Teaming Up for Safer Online Learning

Child Learning Online

Learning technologies are changing fast, accelerated by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students now spend a significant part of each day learning online and working with school-issued technology. In this new reality—where digital learning is pervasive and evolving—parents and schools must work together to keep kids safer online.

Digital learning is here to stay, so let’s make it safer!

Prior to the pandemic, 45% of American schools reported having a computer for every student. (NCES, 2021). Today, as many as 80% of K-12 students have and use a school-issued device, according to a recent national poll by Morning Consult.

Viewed one way, this is an extremely positive development: more digital access = more learning opportunities!

  • 93% of K-12 parents and 98% of educators agree that the internet is a useful tool that should be used to enhance learning.

Parents have understandable concerns about these new technologies, though.

  • 71% of K-12 parents report concerns about their child accessing explicit or harmful content on school-issued devices.
  • 80% of K-12 parents agree unrestricted internet access on school-issued devices can be harmful to student mental health.

Taken together, it’s understandable that:

  • 92% of parents believe it is necessary to have online educational technologies in place to prevent students from accessing harmful or explicit content.

See more findings from Morning Consult.

Thankfully, most schools do have internet safety plans these days.  In fact, schools are required under the Children’s Internet Protection Act to have an online safety program in order to receive certain funding. But, while these safeguards are critical, they aren’t necessarily enough.

“We need to get proactive now about internet safety… Completely banning the use of internet and social media is no longer a realistic option because a lot of schoolwork has transferred online… We all [parents, kids, and educators] need to educate ourselves and start productive dialogues.”

Maya Kruger, South Lake Middle PTSA, PTA Connected Smart Talk Participant

Safety starts with a conversation

Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be on the same team to ensure students’ online safety as well as theirprivacy. That requires open and active communication.

As a parent and former educator himself, GoGuardian Head of Privacy and Data Policy Teddy Hartman understands the balancing act that school districts must navigate as they deploy technology intended to keep students safe while also maintaining transparency. “As a first step,” Teddy says, “schools should publicly share any education vendors they work with and the types of data privacy protections both the school system and vendor have in place.”

Beyond that, educators and parents can help one another by holding community dialogues about the school’s digital safety technology plan. 

Start a digital safety dialogue in your community

National PTA recently teamed up with GoGuardian to create a resource for parents who want to promote improved online safety in their child’s school.

Check out our resource: Protecting Students Online

Inside, you’ll find a list of questions you can ask to better understand your district’s current digital safety plans and to open a dialogue in your community.

We hope this information sparks healthy conversations that help school communities put quality tools and support systems in place to keep our kids safer in a changing digital world.

GoGuardian has been a Proud National Sponsor of PTA since 2018 and is supporting the release of our updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships—going live this month! GoGuardian and the National PTA are committed to student success. Together, they are working to engage families and educators on solutions to best support student mental health and online safety.

Show Your PTA Value with YOU Belong in PTA

With the 2022-2023 school year well underway, PTAs and PTSAs are hard at work with their initial membership drive, inviting people to join their local units or renew their PTA/PTSA memberships. Encouraging people to join doesn’t end with the back-to-school membership drive though. It’s an ongoing, year-round initiative.

To support your commitment to membership growth, National PTA developed the YOU Belong in PTA Suite of Membership Resources with easy, meaningful and fun ready-to-use flyers, customizable templates, social media posts, and a guide to help you create your own messages that show the value you provide to your communities throughout the year.

The YOU Belong in PTA suite of materials were designed based on research and marketing best practices. National PTA used two very important lessons discovered through the research done for our award-winning PTA for Your Child Membership Campaign:

Lesson 1:  The number one reason why people don’t join PTA is because no one ever asked

Lesson 2:  People are most willing to join when they see the value PTA provides.

The research showed three key areas where PTA excels in offering families value for their child:

  1. PTA’s ability to create connections
  2. PTA helps parents support their child
  3. PTA allows people to amplify their voice 

The main reason people join PTA/PTSA is to support their children. They see PTA as the way to be connected, to support their children’s education and to speak up for their children when necessary.

