Productive partnerships between schools and their students’ parents and caregivers support student achievement and create a positive environment for the entire school community. Districts seeking opinions from parents on priorities, perceptions, opportunities, and challenges find that they need to be thoughtful about the ways they introduce and use feedback surveys to achieve robust response rates and gain actionable data from parents.
One of Panorama’s newest partners, Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD), is working with Panorama to survey parents in their school district, located in Mendocino County, California. They provide a fantastic example of how school administrators can take steps to improve feedback quality and response rates through early, proactive communications with the community.
Megan Van Sant, UUSD Board President, recently wrote a column in The Ukiah Daily Journal explaining the importance of parental input and outlining ways UUSD is reaching out to get parents involved in the district, including parent surveys in the spring. In the column, Van Sant introduces the survey program early, weeks or months before the surveys will be sent to parents. By speaking about it and writing about it in the local news outlet, Van Sant and the other school administrators in Ukiah are working to ensure that parents in the district will have heard of the survey long before they see it in their students’ backpack. Parents will expect the survey, which Panorama is supporting them to offer online and on paper, and we all hope that they will be eager to complete it and return it to the school.
Below is the full article, “Parental Involvement Needed, Encouraged."
On a typical weekday evening, I spend my time preparing dinner, cleaning up the house, making lunches, doing laundry, sorting through backpacks of crumpled papers and broken pencils, supervising baths and showers, barely remembering to check homework, and moving through the normal but frantic patterns of a family with school-age children. My husband and I have a hectic life, but certainly not an unusual one.
Educators know that family life is clearly linked to student success. But what are the best ways to increase parental involvement in a child's education? What really matters to student learning? Given the pace and intensity of both the school and home environment, what is realistic to ask and expect of parents and teachers?
Amanda Ripley, an acclaimed American journalist who wrote the new bestseller, "The Smartest Kids in the World," has studied the educational experiences of children in countries with the highest achieving students. She draws our attention to an unexpected dynamic related to parents and family life. She points out that traditional parent involvement in school activities does not correlate with student achievement nearly as much as how parents and children interact and communicate at home. Ripley explains that reading and conversing with your child, for example, has a profound effect on student achievement. Parents who read aloud to their children produce students whose test scores on critical thinking are significantly higher than children growing up in homes without reading and books.
As children get older, parental involvement that matters the most evolves to include discussion and discourse.
"All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books, and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading. Parents who engaged their kids in conversations about things larger than themselves were essentially teaching their kids to become thinking adults. Unlike volunteering in schools, those kinds of parental efforts delivered clear and convincing results, even across different countries and different income levels," according to Amanda Ripley.
But don't forget that PTA-type activities, school events, and volunteering are tremendously important to a school's culture, budget, and sense of community. These activities model behaviors of engagement that help kids connect their home and school communities and experiences. And, perhaps most importantly, your kids really want you to be there.
What can schools do to help families support their students' success? What if a principal sent a robocall to parents encouraging them to read with their child that night? What if a teacher could text the parents of their students, encouraging them to ask their child about a specific topic that was discussed in class that day? Are there other ideas that are useful, realistic, and give parents the tools and information they need to truly support their child's academic achievement?
This year, Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD) is embarking on an effort to increase parental involvement in creative and meaningful ways. Here is what we are doing to lay the groundwork for successful home-school partnerships: We are implementing a Parent Engagement Education Program through the Parent Institute for Quality Education. (Check it out at www.piqe.org.) A few months ago, we hired bilingual family liaisons at four elementary schools, with plans to expand to all elementary schools next year. These family liaisons serve as critical links between school and home, and have the time and direction to build strong and lasting relationships with families. In the spring, UUSD will distribute a robust parent survey that will give us the data we need to help build effective school and district-wide parental involvement initiatives. If you are a parent, please complete this survey. Your input is deeply important. You'll find the survey crumpled up in the bottom of your child's backpack- late at night when you are doing the dishes and the laundry and baking the cookies for the PTA bake sale. Fill it out and send it in! We are listening.
We wish the entire UUSD community a productive feedback process. We will keep in touch with UUSD and hope to give you an update in the spring on their wonderful efforts!
Megan Van Sant is Board President at Ukiah Unified School District in California.