3 Easy Ways First-Year Teachers Can Encourage Community Involvement in Their School

Teachers are often the first line of defense when it comes to their students overall well-being. Academics aside, teachers have a big responsibility to students, both legally and ethically. So how can teachers involve other people outside their profession to enrich the lives and academic success of their students? Here are three simple ways.

1. Be aware of civic support. 

Ernst Boyer, a former U.S. Commissioner of Education once said, “Perhaps the time has come to organize, in every community, not just a school board, but a children’s board.  The goal would be to integrate children’s services and build, in every community, a friendly, supportive environment for children.”  As his quote explains, to address the social problems prevalent in many areas of America, different parts of communities must come together for the good of students. The goal is not only to nurture the next generation, but also to keep children at risk out of trouble by using the community as a resource.

Civic organizations play a big role in helping with additional funding to improve the quality of education (i.e. in Pittsburgh, The American Jewish Committee and the Urban League worked to raise funds).  Sponsors’ aid is not limited to funding, but extends to resources and services as well.

Some groups concentrate on specific groups, not confined to a particular geographical region.  One example is Concerned Black Men (CBM), which is a group of mentors setting positive male role models for metropolitan African American male youth.  Based in Washington DC, the CBM has 15 divisions and more than 500 African American volunteers from various fields. The CBM mentors go through training, assist teachers and run after-school programs for children. The program’s success with motivating students to stay out of trouble, and having offered scholarships to more than 4,000 youth, has made it the basis for other schools introducing similar programs.

2. Tap into your local business community. 

The local business community can offer wide-ranging support: from funding for school materials, political lobbying for education reform, scholarships, job search help for underprivileged students and even school building construction. Projects sponsored by business firms tend to be very specific to the local need. A good example is Minneapolis, where General Mills provided funding to create the Minneapolis Federation of Alternative Schools.  These were a few alternative education options for students who have struggled at regular school programs. The idea behind it is for students to either return to the regular school programs when ready and/or prepare for postsecondary education and/or employment upon graduation.

3. Seek out parent volunteers.

Families influence children in many aspects, and academics are no exception. Every child’s first network is the family and even though  teachers are “second parents” to children, families and schools do not always work well together.

James P. Comer, a child psychiatrist has said, “In the most severely dysfunctional schools, parents, teachers and administrators don’t like, trust or respect one another.” This distrust leads to a school environment where no one takes the responsibility for the disturbed learning environment and students do not gain much from school. This failed environment will just worsen the situation where teachers and parents blame each other and show animosity. Comer based his program, called the “Comer model” in these schools and points out that although it is not easy to change this framework, it is achievable. Teachers need to firstly change their mindset, from regarding parents as sources of frustration whom they merely have to tolerate to cooperative parties in all aspects of student education. When such attitudes are not changed, families can become very distant from the teachers. For a student to develop into a responsible citizen while receiving an education, teachers and parents are actually the natural allies. Parents may not be inclined to think of teachers in such way, especially when teachers already have low opinions of the students.

A fascinating study recently found that immigrant parents prefer not to actively involve themselves with children’s schools.  They saw that they would only interfere and saw teachers as independent and respected figures. Instead of actively getting involved at school, some parents especially African-American, Asian and Mexican parents see their roles as helping a school by assisting children with school work at home.  Bear this in mind and do not be inclined to interpret this reluctance to get involved in their children’s school as disinterest in their child’s school life.

Comer says that although teachers should encourage parents’ involvement, teachers need to learn to respect different types and different levels of parental involvement, and lack of parental involvement cannot ever be blamed for failure. Parental involvement can assist the learning atmosphere in taking a big leap forward and when the teachers and parents learn to work together, children are the beneficiaries.

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