It’s important to understand the reasons why people choose to join PTA because knowing common motivations can be used to recruit others. To grow membership, PTAs need to show they provide value for families to make it worth giving their time, resources (connections, money, talents, etc.) or efforts.  How many times have we heard “I first joined PTA for my child. I’ve stayed for ALL children.”?

It’s also important to remember that the perception of value is in the eye of the beholder. What may be of value to one parent or caregiver may not be of value to another. Successful membership drives include learning about the needs of different potential audiences so that you can speak to their needs. As PTA/PTSA leaders, we need to think from their perspective and know what they value when we’re inviting them to join.

To communicate value that matches your potential PTA members, the YOU Belong in PTA kit includes several print-and-go pieces, social media ready messages and customizable pieces with language provided in the How to Create Your PTA Value Message Guide.

We created this kit based on feedback we received from PTA/PTSA leaders in our annual Membership Survey. Our leaders told us that the main obstacle in growing and retaining members is that “our members don’t seem to see value in PTA.” They also asked for “easy-to-use resources to help in communicating the value” that local PTAs/PTSAs provide to the community and the value of PTA in general.

To include our growing community of Spanish speakers, the entire suite of materials is also available in Spanish.

Many people take a wait and see approach to what PTA has to offer when you first ask them to join. That’s why asking to join PTA needs to be an ongoing effort. Use the YOU Belong in PTA resources to always be ready to ask based on the opportunity offered. If your PTA/PTSA organizes a Reflections event, use the YOU Belong in PTA/PTA Supports Your Child’s Education pieces (they are all colored in green). If your PTA/PTSA is holding a town hall meeting to get to know the candidates and their positions, have a YOU Belong in PTA/PTA Amplifies Your Voice flier (colored in blue) to thank everyone for attending and support your work by joining PTA. If your PTA/PTSA is having a Coffee with the Principal meeting, have a YOU Belong in PTA/PTA Creates Connections flyer (colored in orange) to share with your attendees.

Think about what every activity or event you plan accomplishes and use the YOU Belong in PTA pieces that best conveys the value your PTA/PTSA is providing. If you don’t have time to customize the piece, simply use the print-and-go materials as needed. There are endless possibilities in using these materials – in your eNewsletters, bulletins, posters, reports, etc. Every single communication effort, whether it is in-person, virtual or hybrid, is an opportunity to ask people to support your PTA/PTSA work with their membership.

Our YOU Belong in PTA webpage is full of links to many other resources (QR codes, Membership Campaign toolkit, how to make a logo for your PTA/PTSA and more) you can use to personalize your flyers and directly link them to your PTA/PTSA. 

Based on our webpage activity, National PTA knows many local leaders are taking advantage of the YOU Belong in PTA Suite of Membership Resources. We’d love to receive samples of how your PTA/PTSA is using them by emailing a picture or document at membership@pta.org.

Thank you so much for all you do for ALL children and to advance PTA’s mission to make every child’s potential a reality.

Ivelisse Castro | National PTA Membership Outreach Team

Inclusion Matters: Engaging Families of Students with Disabilities

Student with a disability

A few years ago, a flyer came home from my child’s high school announcing the first annual sensory-friendly school dance. Knowing that a school event was planned with the needs of all students in mind made me, a parent of children with disabilities, feel that my family was included in a meaningful way. When I found out the event was planned by other families like mine—not by the school or PTA, I was deflated.

My middle school aged son is one of the seven million students in the U.S. who receive special education services. That means that nearly 14% of all students in the U.S have been identified as having a disability that requires support at school. And that even doesn’t include students who haven’t been identified as having a disability or students who have a disability, but don’t need special education support.

Inclusion and Belonging are at the Heart of Family Engagement

When we use statistics and numbers, it’s easy to overlook the people behind them. Simply put, those numbers mean there are a lot of families like mine craving meaningful connection and inclusive family engagement.

The updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships ignites my hope that education leaders, including PTA leaders, can help meet the needs and desires of students with disabilities. The six standards outline exactly not just why, but also how, leaders can advocate for students with disabilities. Here’s how that looks:

  1. Welcoming all families into the school community requires an understanding of the barriers families face. Students with disabilities and their families may feel isolated and excluded from school communities due to barriers you are not aware of. Simply asking families what they need to feel welcome is advocacy and builds a sense of belonging.
  2. Communicating effectively with families of students with disabilities is not always easy. Many of us have had negative experiences, some of which are based on the misunderstanding that we do not want to be asked about how PTA can accommodate our children’s disability. Even acknowledging that you are not sure what to ask is a start.
  3. Supporting student success means creating safe and supportive spaces where it’s believed that all students can succeed. Talking to families to let them know that you believe their children can meet their full potential is key in supporting success. You can start by asking one simple question: Do you have suggestions for how we can better or more authentically represent disability in our PTA?
  4. Speaking up for every child takes some pressure off families like mine, who are used to speaking up for our children’s rights and for educational policies and services that support our kids. When you speak up for and with us, you become an additional voice of support, a person we can trust, and someone who sets the standard for speaking up against bias.
  5. Sharing power requires you to be open to new ideas and different perspectives. It is also realizing that you can learn from families of students with disabilities. If you’re unsure if every voice is represented and considered in the decisions you make, ask: Do you feel comfortable raising disability-related concerns?
  6. Collaborating with the community means recognizing that the disability community extends beyond your school district and beyond the families in front of you. Include organizations that have their pulse on what’s happening in the disability community and people who are united by the experience of being disabled.

Building strong family-school partnerships is a shared responsibility

As a PTA leader, you can take the lead in applying the updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships to your relationships with families of students with disabilities. But strong family engagement only happens when all parties are engaged. That’s why I’ve partnered with National PTA to create a series of fact sheets, questions, and conversations starters for each standard.

You can help enhance communication practices between school administrators and parents like me by sharing Strengthening Family-School Partnerships for Students with Disabilities.

National PTA has also published several policy resources, including a Position Statement on The Education of Students with Disabilities, Resolution on High Expectations for Students with Disabilities, and a Position Statement on Safe and Supportive Schools to support inclusive advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal level.

Amanda Morin is an educational consultant, a former teacher and early childhood specialist, special education advocate, and author of five books, including The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. She is also the mother of three children, two of whom have disabilities.

Why We Need a Parent Nation

I like to say that parents are children’s first and best teachers. And since science tells us learning begins on the first day of life—not the first day of school—the job starts early and lasts a lifetime.

A child’s early experiences, particularly those of rich language and responsive interactions with a loving caregiver, fuel early brain development. They catalyze the formation of new neuronal connections at astonishing rates, up to one million new connections per second. This rate of brain growth, linked to language, literacy, math, spatial reasoning and self-regulation, is never matched later in life. The more input a child receives, the stronger these neuronal connections grow—building the foundation for all future learning.

But we don’t do nearly enough to pass that science along to parents—the people in the best position to put it to use. Nor do we share it with society more broadly, so that parents and caregivers might receive the structural support they need and deserve. 

It’s time to remedy that.

I founded the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago and wrote a book called “Thirty Million Words: Building A Child’s Brain,” hoping to spread far and wide what science has revealed about the role of early language exposure.

Those findings are what motivate me and my team at the TMW Center to develop and study evidence-based strategies that help parents learn and apply the science of early brain development. But evidence-based strategies aren’t enough if you lack the time, resources and mental and emotional bandwidth to apply them. And America doesn’t do a whole lot to provide parents any of the above.

This became painfully apparent the more deeply I engaged with families at the TMW Center. Because our studies followed children from their first day of life into kindergarten, my team and I were getting to know many families up close and over time. The parents’ enthusiasm was thrilling. But real life—unpredictable work schedules, multiple jobs, lack of health care, structural racism, homelessness—would stand in the way of their best intentions again and again.

