Tag Archives: family engagement

Sharing the Job That Empowers Us: Educating Our Students!

By Sara Arranz May 30th, 2014 10:00 AM

A good beginning is important for a strong ending. Every year, I make sure to start the school year by meeting each one of my students’ families. This introductory dialogue is the key to a successful year, and I really appreciate the information they share with me during that very first meeting.

You might be asking, “why is this contact important, and what should we talk about?” When you are talking with parents, let them know how much you care about their kids and how successful you want them to be. Offer your help and support unconditionally. But, do not forget to let them know their duties. In my experience, I must say that having a fluent and healthy relationship with my families at Cleveland has helped my students grow and achieve better results.

I’d like to share a few tips from my classroom that make me a more powerful educator and empower my families every day:

  1. Share your contact information with your families and provide them with your schedule and flexibility at the beginning of the year.
  2. Talk with your families about using the Internet and media to be able to receive and send messages.
  3. Share your expectations for the year with every family: classroom management, schedule, materials, homework, etc., and assure them that they can ask for help at any time.
  4. Make all those expectations visible in the room. Designate a board for their information. 
    Familias Picture_SA
  5. Display student work so that your families can see what their child is working on in class.Student Work_2_SAStudent Work_SA
  6. Ask them to sign a contract to “work by your side”. They must agree to the procedures that will help students to progress. This includes things like punctuality, homework, attendance, help at home, etc.
  7. Explain the curriculum and methodology that you use in your class (Creative Curriculum, Tools of the Mind, and Reggio are a few examples for early childhood) and discuss how that methodology transfers to their daily life and home.
  8. Send homework weekly; it does not need to be anything intense but it has to be something that families can relate to and help with. Offer your help with materials, resources, and ideas.
  9. Write a newsletter. it is important for families to stay informed about the activities that are happening every month. Always add your contact information as a reminder.Newsletter_SA
  10. Find a time to call, email or text to share good news with them.
  11. Send families pictures or videos of their children working, exploring, investigating and sharing.
  12. Invite your families to class for interviews. Allow them to share their expertise, read with students, or help out with a field trip or lesson. Students love to see their parents involved, and it reinforces the idea that “my parents care about me.”
  13. If a conflict arises, find a moment as soon as possible to converse with that family and resolve it. Remember and remind them that you are both “in the same boat” rowing to the same island – educating our students.
  14. Celebrate the joy of sharing a wonderful job. You are both educating their children, and it’s important to find a moment to smile and enjoy it with them.Families_SA

Finally, I would like to share part of my plan for next year. As part of my classroom “Innovation Plan,” I will be dedicating time during the initial weeks of the school year for a “School for Parents Workshop.” In these meetings, I will share information about expectations and procedures, discuss with them how to ask for help and where to find resources, and exchange best practices and new ideas.

In addition, I am so excited that next year we are going to start a home visits program where we will visit families in their own environment and context, making communication even easier and more accessible. Using these new strategies, I hope to build even stronger relationships with my families next year!


The ABC’s of Improving Home-School Partnerships

By Angelique Kwabenah May 27th, 2014 3:00 PM

Students do better in school and in life when their families are engaged. A strong body of evidence clearly points to the fact that, from birth through adolescence, family engagement contributes to a range of positive student outcomes. Parent engagement looks different depending on the school, but one of the ways that parent engagement is addressed in alternative school settings is through home visits. Home visits can be a valuable way to engage parents in their child’s education, but they sometimes present challenges as well. Keeping in mind this simple “ABC Framework” will help schools to engage parents more effectively and move students to greater levels of academic proficiency.

Accommodate: Being accommodating to parents schedules and needs is critical to fostering a cohesive partnership. When scheduling a home visit, it is advisable to give parents options in terms of a meeting location. For example, our school meets with parents at the Anacostia Library instead of meeting them in the home if that is more convenient or closer to their workplace. Accept that parents may have valid reasons for wanting to meet in an alternate location and be open to that, not oppositional.

