I Teach NYC

Engaging families in the Highbridge community

Do you want more parent and family engagement? Are you finding this aspect of teaching particularly challenging? Discover proven strategies and tools from a fellow teacher, including ideas for parent tutorial sessions, weekly class newsletters and daily conduct sheets, as well as resources for parents – including the Parent Academy Website.

Teacher reflection: A challenge becomes motivational fuel

By Selva Mason

As a first year teacher, my class was out of control. Like most new teachers I was nervous about my “performance,” and not tuned in enough to see the writing on the blackboard wall! All that changed after an observation by my principal, Ms. K., who’d come in to check out one of my mathematics lessons. Ms. K. critiqued my management skills, sharing an adage that was once shared with her: "Mason!” she said, looking me straight in the eye (she always called me by my last name), "If you can't teach them to sit, you can't teach them anything. If you can get them to sit and be attentive, you can teach them everything. Sky's the limit!"

“Sky's the limit” percolated in my mind and became a vivid mantra of sorts; it was almost like I could reach out and touch this vision. I imagined the sky with a ray of sun shining, while below a young and elated diverse group of students burst with laughter as they extended their fingers to the sky, the way they do when they are eager to answer a question. The movie played out in my mind and brought me a serene yet accomplished feeling. I returned to reality, smiled appreciatively and responded, "Thank you, Ms. K."

She said, "Great lesson, Mason!" and exited the classroom.

In that moment, I realized that if I wanted students to be proud of their work and devoted to their search for knowledge, I had to do more than just get them to sit still in class: I needed to impact the walls of their homes and engage their parents. Parent-teacher partnerships are, without a doubt, a key to student success. As a dedicated teacher, I assure parents that they also play a meaningful role in their children’s learning. I invite parents to embark on the journey toward making a difference in their children’s academic lives. I’d like to discuss three examples:

Parent bilingual tutorial sessions: distribute a child workbook & parent handbook of lessons

A group of my colleagues and I conducted an inquiry project where we used data from a formative assessment to identify specific areas of struggle for our 4th graders. We discovered that the measurement strand was one of their low performing areas. With the notion that measurement standards are used on a daily basis in our everyday lives, we organized the "Measuring up Parent Tutorial Sessions." In these sessions, teachers taught parents the measurement standards so that they could support their children at home. Parents were given a Child Workbook and a Parent Handbook of lessons. The Tutorial Sessions were taught in Spanish and English. Students who received parent intervention showed a 31% change in their knowledge of the standards from pretest to post-test.

From this experience, I learned that parents are filled with a wealth of knowledge; they themselves are sometimes amazed by what they know. Midway through the session one of the parents, Ms. G., a teenage mom who did not attend college, stepped forward and volunteered her services as a parent leader. She worked side-by-side with Spanish- and English-speaking parents, sharing strategies from the Parent Handbook and how she modified them to work with her daughter at home. From this experience, it became apparent that teachers, parents, and administrators could build effective relationships and work collaboratively for a common cause. We held an award ceremony for all participants and distributed certificates to demonstrate our appreciation.

Weekly newsletter: Be sure to include an ‘Acknowledgements’ section

A second parent engagement initiative that I implemented is the publication of Hitlist4402.This idea popped into my head one Sunday evening while lesson planning. I thought of the students in my class who always complete all assignments. I concluded that students who were exceptional should have the same type of fame as artists who made it to the Billboard Charts. Since our class was 4-402, I decided that Hitlist4402 would be an appropriate name. This newsletter is distributed at the end of the week, on Fridays. The Hitlist gives parents a general idea of what students learned over the course of the week. It includes announcements about upcoming class events or projects, like materials needed for science experiments. The parents’ favorite part of Hitlist4402 was the Acknowledgements section, where students' names were listed for completing all homework assignments throughout the week and receiving at least 4 out of 5 "Es" for their conduct grade. At dismissal, parents waited anxiously, to discover their child's Hitlist status. A typical conversation went like this: "Hi baby, did you have a good week? Okay, okay, okay! Did you make the Hitlist? Where is the newsletter? Let me see!?" The Acknowledgements section encouraged parents to make sure students completed their homework nightly. Parents held higher expectations for their child now.

Daily Conduct Sheets: Helps to identify trends early

The Conduct Reports display a grade for behavior as well as a grade for homework quality. The behavior grades range from Excellent to Unsatisfactory and the homework grades range from 1-4 in quality – 1 being the lowest and 4 the highest. There is also a section for parent and teacher comments. The conduct sheet is helpful because it opens communication between parents, teachers and students. If the child receives an Unsatisfactory or Needs Improvement rating, parents sometimes comment that the child is having a challenging week at home; this immediately brings the teacher up to speed on how to interact with that student. The Conduct Report also avoids confusion at PTA meetings because all parties involved share the same document.

I hope these three examples provide helpful tips on creative ways to engage parents. This piece might encourage parent engagement at your schools. At the center of the education endeavor, there is a trinity consisting of the teacher, the parent and the child. When the three engage in dialogue the sky really is the limit. Let's reach for the sky: together we can make a difference!

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Resources for teachers who want to better engage with parents

  • Regularly Check the Parents’ Page on the DOE website.
  • Keep copies of “Expect Success," the Parents’ Guides to College and Careers for their children. It’s not just for older kids; the DOE offers concrete tips on learning at home for children as young as pre-school.
  • Be a connector. Make sure to provide your students’ parents with contact information and even a personal introduction to your school’s Parent Coordinator. Or, call the Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) at (212) 374-4118.
  • Check out the Parent Academy Website for specific workshops that speak to your parents’ needs, or contact FACE.
  • Resources for Extended Parent-Teacher Conversations: For conversations with families of students who scored a Level 1 or Level 2 on the 2013 State Common Core exams:
  • Learn about the exciting ideas born out of the Essential Allies Challenge competition! iZone schools were asked to imagine, design, and develop innovative new ways of partnering with families to support student achievement. Selected schools are receiving support from the iZone to develop, prototype and implement their innovations.

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Born and raised in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, it is Selva Mason's philosophy that when positive minds come together, amazing things happen. Ms. Mason believes that school, community and parent engagement inevitably results in student improvement and success.

As a Lead Teacher at P.S 18, John Peter Zenger in the South Bronx. Ms. Mason works closely with parents and students to improve student performance in literacy and mathematics as the RTI coordinator. Ms. Mason also assists teachers in developing coherent instruction in the areas of science and social studies.

Selva was accepted as a fellow of the Coro New York Educational Leadership Collaborative (ELC). Through this program, she is able to strengthen teacher collaboration and expand parent engagement at John Peter Zenger with innovative tutorials so that parents can more effectively support their children's learning.