The bottom line is, we have made it exceedingly difficult for most parents to raise children in our country. It’s almost impossible for some. And until we make it easier for all parents to meet the developmental needs of their children—to fulfill their promise as brain architects so that their children may reach their full potential—our society will fail to reach its own.

We don’t need another research study to show that parents are important, or that rich conversation is key for children’s brain development.

What we need is a parent nation.

A parent nation, as I see it, is a society that cherishes and supports the love and labor that go into nurturing, raising and educating future generations. There is no limit on who can provide that love. So, I want to be clear that when I say “parent,” I mean any caring adult engaged in the work of raising a child.

Just as neuroscience tells us what to prioritize individually as parents, it can tell us what society should prioritize in order to optimize healthy brain development for all children. But if brain science offers blueprints, it is parents who do the building. Parents are the captains of their families’ ships, manning the helm. And just as every captain needs a crew, every parent needs the support and protection—including fair wages, paid time off and a social safety net—that will allow them to steer their families to safety.

I’d love to see parents band together in their workplaces and communities and talk to each other about their needs, hopes and fears. My team and I created an entire curriculum that’s free and downloadable on ParentNation.org for people to start Parent Villages—small groups or parents who come together to create community and push for change. That change could be working to get a lactation room at work, or a childcare center built near public transportation, or any number of things.

Together we can push for families to get the support they need and deserve. Being a parent can bring us to our knees. But it must also rouse us to our feet.

Dr. Dana Suskind is a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon, founder and co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago and the author of Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise.

What Makes a Strong Family Engagement Policy?

Ensuring that every child can reach their full potential means investing in meaningful, inclusive and culturally competent family-school partnerships. By prioritizing policies that uplift the priorities outlined in the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, PTAs can advance transformative family engagement in their local community and beyond.

What makes family engagement policy meaningful, inclusive and culturally competent? Here are some key characteristics of a strong family engagement policy. 

Model family engagement policies are inclusive of diverse cultural and linguistic practices.

Supporting the success of all students means cultivating meaningful family-school partnerships with families from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

For example, in Washington, state legislation implemented language access programs in schools so that family engagement resources could be accessible in diverse languages. The commitment to providing inclusive and culturally responsive resources to families in Washington’s statewide policy allows for language barriers to be broken down and increases the capacity for every child to reach their fullest potential.

Model family engagement policies are rooted in evidence-based family engagement research.

Referencing research-based statistics that demonstrate how family engagement practices support the wellbeing of the whole child showcases the validity of family engagement in practice.

The same Washington state legislation provides a powerful basis for policy implementation by referencing how family engagement has been shown to have positive impacts for children: “50 years of research has shown that family engagement has beneficial impacts on student grades, test scores, drop-out rates, students’ sense of competence and beliefs about the importance of education” (Orwall et al., 2021).

Model family engagement policies facilitate active collaboration between families, schools and community leaders in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of family engagement policy.

When school district leaders make important decisions regarding children’s education, families must have a seat at the table. Inclusive approaches to decision-making cultivate a community where all individuals are valued, seen and actively heard.

In Michigan, statewide policy through executive order established a Michigan Parent Council to empower parents from diverse backgrounds across the state to make education and budget policy recommendations to legislators.

Model family engagement policies provide opportunities for families to become leaders in their communities through engagement opportunities at school.

Quality family engagement invests in developing the leadership skills of families so that they can empower their children to do great work.

In Florida, state legislation called the Family and School Partnership for Student Achievement Act directs school districts statewide to provide parents with detailed information regarding their child’s educational opportunities. Through streamlined and effective communication practices between parents and families regarding children’s rigorous academic opportunities, scholarships, test accommodations and course of study choices, Florida is working to support student success by building meaningful family-school partnerships.

Why does this all matter?

Only when all families are respected, included, and given opportunities to shape their children’s education, can we ensure that all children can meet their full potential. PTAs can help break down educational barriers by advocating for policies that support culturally responsive, two-way communication and opportunities for underrepresented communities to share in decision-making and co-creating solutions.

