The First Year Teaching: How do I involve parents and the community?

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?

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 work to raise funds).  Sponsors’ aid is not limited to funding, but extends to resources and services as well.

Some groups concentrate on specific demographics, 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 D.C., 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 has been successful in motivating students to stay out of trouble, and has offered scholarships to more than 4,000 youth. This is just one example and there are surely more that address your particular students.

Tap 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.  Businesses have a vested interest in the community where students are learning and are often willing to help with finances and resources.

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.

Teachers need to first change their mindsets, 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.

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. Encourage these parents to be active in all aspects of the learning process.

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.

Check out all our posts for First Year Teachers here. 

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