By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
This wise proverb, suspected to have come from African roots, is really speaking to me as we launch into the 2017–2018 school year: It takes a village to raise a child.
We know that together we’re better, that one of us is not as strong as all of us, so it follows that we would raise our children together. But what can our schools do to promote that togetherness so parents, caregivers, and other stakeholders are engaged as partners in nurturing children’s school success? Consider these possible ways to connect and grow together.
When I was in fourth grade, our elementary school hired a new teacher to replace one who had been there for 50 years. I remember this vividly because the new teacher, assigned to teach my sister’s class, made a home visit to introduce herself and meet our family. It made such an indelible impression on me, that a teacher would care so much about her new students and their families. Home visits don’t have to be a thing of the past; one great way to engage families is to schedule visits to their homes so that you can personally invite them to take an active role in your class family this year.
Meet and Greet
An alternative to the home visit is an invitation to meet the teacher before the first day of school. At Bales Intermediate, we provide an hour for families to come at their convenience to meet their new teachers and see their new learning spaces. It’s a wonderful time not only to greet the families, but also to drop off school supplies, discuss transportation to and from school, and provide the caregivers an opportunity to sign up as class volunteers. At one of my former schools, we used this time as a Resource Round-Up and invited community clubs and organizations, like the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the YMCA, the Red Cross, various youth sports, and the fire department, to set up booths and hand out information explaining the services they offer.
Setting aside a few nights each year for your students to bring their parents to school works wonders for engagement. In the past, we’ve hosted Literacy Night, STEAM Night, Family Character Night, Family Math Night, Passion Project Night, a fine arts showcase, and family dances. This year, we’re looking at adding a college and career fair. Students love spending time with their families and friends and showing off their school. Making food trucks available or serving pizza by the slice can create an incentive because families won’t have to worry about dinner on those special nights.
Table Talk Time
Two of our students’ favorite events each year find students and their caregivers talking around the table for Donuts with Dads in the fall and Muffins with Moms in the spring. These coveted opportunities to eat breakfast together are a tasty treat for adults and children alike. Even more beautiful is that these events create volunteer opportunities: The moms help at the dads’ event, and then the dads serve when it’s the moms’ turn to enjoy the deliciousness. And just so nobody is left out, we also serve a nice breakfast buffet for grandparents when we honor them at our grand celebration on Grandparents’ Day.
I’ve heard it said that the family that plays together stays together, so why not offer outings that involve getting physical: kickball tourneys and fun runs and skate nights, oh my! What are some other ideas for active family fun? How about a basketball game? A baseball game? A volleyball game? A Gaga ball tournament? A night at your local miniature golf course? An obstacle course? A scavenger hunt? Geocaching? Make it a good workout to engage your school family and promote physical well-being at the same time.
One of my all-time favorite phone calls from a teacher happened when our youngest son was in sixth grade. I was out of the building at a workshop, so you can imagine my chagrin when I saw a missed call and a message from Friendswood Junior High. I left the learning session so I could listen to the voicemail and make sure it wasn’t an emergency. No, it wasn’t an emergency, but this call did bring me to tears. It went something like this: Hello, Mrs. Gruener, this is Mrs. Bockart, and I have Joshua here with me. I’m calling to tell you that today is I Love Joshua Day, and I just want you to know what a fantastic kid he is and how much I enjoy having him in my class. He always smiles, has a positive attitude, and gives 110 percent, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
She added that she was sorry she missed me and that she hoped I’d enjoy this message. Enjoy it? Um, yes! I could feel my son beaming as he stood next to his teacher and listened to her kind words, and it made my day. Try placing a few day-maker calls every week, and feel the magic of those affirming connections ripple out into your character-building efforts.
Nothing can top face-to-face interaction opportunities, but another way to facilitate parent engagement is through social media. Facebook posts and tweets can help you share your story in pictures and/or words. They can also serve as reminders and invitations to be involved. The Seesaw app is another tool that can serve as a school-to-home social media bridge. Text-messaging services like Remind provide another effective way to connect. As a courtesy to families who have chosen not to engage on social media, consider offering everything you post to social media as a note in students’ planners, a flyer in their Friday folders, or a weekly email blast as well.
Currently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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