As a member of PTA, you can help by…

  • Learning about the updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships that will roll out in the fall
  • Encouraging parents in your community to run for a seat on their local family engagement council
  • Enrolling in the National PTA’s School of Excellence Program to strengthen family-school partnerships at your school
  • Scheduling meetings with your school district staff and board of education to share with them the importance of meaningful family engagement

About the Author

Lauren Manning is a senior at Gettsyburg College and was Summer 2022 intern at PTA through the Eisenhower Institute Public Policy Fellowship

Plan Your PTA Day of Service on BAND

PTA has been making a difference for 125 years, and there’s still so much work to do to make every child’s potential a reality! That means working together to meet the diverse needs of families and school communities. National PTA is inviting all PTAs to register, plan and host a Day of Service event before June 30 in celebration of the association’s milestone anniversary.

Participate to …

  • Show your community who you are and what you do!
  • Connect your work to the PTA network!
  • Elevate the PTA mission by showing our collective impact.

Planning and hosting a Day of Service event should be easy and fun! We know that PTA leaders already have too much on their plate—and handling everything on multiple platforms can be disorderly, which adds to the stress. You need a tool that will help you succeed.

Enter BAND, the one-stop-shop app PTA leaders are using to communicate with their board and members, plan events and increase parent involvement.

Plan, collaborate and keep track of all things Day of Service in one place. Invite your PTA members and start planning on BAND!

1. Create your BAND!

Customize your BAND with your school group and your own photo!

2. Invite Your Planning Committee & Volunteers

Send them a QR code or Link

3. Set Up a Pre-Planning Meeting

Enter details of your meeting into the calendar: share a location, a photo, a file, and even a link! Then set a reminder for people to join. Click done and share it as a post.

4. Vote on Your Service Project

Click into ‘Post’ and select ‘Create a Poll.’ Customize to allow for secret voting, single or multi-selection, and even set a deadline.

5. Promote Your Project

Plan together by deciding on messaging, scheduling meetings and events, posting task lists, and uploading materials for promotions.

6. On the Day of

Capture photos and videos and organize them into an album to share!

Want to see how the app works? Watch how BAND helps real PTA leaders stay organized with their Board and members!

BAND is a one-stop-shop group communication app for PTAs to collaborate with members, plan events, and get parents involved. PTA leaders can effortlessly streamline communication and stay organized in one place. Through BAND’s alliance with the National PTA, they are on a mission to help build on strong partnerships among parent volunteer leaders, teachers, and students. To learn more about BAND, visit this webpage.

BAND Proud National Sponsor of National PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.

Back to School and Back to PTA means Engaging Families and Growing Membership!

by Linda Johnson and Kirthana Krishnathasan

A new school year means new opportunities to grow your PTA. This past year was tough for so many PTAs, families and communities. As you prepare for back to school, you may be wondering how you can grow your PTA membership this year. Would you be surprised to learn that even during the pandemic, there were PTAs across the country that were able to grow their membership last year?!

We talked to some of these PTAs and here’s what they shared about what helped them engage families in their communities and grow their membership.

