnerships that you might try in your own school:

Read more

Four Tools to Improve Communication Between Home and School

How do we improve? We ask questions. We read. We do what we can to learn more, and make changes based on what we’ve learned. If we want to help our children have a more successful experience in school, it’s no different. We need to understand what they’re doing, where they might be struggling, and what they’re doing well. We might get a rough idea by reading their progress reports, or from the kids themselves, but ultimately, we need more.

Over the last few years, I’ve come to love that my children’s teachers have increased their means of communicating with parents. Communication is no longer limited to the paper newsletter in the backpack, a website, and the occasional conference. That change has created a stronger partnership between myself and the school and teachers. In turn, it has changed how I support my children’s teachers, the school, and learning from home — no doubt enabling my children to have greater success, and enjoyment, in learning.

So, what communication tools do I wish all of my children’s teachers used? And, as a school or teacher, how do you choose which tools to use? Personally, I love online and mobile tools, and there are many reasons for this.

Read more

9 Reminders and Tips for Back-to-School Night

Many of you will be hosting Back-to-School Night over the next few weeks. This is a great opportunity for you to build community with the parents of your students while communicating important information about the school year. With this dual purpose in mind, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help your night go swimmingly:

Ideas for Building Community with Parents

  • Have parents introduce themselves and share a school memory that they have from when they were their children’s age. Begin by modeling this yourself: for example, if you’re a 2nd grade teacher, share one of your own memories of being a 2nd grader.
  • Back to School Letter, from student to parentsOn the day of Back-to-School Night, have students write a letter to their parents pointing out three things in the classroom they want their parents to notice. Leave these letters on the students’ desks and encourage parents to read them when they come in. This is a nice way to connect with parents while setting the tone for open communication all year long.

Read more

Families Matter: Engaging Families to Strengthen Community

We all know the old saying, “An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” We use it to reference the similarities between parent and child, but trees are also an apt metaphor for families — as a tree grows tall and sprouts up and out, our family histories, stories, and traditions provide the nutrients a child needs to flourish. Who we are and where we come from matters, and if we look at the tree as the family — the strength, the life-giver — we want to make sure that we are tending the tree and enriching the environment that it grows in.

As educators we spend thirteen years poking, prodding and buffing the apples to be their best. But we can’t just focus on the apple. We have to remember the source: the tree, complete with a trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, and blossoms.

Kevin's Daughters Molly and Marlow

Kevin’s daughters Marlow and Molly

Research tells us that cognitive, social, and emotional development stems from the family. Study after study shows that parental involvement with school age children correlates to the success a child experiences as they move into adulthood. So we must find a way to build a trusting, collaborative, and receptive relationship between schools and families – both of which have much to offer.

What are we, as educators and school leaders, doing to help nourish families? Here are a few tips to make sure our students’ families are supported, productive and feel that we are all working toward our common goal of student success.

Read more

Reflections: Engaging Fathers in Education

As a principal and a teacher, I have encountered many youth that share my same childhood experience. They, like me, grew up with a single mother — a mother, who faced the daunting challenge of raising her children alone without the emotional and physical support of a father. The reasons fathers are absent are varied: incarceration, divorce, abandonment, or as in my case, death.

My biological father was killed before I could even form an image of him in my memory. Althea Bogany, my mother, found herself thrust into the responsibility of sole guardianship of two boys. With only a high school diploma, she would be in charge of making decisions and choices that would impact her life and the lives of my brother and me. My mother is strong, and her choices, values, beliefs, and thinking have definitely helped sculpt who I am today. When I look into the faces of my students and listen to their stories, I understand the impact their mothers have on them. And when I look around my schools, I see and respect how female teachers nurture, guide, inspire and positively influence our students.

Still, in my role as an educator, I have also witnessed the emotional and psychological stress that both mother and child face when a father is absent and how it plays out in schools. In child study, IEP, and discipline meetings, I have heard and seen the harsh impact on a child’s sense of self and self-worth when a father is not at the table.

How to Engage Fathers

Beyond Parent-Teacher Conferences: Building Connections That Last

Parent Teacher Conferences MottoWhen I first started teaching, I was intimidated by parent-teacher conferences. I knew the importance of establishing home-school connections, but it felt impossible to build meaningful relationships over the course of a 20-minute conference. But after a few years, I started to see conferences as a way to set the stage for home-school collaboration that would last throughout the year. Here are some tips I learned for communicating with parents during conferences and beyond:

1. Value Parent Voice

During the Conference:

Start conferences by having parents share their impressions of how school is going for their child. Ask them to share what is working well for their child, what they see their child struggling with, and whether they have any specific questions they’d like answered during the conference. To save time, you can have parents answer these questions in writing before the conference. Showing parents that you value their expertise sets the stage for true collaboration. Hearing parents talk about their observations and concerns allows you an opportunity to assess the most productive direction for the conference.

Beyond:

Draw upon parents’ expertise throughout the year. If you’re struggling with a student, talk to his parents and don’t be afraid to ask for advice by asking questions such as, “Does this ever happen at home? What helps the situation?” True collaboration means learning from each other; building relationships with parents can help students receive better support at home and school.

Read more

Talking to Parents About the Common Core (Resources & Tips)

Sometimes I think we get so busy trying to unpack and implement Common Core that we forget one of our important roles in making this implementation stick: helping our larger communities, especially parents, to understand it, too. With back-to-school nights on the horizon and parent communications getting underway, we wanted to fill your backpocket with some resources you can turn to when parents start to ask questions. I’m sure that not only will parents find these helpful, but these succinct and friendly resources will continue to bolster your confidence as well.

Five Resources to Help Parents Understand the Common Core

1. Learning to Read the Core with Sarah Brown Wessling: Even though this webinar is for teachers, many parents have found it straightforward and accessible.

2. PTA: Parent’s Guide to Student Success (available in Spanish too): These concise documents will give an overview of Common Core throughout the grades in parent-friendly terms.

3. Parent Road Maps to the Common Core from Council of the Great City Schools: With more detail than the PTA guides, these maps — ELA and Math — hone in on some standards and offer ways to connect with them at home too.

Read more

A Step-by-Step Plan for Student-Led Conferences at the Elementary Level

Center for Teaching Quality

Confession: I look forward to parent conferences. I value the opportunity to connect with families face-to-face. But discussing report cards? Ugh. After 16 years of traditional parent conferences, I decided to make a good thing even better.

Student-led conferences intrigued me. The basic concept: students lead the conferences about their academic progress. They take ownership of their learning experience, sitting at the table with parents and teachers. Older students generally share their body of work through portfolios and work samples.

But how could it look for primary students? Nine years into implementing student-led conferences with primary students, I’ve found this is the key: have students demonstrate what they can do.

Read more

Emailing Parents: How to Avoid Unintended Consequences

Practical Advice and Examples for Productive Communication

We love it and we hate it. Email. With the appearance of a red flag or the sound of a friendly ping, it instantly makes communication easier and more complicated. Recent years have taught us some tough lessons about our cyber-conversations:
1. You can’t take back what you’ve written. 2. Our first impression most often comes through what and how we write. 3. Our haste can cause us to suggest a tone or meaning we didn’t intend. Educators aren’t immune to these oversights, especially as our inboxes are more and more crowded.

Read more