This blog post represents my personal views and not that of my employer, the Alliance for Education, or that of the US Department of Education; the two organizations that are running Future Ready.
It’s no secret. Parents are instrumental in the academic success of children. Yet , when you walk into schools across our nation, the range of parent involvement is all over the map. Some schools work to create a welcoming environment where parents are seen as a tremendous asset. In these schools you’ll see parents working side-by-side with students, laughing at lunch with a group of students, working in classrooms, and supporting staff in various capacities. To contrast, some schools create cultures where parents hardly feel welcome at all. In these schools, parents are seemingly locked out; with the possible exception of a few planned nights per year.
In an effort to support and move schools forward, the US Department of Education has partnered with the Alliance for Excellent Education, with support from the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, and a vast coalition of 30 education organizations including the National PTA, to develop Future Ready. The goal of Future Ready is to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly toward preparing students for success in college, a career, and citizenship. Schools that are Future Ready understand that parents play an instrumental role in the school learning environment, and as such, need to be highly engaged and recognized as a vital part of the school community (from www.FutureReadySchools.org).
The following outlines five characteristics of parent engagement in Future Ready Schools:
1. Future Ready Schools are transparent to the community.
In many schools, parents feel left in the dark. Schools often work diligently to communicate the latest initiatives, results, grading practices, or discuss things such as Common Core within their own walls, yet parents are often unaware of such important topics until they hit a friend’s facebook wall, an online gossip forum, or become part of the conversation at the soccer field. If parents are not aware of and have accurate information regarding the latest initiatives, practices, or ongoings in the classroom, a sense of distrust and disconnect can easily occur. Schools that are successful in this area have regular communication practices in place; all of which take a myriad of forms. These schools seemingly have glass walls, where parents understand what’s inside.
2. Future Ready Schools engage parents through social media.
Ask a parent where the latest school newsletter is and chances are you’ll get a puzzled look. Ask them to pull up their Facebook feed, and they’ll do so in a moment’s notice. Looking for a picture? Check Instagram. Schools that are successful in this area are creating Facebook pages to share news, using Instagram to share pictures, or a hashtag on Twitter to generate school pride. Through social media, relevant information is communicated in a timely fashion and parent engagement is encouraged.
3. Future Ready Schools utilize technology to communicate in real time.
The days of the monthly classroom newsletter being a sufficient form of communication are long gone. In a time when technology makes real time communication efficient and feasible, schools have the availability to use a mobile app to provide information at the parents’ fingertips, use communication tools to provide instant notifications, promote access to student progress through online portals, etc. Schools that are successful in this area utilize the latest technology to provide real-time dialogue and communication with parents.
4. Future Ready Schools value and seek parental input.
Parent engagement and communication isn’t a one way street. The education of a child is a team effort and is the responsibility of both the teacher and the parent(s). It’s important that schools understand community values and seek input when making important decisions. The use of parent steering groups, advisory councils, and feedback mechanisms to provide insight into the thoughts of the community is key. Without being a part of the process, it’s difficult to be invested in the outcome. Schools finding success in this area understand and respond to the pulse of their community.
5. Future Ready Schools support a strong parent organization.
Future Ready School leaders work to promote and support a dynamic parent organization within their building. When effective, these organizations provide an additional student support mechanism. From providing learning experiences to family night activities, a strong parent team enriches a school culture and works diligently to support all students in the community, while simultaneously and most importantly, showing students that they matter.
Schools that are Future Ready understand the value of and role parents play in the education of each child. They understand the importance of not just communicating, but engaging their community, and doing so daily. In the most successful schools, parents are engaged, feel welcome, and serve as an active part of the learning community. Working together, parents, teachers, and administrators can create the support system each child needs to be successful. Together — we can do this.
For more on Future Ready Schools, visit www.FutureReadySchools.org.
Thomas C. Murray serves as the state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education located in Washington, DC. He has testified before the United States Congress and works alongside that body, the US Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning while leading Future Ready, Project 24 and Digital Learning Day. Murray’s experiences in K–12 digital leadership, which include implementing a 1:1 program, BYOD, blended learning, and a K–12 cyber school, where he served as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, have been recognized nationally. He is also the author of the January 2015 release, Leading Professional Learning; Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers (Corwin, 2015), and serves as a school district consultant for digital learning planning and implementation. Connect with him at www.thomascmurray.com or @thomascmurray.