  • Start as early as you can, but it’s never too late to make the effort!
  • Make joining as easy as possible. Contact your state PTA to find out if there is an online membership platform available. If you use a paper form, make sure they are available everywhere. Make sure all PTA board members and the school(s) have a supply on hand. Provide a link to your join PTA page or form in every communication.
  • Ask everyone who was a member last year to support the PTA/PTSA again this year. Send out email renewal notices to everyone who was a member last year.
  • Use a QR code that links to your online membership join platform and put it everywhere! Have it on signs at all your PTA and school events, put it on your social media, on any flyers that are sent home, on signs around the school or even on business cards for your board. Check out this video on How to Create a QR code in less than a minute.
  • Ask your principal to share the value your PTA brings to your school and encourage families and teachers to support PTA.
  • Use all communication channels—in person, direct emails, newsletters, flyers, banners, school marquis, social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok.
  • Ask for people to join PTA all year at every virtual, in person or drive thru event. Check out these sample Join PTA/PTSA emails.
  • Ask everyone to join your PTA. Membership is open to anyone who supports the PTA mission: families, teachers, staff, students (if allowed), community members, public officials, etc.
  • Add a Join PTA button to all your online event(s) or volunteer sign ups.
  • PTA in a virtual way to attract more families who can’t always attend in person.
  • Focus on issues important to the families in your community. DIY Kit for Membership Growth helps you determine the needs of your community and how to align your PTA priorities.
  • Provide special benefits/perks to your PTA members: family membership, free popcorn at movie night, discount to a local business, etc.
  • Toot your PTA horn! Make sure your whole community (not just members) knows all the ways your PTA is supporting students and families. Brand everything you do so your community knows it is the PTA doing the work or providing the financial support. It takes just a few minutes to Customize PTA logos or you can use graphics from the Membership Campaign to share the value of your PTA.
  • Translate materials in the languages that are spoken by families in your community to be inclusive.

Check out the new 125 Ways to Grow Membership, 10 Myths/Truths and many other membership recruitment tools available to help you grow your PTA.

Have questions or need support, reach out to us at membership@pta.org.

Transforming Family Engagement in High School

Even during a “normal” school year, engaging parents and caregivers of high school students can be challenging. As kids get older and more capable of organizing their own school and extracurricular lives, families often wonder what role they should play in their teen’s education.

Research demonstrates a clear drop off in participation: 92% of parents of K-2 students attended a parent-teacher conference, compared to only 58% of parents of high school students. Similarly, while more than half of parents of K-5 students volunteered at school, only 32% of parents of high school students did the same.

But… participation is only part of the story of what family engagement looks like during the high school years, when families’ roles shift to coach their teen and support them to be responsible young people who drive their own learning and success.   

So what actually works when it comes to engaging families of teenagers? How can we ensure that family engagement embodies the 4 I’s of transformative family engagement—inclusive, integrated, individualized and impactful—even amidst the challenges brought on by COVID-19? We spoke to two high school principals to find out.

Dr. Samuel Rontez-Williams, principal of Rayville High School (Louisiana) talked about making family engagement more inclusive and integrated

It’s important to make genuine efforts to check in on students and families and see how they’re coping right now.

Due to Rayville’s hybrid learning schedule, students don’t have classes on Fridays, which makes it a perfect opportunity for teachers to reach out to them and their families. Teachers at Rayville High focus on intentional relationship building by reaching out to families about when something positive happens in class, sending birthday messages, and doing small things that remind students and their families that they care about them as people. In addition to these check in calls, teachers also utilize these flexible Fridays to offer one on one tutoring and other supports.

By high school, students can play a role in encouraging family engagement.

Dr. Rontez-Williams relies on his students to help get their families excited about participating. The most successful events are ones where students are engaged, involved and showcased. For example, rather than offering a curriculum night, where teachers run through what students are learning, Rayville High School hosts an academic game night where teens enjoy competing and families can cheer them on. Academic game nights are a great example of family events that link to learning in school.

But what if you don’t even have reliable ways to reach parents? Immokalee High School (Florida) has more than 1,900 students, and the community is comprised of 41% migrant populations. With families moving around so much, principal Ms. Clara Calderon has developed strategies to make sure they’re doing their best to reach everyone. She emphasized that it is essential to focus on strategies that are individualized and impactful.

Offer personalized assistance. 

Immokalee High School is fortunate to have a 1:1 device program which ensures each family has a device and internet that they can use to communicate with the school. However, even if a family has a device and internet access, Ms. Calderon noted that it is not unusual for families to need help establishing an email address. A great deal of information comes out via email, so she makes it a priority to get families connected. If a family doesn’t have an email account on file, non-instructional staff will offer personalized support that is tailored to the needs of the family, instead of sending out impersonal instructions in the mail or hosting a webinar.

Establish a regular touchpoint and track who is engaging (and who isn’t).

