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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators

Building a collaborative partnership

Routines matter when communicating and engaging with parents

By Debra McLaren | January | February 2022
Successfully supporting families is essential for schools and school leaders if they want to maximize the outcomes and impact for students. As a teacher for 10 years and a K-6 school principal for the past 18 years, I have learned that supporting parents is more than just reporting how their child is doing periodically during parent-teacher conferences — it’s a collaborative partnership. When parents are recognized and celebrated as equal partners in the education of their child, amazing things happen not only for the child but also for the parents. Parents discover how to positively exercise their power as their child’s first and ongoing teacher. This starts first with teachers and school leaders building strong relationships of trust with parents. These relationships begin with teachers and school administrators recognizing and accepting that parents are busy people and therefore "routines matter.” According to Adina Soclof, author of “Parenting Simply: Preparing Kids for Life,” “children thrive on predictability and so do parents. When children (and I would suggest parents) know what is expected of them and why, they have a much better time paying attention and listening and are more likely to be cooperative” (Soclof, 2019). So here are four effective routines that I have employed over the years that matter.
Communication Tools: How often you communicate and when matters when it comes to supporting families. I publish a blog every Sunday afternoon and then record the major highlights on that blog in an automated message. This helps families in knowing what to expect and prepare for the week. Choosing the same day and same time frame for the communication creates a weekly habit that maximizes participation and cooperation. I also program the automated message to go out between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to support families. My motto is “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!”
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Scheduling Parent Meetings: Scheduling parent committee meetings on the same days and times helps parents plan around their own schedules. This routine supports everyone in remembering when meetings are taking place, and folks are more likely to show up and participate. For example, all PTA general meetings are held on Wednesday nights at 6 p.m., all School Site Council meetings are held on Monday afternoons at 3 p.m., and all English Learner Advisory Council meetings are held on alternate Mondays at 3 p.m. It is important to remember that except for emergencies, last-minute meetings are not respectful of everyone’s time nor are they likely to produce maximum participation or involvement.
Calendaring Events: At the end of every school year, I work with staff and parents to develop the Calendar of Events for the next school year. By doing this, events are not competing with one another for family involvement. This is a very effective way to support shared decision-making in the types of events that are held, and it almost guarantees parents will participate and be actively involved in making sure the events are a success. Another bonus for having events calendared for the year is that it supports additional family members such as grandparents (like myself) in ensuring they can attend. Events will be much better attended if they are planned well in advance so that busy families can plan accordingly. Remember the adage, “failing to plan is planning to fail.”
I have learned that supporting parents is more than just reporting how their child is doing periodically during parent-teacher conferences — it’s a collaborative partnership.
School Routines: When I had the privilege of opening a new school, one of the routines that I put in place was for all classroom teachers to provide a brief weekly progress report every Monday to keep parents informed about how their child was doing. This expectation was meant to prevent parents from finding out their child was not doing well at the first progress reporting period eight weeks into the school year. This also gave teachers and parents an opportunity to build a collaborative relationship. Parents were encouraged to share information about their child’s interest, learning styles and anything else that would help the teacher better understand the students. Teachers would let parents know each week if their child completed homework, had satisfactory behavior, or struggled with a specific area in the content. I found that most parents would help their children when they knew exactly what was needed. When I was a classroom teacher, this routine may have seemed a little time consuming, but in reality, I ended up having more time to teach my entire class and ultimately looked like teacher of the year when students made greater progress. Make sure, however, that you give parents a few specific things to work on like fluency passages, math facts or spelling. Just saying “read more” or “practice times tables” is not as helpful as practice “making predictions as you read” or “practice your 3’s times tables.”
Supporting families is a matter of routine and deciding how best to create routines that matter will depend on what your families need. I recommend sending out a survey to find out if evening or morning meetings work best for families. Do virtual meetings encourage greater participation or do your families prefer to meet in person? Does the community culture prefer in-person social gatherings? Will more parents show up if their children are involved in a performance or activity? Do you need to provide for younger siblings to encourage more involvement? These are the kind of questions that should be addressed when making decisions about the routines that will work best for your school. Remember, routines matter!

Debra McLaren is principal of Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School located in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
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