Guest post by Lenore M. Kingsmore
When I became the principal of Henry Hudson Regional School seven years ago, there was little to no communication between the home and school. Parental involvement was no more than a booster club that raised money. Research shows time and again that students are more successful in school when they have parents who are engaged in their education. I knew that in order to get the best out of my students and make changes in school culture, I needed to engage parents as decision-making partners.
So how does a principal start bridging a communication divide with parents? For me, it started during my first week as principal. That year and every year since, I meet new seventh-grade parents at orientation and invite them to attend a barbecue. I use this opportunity to sit down with parents and get to know them on a personal level. It is important for parents to see principals in a friendly way to help them open up. I answer their questions, calm their fears about the new school, and generally build goodwill.
Improving the parent-school relationship requires trust. Trust, I’ve learned, starts with communication, especially listening. One of the ways I communicate with and listen to parents is by attending their PTO meetings. I spend 20 minutes at the beginning of each meeting with a question-and-answer period. I give a brief overview of events and goals for the year, then open it up to questions. Though this can be daunting, it is a great way to show parents that I am open to their ideas and gain their trust.
Another way I foster parental involvement is through an open-door policy. I encourage parents to reach out to me about any student issue or school concern they have at any time. And when a parent reaches out to me, I always respond within 24 hours no matter what the situation. I expanded this open-door policy by creating a Parent Advisory Committee (PAC). Parents volunteer their time at least four to five times a year to discuss key school issues with our administrative team, teachers, and counselors. The PAC lets parent voices be heard and allows parents to share in making decisions for the school community.
Little by little, parents see your openness and honesty, and pretty soon, they are willing to do just about anything to help you, the school and, ultimately, their children be successful. I am happy to say that parents are truly my partners in the education of their children. All of these efforts have improved communication and, more important, empowered parents to play a pivotal role in their child’s education. Our parents provide excellent ideas for improving procedures and have become the greatest public relations team for our school. And students have more champions in their corner helping them succeed. Open your door to parents—they are waiting to be invited and needed.
How do you invite parents to engage in your school? What are the most effective practices to give parents a voice and empower them to play a larger role in their child’s education?
Lenore M. Kingsmore has been in education for 32 years as a teacher, counselor, supervisor, director, and principal. Currently, she is the principal of Henry Hudson Regional School, a comprehensive 7–12 school in Highlands, NJ. She has received several awards for her leadership and is the 2016 New Jersey Principal of the Year.