Break down: It is also critical to break down any barriers that might prevent a positive meeting experience. Parents may have perceptions about us as teachers and we may have our own personal views about the parents, as well, that could negatively impact a meeting if they are not openly and transparently discussed. Get any pre-conceived notions out in the open and clear the air so that the parameters have been set for both sides to have a positive and productive meeting. Building bridges that can be crossed by everyone will help to establish a more amicable environment in which parents and teachers feel valued and respected.

Collaborate: Collaborating with parents encourages cultural awareness and respect and has been an important aspect of the success of our home visits. Our parents are appreciative of the fact that that they are included in the decision making process, particularly when it relates to developing transition plans for our students that will help to ensure their continued success when they return to the community. Overwhelmingly, the consensus is that parents want their voices heard and that they feel more engaged when we make them an integral part of the planning process and don’t just impose an idea.

Although many challenges may arise when attempting to conduct home visits in an alternative school setting, benefits like increased student achievement, a decrease in student behavior infractions, and a more cohesive home-school partnership make the efforts well worth it in the long run. Students do better in school and in life when their families and schools are working together in work that truly matters.

Innovation is Not an Option, It is a Must!

 By Sara Arranz April 9th, 2014 5:30 PM

As my former principal used to say: “Success is not an option, it is a must. I’ve carried this mindset with me to my current position, and I feel that I have to and I can do much more for DCPS. We need all students to be successful, and I believe that innovation is the answer.

When I went to California for my first trip as an Education Innovation Fellow, I kept the following lines from the DCPS Capital Commitment in my mind:

“Our five-year strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, provides a roadmap for building DCPS into a high-quality, vibrant school district that earns the confidence of our community. With this strategic plan, we recommit DCPS to providing every student with a safe, academically challenging, and inspiring learning experience by 2017.”

In California, we were exposed to teachers, leaders, schools, and communities who are changing their practice in order to improve results. We saw teachers who are creating well-organized and planned stations to personalize student learning. We talked and listened to leaders who are modeling teaching for their staff so that they can improve their teaching practices and reach new levels of leadership. We met with families who are involved in their schools so their investment can positively impact their children’s progress.

Been able to observe, listen, and live the innovation experience that I just described was enlightening and empowering. In fact, it was probably the best experience of my educational career. Now I am ready to see how our strategic plan at DCPS can take place in my own school.

Here are a few ways that I want to innovate in my practice to help my school achieve these goals:

1. Provide students with a safe place and develop a shared vision for our children. In our school community, both parents and educators want their children to be safe and free from harm. We want them to have a permanent family who will be there for them for the rest of their lives.

We have made a lot of progress on these goals in DCPS. Engaged parents are essential to eliminating the achievement gap, and we work with our parents to help them become powerful advocates for their children and their communities. As teachers, we can do more work directly with parents, helping them become leaders at home, in the school, and in their communities. I have seen different methods of this, and every teacher and school can find the one that fits their reality.

Ultimately, the parents in California and my parents at Cleveland have something in common: They love helping in the school because they feel they are showing their children they care about their success.

2. Keep course work academically challenging. Every student sees challenge differently and it is my job as their teacher to respond to what they need. By innovating with the methodology and personalizing the experience, I am able to teach to 20 students at their own pace. It sounds ambitious, but let me share one of my models that works: In a classroom, students rotate across differentiated learning stations on a specific schedule. Stations often include: (a) small group instruction by the teacher, (b) collaborative or independent practice, and (c) self- directed, online activities. There are programs online where students can find activities adapted to their level and follow their own progress by the offered data.

3. Utilize new online learning programs! Online programming takes us to the “inspiring” part of the learning experience that we want to achieve at DCPS. There are many companies working on these online tools, and they are creating data-based effective programs that will empower us, the teachers. A parent/care giver can educate his/herself and know more about his/her child’s learning. A teacher along with parents can present the world to his students by using the online resources available both at home and at school. This is why, again, coordination and communication with families is key.  If we are excited and responsible in how we use technology for learning, the future of education is ours to create.