As a way of staying connected with the community, every week Ms. Calderon sends out an e-newsletter in English, Spanish and Creole. But she doesn’t just hit the send button and hope for the best.Instead, she measures her success by running reports and identifying families who are not receiving emails. Her routine data collection informs her which families are getting the information they need and which families she needs to find other ways to connect with.

Ultimately, at the high school level, parents, teachers, administrators and students need to work together. Ms. Calderon summed it up nicely, saying “The more we see ourselves as part of the same team, the better off the child will be.”

As families and schools continue to work together, PTA is here to support. Get more tips on family engagement at the high school level in our new podcast episode, Surviving Quarantine with Your Teen.

Increasing Family Engagement in Diverse Schools

I know first hand what it is like to grow up as an English-language learner and saw what a difference it made to have parents who were able to connect and engage with teachers. On a very personal level I understood what we now know from decades of academic research: That family engagement is the key to greater learning outcomes.

As an adult, I have made it my life’s purpose to remove the barriers to family engagement. In 2015, I founded TalkingPoints, a non-profit whose mission is to drive student success by unlocking  the potential of families to fuel their children’s learning, especially in under-resourced, multilingual communities. We do this through a multilingual platform that helps teachers and families communicate in 100 different languages through two-way translated messages and personalized content.

One in four US children is born to an immigrant or refugee family. Over the course of our work in partnership with teachers, schools, and districts, we have learned a lot about increasing family engagement in diverse schools. These lessons are especially critical now that so many schools have shifted to remote learning. In fact, in our most recent TalkingPoints survey, the vast majority of respondents — 73% of families and 93% of teachers — said regular communications between teachers and families were more important now than ever.  (You can download the report detailing survey findings, Family Engagement and Covid-19 Distance Learning: Data & Insights from the Field,  here.)

Below are practical tips to help build stronger, more meaningful relationships in your school community:

  1. Two-way communications channels are critical. You cannot drive family engagement by relying on one-way communications channels. That’s not how relationships work. Families need to be able to respond, ask questions, express concerns, and provide feedback. They need to feel understood and heard. Encourage families to share information with teachers – 83% of teachers believe that because of their relationships with parents they are better informed about their students’ needs.
  2. Personalization is key. If your school community includes immigrant or refugee families or families from different backgrounds, remember that they are often used to feeling like outsiders in our schools because of the significant cultural, language or even educational barriers. They may assume or feel as if the flyers and messages meant for parents in general are not really meant for them in particular. Any efforts to personalize outreach and make individual families feel as if the message is intended for them, personally, is likely to pay off in spades.
  3. Text is best. If you want to reach all families, SMS texts are the most accessible approach. Older parents or those with white collar jobs might be used to responding to email, but younger families or those with limited devices are far more likely to respond to texts. In the TalkingPoints survey referenced above, we found that almost two-thirds of families preferred text messages when receiving communications from teachers. And while 33% of English-speaking families said that they preferred email, only 22% of Spanish speakers reported a preference for email. Spanish speakers were also more likely to prefer phone calls (9%) or video calls (6%) than English speakers (phone 4%; video 2%).
  4. Don’t let the language barrier (or perfectionism!) get in the way. Any communication is better than none. Families are usually quite grateful for any effort to communicate in their language. They feel heard, seen and cared for. If your school or district doesn’t offer easy communication methods or multilingual resources, encourage your teachers to at least try TalkingPoints when reaching out to parents. It is free for teachers. Check with your principal and district, too. TalkingPoints is already deployed across dozens of districts and schools nationwide and may already be available to your school.

Last spring’s distance learning has taught us more about the power of family engagement and strong home-school connections than the mountains of academic research papers written on the subject. Distance learning blurred the lines between teachers and families and increased empathy and understanding. Thrust into a more active role to help with their children’s online learning, parents realized teaching is harder than it looks. Teachers developed more empathy toward parents, too. Some had to wear their professional teacher hat while supporting their own children’s learning at home. Others got a better understanding of their students’ life circumstances after reaching out to ask about device and WiFi accessibility. Teachers learned which families had lost jobs and were struggling to keep kids fed and which were working double shifts and unable to provide supervision. Many teachers forwarded information on food banks; some even dropped off groceries. Remote learning underlined what we suspected all along: When it comes to raising and educating children, we are all in this together. And the “family engagement” muscle we all built this spring is the silver lining that will help us drive better student outcomes this fall and beyond.

