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5 ways to get parents engaged

By Shanna Rae 1/6/2016

Behavior problems are an issue at every school, whether it be urban or rural; low, middle or high income; traditional or nontraditional in format. My school, Billingsville Leadership Academy (BLA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, was no exception.

Faced with several behavioral challenges, we set out in 2014 to transform our school culture by recognizing and rewarding students for positive behaviors using various technology tools. As part of this endeavor, we found ways to involve parents in our effort to create an environment conducive to effective learning and teaching.

Here are five ways we’re getting parents engaged, while improving student behavior schoolwide.

1.   Establish schoolwide behavioral expectations and reward students who meet them.
To provide students and their families with a clear outline for what constitutes positive behaviors, we developed a document called “Family Expectations” and posted it throughout the school and on our website. This document lists the behavioral expectations for the classroom, hallway, playground, cafeteria, restrooms and bus.

After we developed our family expectations, we worked with teachers to assign a value to each expectation. Now, in every classroom, teachers use a web-based instructional management solution called Kickboard to track student performance daily. With the click of a button, teachers can recognize students for doing the right thing and automatically award Billingsville Leadership Academy (BLA) “dollars” to them. At the end of each week, students earn a “paycheck” they can use to shop in the school store for supplies, toys, or for privileges, such as lunch with a favorite teacher.

2.   Invite parents in instead of kicking students out.  
In my 11 years as an educator, I’ve found that suspending children for their behavior does nothing to change their behavior. It only results in a loss of instructional time for a child who may already be struggling academically.

Instead of suspending a student, we offer parents an alternative — to come in and spend half a day at school. If they can’t make it due to work or other obligations, they can send another family member in their place. This strategy not only gets parents more involved with what’s happening in our classrooms, it makes them aware of problems they didn’t even know existed.

One teacher recently told me that she was intimidated by the behavior of two of her students. Their parents accepted our offer to come to school to avoid a suspension. From a tutor room adjacent to the classroom, the parents monitored their children who were unaware that their parents were watching. The parents were shocked when they saw their children act out because they’d never seen those behaviors at home.

Once the students learned their parents had seen what they’d done, they were shocked, too. The parents then pulled their children out of the classroom and addressed those behaviors. That swift action immediately turned things around.

We’ve found this approach to be far more effective in eliminating problem behaviors — and the change happens immediately. Parents, too, are happy that their children have an alternative to suspension. By observing their children in the classroom, parents can also see what our teachers are trying to accomplish and how difficult it can be to make the most of their instructional time if just one student is out of line.

3.   Share behavioral and academic information with parents.
Each week, teachers use our learning management system to provide progress reports to parents on their child’s behavior, as well as their standards mastery and grades. Teachers can add comments as well. Thanks to these reports, our communication with parents has easily increased 95 percent. That’s a big change from when our teachers primarily communicated with parents through quarterly progress reports and report cards.

Along with the progress reports, teachers send home each child’s paycheck, which details how many dollars they earned for positive behaviors that week. We require parents to sign the paycheck before their child can shop in the school store. Parents enjoy the process because they like seeing all the positive behaviors their children engage in each week. They also like that their children can buy school supplies or items they want in the school store.

4.   Hold monthly coffee talks with parents.
At the beginning of each school year, we survey parents on topics that interest them, via tools such as Google Forms and Survey Monkey. Then we hold a parent coffee once a month to discuss one of these topics. We’ve talked about parenting, improving communication between teachers and parents, resume building, interviewing skills and many other subjects. In addition, during the coffee talks, we make Chromebooks available for technology-related topics.

The coffee talks get parents in the door, and they also show them that we’re interested in supporting their needs as well as their children’s needs.

5.   Invite parents to curriculum night — and encourage students to help bring them in.
Curriculum night offers another opportunity for parents to visit our school and engage with their children’s teachers. We use a mass notification service called Blackboard Connect to invite parents to our curriculum nights and to let them know about other important events and changes at school. We simply record our message and then schedule the time for it to be distributed to parents via voice message, text or email.

We began hosting the curriculum nights, which are held once a semester, in 2014 and they’ve been a tremendous success. We reward students with 10 BLA dollars when their parents attend curriculum night, so students make sure their parents show up!

Thanks to our focus on positive behaviors, we’ve seen a marked decline in behavior referrals. We’ve also seen an increase in parent involvement like never before. With real-time data and regular reporting, we’re now able to help parents better understand how their children are meeting our family expectations as well as our academic standards, so we can create more meaningful conversations. Through these initiatives, we’re transforming our culture. We’re creating classrooms that are more conducive to effective learning and teaching, and a school that is more welcoming and productive for all.   

Shanna Rae is the assistant principal of Billingsville Elementary (also called Billingsville Leadership Academy) in Charlotte, N.C. She started at Billingsville Elementary in 2004 as a fifth grade teacher leader, became the math facilitator lead in 2011 and has served as assistant principal since 2013. Rae holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree in early childhood special education from The State University of New York at Brockport, and she attended Wingate University in North Carolina to obtain her certification in leadership. Her email address is shanna.rae@cms.k12.nc.us.

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