Teacher to Family Partners: A Path to Long-Lasting Relationships

By Rabiah Harris March 4th, 2014 4:30 PM

I sat at my first parent teacher conferences nine years ago, terrified. What would the parents say? What would the parents ask? Would I have answers right away or would I need to look them up? I seriously didn’t know what to expect. However, now that my very first conference day (and many others) have come and gone, I know that the terror I initially felt was unnecessary.

One thing I failed to realize when I first started teaching, but was quickly reminded of by my mother (a teacher of 40+ years), was that parents want the same thing that I want. They want their children to learn and be successful.  At the core of even my hardest to reach parents, they want their child to be successful.  This includes achieving at their highest level of success and preparing for a lifetime of learning.  As long as that remains my goal as a teacher, parents and I will always have a common ground.

In particular, I can think of three female students, and their families, who I built strong relationships with over the years. Each one of them had a different trajectory in my class, but they, like many others, persevered through the difficulties of chemistry and came out triumphant.  I couldn’t have been more proud to be at their high school graduation 1-2 years later.  My connection with families starts off simply and can be traced back to these three tips:

1.  Be proactive about updates on class procedures, important assignments, and progress.

In the past, I’ve done homework calendars, a blog, weekly grade sheets, and a class website that alerts families to important events and upcoming assignments in school and in class. I know that on the very first parent teacher conference day I had, my reason for having fewer parents was because they already knew how their student was progressing and if it was subpar, we had already discussed ways to improve. Proactive communication also helps parents know that you are just as interested in keeping them abreast as they are about staying abreast. Figure out what works best for the families you serve and use that as your primary communication tool.

2.  Check in with parents to find out if they have particular concerns about your class or other classes that you can help facilitate.

This worked the best when my school was on an advisory system for students and parent communication. The advisor was the parent’s “touch-point” for school and always a person they knew they could go to for questions or concerns. Teaching teams must have each other’s backs, but also integral to know what’s going on in each others classes to help alert parents of big upcoming assignments across the board.

3.  Remind parents that your goal is the same as theirs and ask for their expertise on their child.

When concerns come up or achievement starts to fall, these conversations can be tricky to navigate.  Grounding the conversation in the “mission” so to speak is very important because you always want to make sure that the parent remembers the goal is the same, student learning and achievement for every student, every day. When you ground the conversation in the goal and ask for tips on how to help keep that goal working towards mastery, parents feel more at ease to also receive your feedback.

I’ve kept in touch with those three students I mentioned earlier.  Victoria is in graduate school in New Jersey and plans to start a bilingual early childcare center.  Charlotte is graduating from college this year and has plans to make a difference with youth so she can help someone as I helped her.  Lastly, but definitely not least, Roxana has already completed higher education and is an esthetician and makeup artist.  Being a teacher is a way to make a difference, but it is also a way to become a partner with families.   Be ready to expect that when these partnerships happen, they will also make a difference in you!

Want to continue the conversation? Connect with Rabiah on Twitter at @dcSTEMspark.

Rabiah Harris teaches science at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7. 

Engaging Families During Individual Education Plan Meetings

By Jennifer Krystopowicz February 13th, 2014 11:10 AM

Fear. Dread. Anxiety. Confusion. These are emotions that some parents or guardians of students with special needs feel during their child’s individual education program (IEP) meeting. As a special education teacher, it is my responsibility to ensure that parents do not experience such apprehension because they are the driving force when it comes to supporting their child’s education. Having conducted over 90 individual education program meetings in DCPS, I would estimate that my last 40 meetings were most effective in terms of fully engaging participating parents or guardians. If I could go back in time and redo the other 50 meetings, I would incorporate the following guidelines to ensure a successful meeting with all family participants.

Before the Meeting:

  1. Before creating the letter of invitation, ask the parents or guardians what date and time is convenient for them to attend the meeting. In my experience, when they have the option to select a date based on their availability, they are more likely to attend.
  2. A week before the meeting, send home a rough draft of potential goals that you are considering to include in the IEP. This will give the parents or guardians a chance to understand and process what their child is learning and how their child will reach mastery. It also gives the parents or guardians the opportunity to prepare any questions they may have surrounding their child’s goals.