Top 10 Ways to Grow School Spirit From Afar

When my children’s school closed in March, the president and vice president of our parent association were adamant about maintaining a sense of community among students and families while social distancing.

They came up with a virtual Spirit Week that they hosted on the parent association’s Facebook page, encouraging families to post pictures of their children participating in the different activities comprising Spirit Week. The idea was fantastic, and it got me thinking about other ways to nurture school spirit virtually.

 Here are 10 ideas to consider for your school:

 1. Participate in the Boost Educators Challenge

Encourage each student’s family to challenge the rest of your school’s families to give their teacher(s) a shout out or thank you over the school’s social channels. We started this challenge at Booster. Check out BoostEducatorsChallenge.com for details.

 2. Host a School Spirit Week on Facebook and Instagram 

Host a daily fun activity for students or families to do from home and post their work on the school’s Facebook or Instagram page. An easy way to incentivize kids to play along is by selecting one participant at random to receive a special prize.

 3. Start a “Five Days of Gratitude” Project

It feels good to do things for others, so why not launch a card or letter writing project where students write letters or make cards to send to frontline and essential workers like doctors and nurses. You can select the group that’s done the most for your community during the pandemic.

 4. Open a Commemorative Online Pop-up Shop

You might consider an online pop-up shop for Kindergarten to fifth graders to purchase items to remember this milestone year. If you want to make it a fundraiser, funds raised might be used for school needs like e-learning initiatives, food for students in need or perhaps a local food bank or other charity. Check out Booster Spirit Wear for some milestone celebration ideas.

 5. Host a Virtual Graduation Ceremony

This could be an invitation-only event hosted on Zoom or through another online conferencing provider so school families can watch the graduation remarks live. You might also consider creating yard signs for newly-graduated students, if it feels right for your school community.

6. Feature a Teacher & Student Talent Showcase

You probably have some super talented teachers and students at your school. Why not host a talent show night using Zoom or another online conferencing provider that will allow many people to watch and cheer participants on? If you want to make it interesting, allow the audience members to vote for their favorite acts!

 7. Start an “Art Smiles” Project

Consider hosting a school-wide art project. Assign each class a special theme to celebrate in art. Your school could donate the student artwork to a local nursing home or senior living facility near the school. This will “wow” the residents and allow your students to have their artwork on display. Check out this article about seniors receiving similar special gifts.

8. Do a Give Back Spirit Event

If your school wants to join together on an initiative that drives school spirit and raises funds that can be used for essential school community needs (i.e., Chromebooks, internet access, food for families, e-learning platforms, etc.) or even a local charity, the new, fully virtual (but still super fun!) Boosterthon At Home program might be an option for your school.

 9. Host a Virtual Career Day

This could be hosted for a single class or the entire school or both. What a great opportunity to have students learn about different job functions! This is another opportunity to showcase folks who’re making a difference in the community. You likely have many parents at your school you can honor.

 10. Start a Virtual Family Trivia Competition

An online trivia competition between grade-level families or play teachers vs. students. There are many services out there (take a look at Crowdpurr) if you want to get a membership and even customize the questions.

Any member of a school community can help boost school spirit and keep your school culture thriving. If you’re a PTA leader, perhaps you can get one or two of these ideas going to end the school year on a high note. If you’re a parent, perhaps you can share the ideas in this blog with your school administrators and/or PTA leaders so they can consider a spirit activity or two.

What I do know is that the social component of school is harder to “do” remotely, but every bit as important (and memorable) to students as distance learning. So why not rally school communities around something uplifting and fun to end the year on a high note?

 


Kim Miller works full-time for Booster and is a mom with two children, ages four and seven. 

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