Cultivating a positive partnership: Engaging parents and caregivers in the classroom

By Jennifer Pustejovsky

It is often said that it takes more than one person to help an individual achieve success. This rings particularly true in schools where students rely on an extensive and encouraging support system to reach their full potential. While that support system may include many groups of people, none play a more important role than parents, caregivers, and teachers working together to facilitate the student’s education. Including families as partners amplifies the teacher’s efforts and allows the parents to become collaborators in their child’s education.

Benefits of Partnering with Parents and Caregivers in the Classroom Community

The opportunities for parents and caregivers to partner with teachers to create an enriching learning environment have evolved. In the past, many schools kept their doors closed, contacting families only when a problem arose. Now the doors are often open and welcoming, providing access to the classroom community like never before. As Figure 1 demonstrates, when schools, teachers, parents, and caregivers collaborate by considering purposeful instances of parental inclusion, the advantages are numerous for everyone involved.

Benefits of Partnering with Families
Students Parents and Caregivers Teachers
  • Feel encouraged knowing they have advocates collaborating
  • Receive extra support and increased accountability expectations
  • Feel more comfortable with the teacher
  • Feel confident to serve as a partner with the teacher
  • Increase their involvement and become equal thought partners
  • Gain an understanding of curriculum and can make more informed decisions
  • Acquire a strong advocate in the student’s education
  • Gain more time for classroom instruction by having the help of families
  • Glean valuable insight from parents
  • Receive specific information about the student

Considerations for Implementation

Employing strategies that establish effective lines of communication lays the groundwork for you to create a positive working relationship with families, and sets the stage for future positive experiences. When you inform parents and caregivers about curriculum, expectations, and student strengths, families are better equipped and more likely to become active partners.

Classroom and Instructional Involvement

Determining each family’s strengths and creating opportunities specific to those strengths generates opportunities for them to partner in their child’s education. For example, it is possible to create opportunities for parents and caregivers for whom being physically present at school is a challenge that allow them to interact and be involved outside of the classroom.

Engagement opportunities inside the classroom:

  • Volunteering to read
  • Assisting in the classroom
  • Being a tutor or homework helper
  • Speaking as a guest to share a specific talent, hobby, expertise, and/or profession
  • Creating multimedia to support classroom instruction or school initiatives (e.g., graphic design, photography, video design, editing or production, web design)
  • Supporting instruction related to computer skills, including programming and HTML coding
  • Leading meditation or facilitating a discussion about mindfulness
  • Volunteering time to facilitate or assist art and movement (e.g., dance, yoga, music, visual arts, theater)

Engagement opportunities outside the classroom:

  • Acting as a field trip chaperone
  • Serving as a lunch buddy
  • Thought-partnering with teachers on ways to integrate real-world problems into the classroom
  • Inviting the class to tour and explore the professional workspace
  • Organizing and leading academic enrichment in after-school clubs and groups
  • Participating in homework activities that encourage parent and caregiver involvement
  • Supporting community relations and outreach

Parents and caregivers have wide-ranging experiences and expertise. Think creatively about opportunities to engage and leverage their diverse skillsets, which might include proposal/grant writing, fundraising, event planning, public relations, writing, research, curriculum development, gardening, sustainability, nutrition and cooking, construction and carpentry, IT support, and strategic planning.

Voice in Decisions

Schools can create positive relationships with families and include them as partners in the classroom community by giving them a voice in educational decisions. Encouraging parents and caregivers to share their knowledge and opinions conveys to them the message that they are valued and their contributions are regarded as central to the school’s success.

Opportunities to give parents and caregivers a voice in decisions include:

  • Considering their input in instructional decisions for their child.
  • Requesting parents’ and caregivers’ ideas and solutions to solve school problems.
  • Involving parents and caregivers on advisory committees to contribute toward school decisions and goals.
  • Requesting parent and caregiver participation on school-improvement committees.

Families and teachers are the two most critical factors in a student’s education outside of themselves. Separately, the teacher and parent each provide the student opportunities to acquire adequate skills to achieve academic growth and knowledge. When parents, caregivers, and teachers join forces to build a meaningful, effective, and trustworthy relationship, the student is doubly supported and the academic and social gains grow exponentially.