Draft Goals List

During the Meeting:

  1. Always begin the meeting by having every participant, including parents or guardians, share a positive comment about the student. This releases tension from those parents or guardians who view IEP meetings to be a stressful situation. My Special Education Coordinator does a wonderful job at this, always opening meetings with encouraging words about the student. For example, you can say “Maya is a self-starter who takes pride in her work,” or “Nicholas is a hard worker who always wants to help other students.”
  2. Sometimes, acronyms can be very daunting to parents and make them hesitant to engage in the information when they do not understand what the terms stand for.  When presenting the “Present Levels of Performance” to parents or guardians, take the time to translate what the TRC, Dibels, DRA, BIP, 504 etc. terminologies actually mean. It is essential to break down the scores into simple forms so parents or guardians have a full understanding of where their child stands both socially and academically. For example, don’t just tell parents or guardians that their child is reading on a level C. Tell them that their child is reading at the Kindergarten level and what those reading behaviors look like.
  3. After presenting each section of goals, ask the parents or guardians if they agree with the goals, would like to add anything, or if they have any questions. This will open the door for conversation and provide an opportunity for those parents or guardians who are hesitant to ask questions the time to do so.
  4. After you have covered all goals and sections of the IEP, offer a few suggestions about what the parents or guardians can do at home to support the child in mastering their goals. This enables parents or guardians to become an active participant in their child’s IEP. This is crucial because students with disabilities are already behind in academic areas and need all the reinforcement they can get to achieve academic success.
  5. At the conclusion of the meeting, express your appreciation to the parents or guardians for attending the meeting and supporting their child’s progress. It’s just as important to end the meeting on a good note as it is to start it!

After the Meeting:

  1. Keep open communication with the parents or guardians. Ask them how they are doing when it comes to supporting their child with their goals at home. Ask them if they need more ideas or suggestions.
  2. Celebrate success! Let the parents or guardians know when their child has mastered a goal. This can be done through a simple text, letter home, or phone call depending on the method of communication the parent prefers.

I am confident that this list will continue to grow over the years; however, these practices have enabled my parents to feel confident and fully engaged when attending an IEP meeting. A successful meeting occurs when the parents or guardians walk away knowing that the success of their child is a team effort and they are fully supported by the school to drive achievement.

Jennifer Krystopowicz is a special education teacher at Tyler Elementary School.

Teaching is a Three-Way Street

By Earl Jones January 30th 2014 5:20 PM

One of the perks of my teaching career is that I get to travel for work. This travel doesn’t take me to other countries, or even other cities. Rather, my work takes me around my school community, visiting the families of my students.

There is no teacher who would deny that building personal relationships with students and families contributes to student achievement. Fortunately, my school, Bancroft Elementary, partners with the Flamboyan Foundation. Founded in 2006, the Flamboyan Foundation aims to increase educational outcomes of public school students by providing teachers with training, resources, and assistance related to family engagement.  One key component of the partnership is that all teachers must conduct home visits. During the summer and fall months, teachers visit the homes of their students to initiate and strengthen relationships with parents.

As a participant in this program, it is truly enlightening for me to be able to talk with families and students during these home visits. I discuss the hopes and dreams of my students and expectations for the school year, such as classroom participation and homework. But, most importantly, I get to know families and students on a personal level.

Through these home visits, I’ve started to understand what influences the character of my students. Students have shown off their trophies and pets. Immigrant parents have told me stories from their childhood in their home countries. Families have even shared with me their hobbies and interests. Parents have also shared disheartening news such as past homelessness, divorce, family death, and illnesses that provide insight into a student’s emotional state.

Making this teacher-family connection allows students to feel a sense of security in the classroom, allowing them to take more risks when learning. It permits teachers to cater to students not just academically, but socially, mentally, and emotionally. It goes without saying that conducting these home visits has opened a three-way street among student, family, and teacher in my classroom.

Earl Jones is a fourth grade teacher at Bancroft Elementary School.