Five Strategies To Use to Connect With Parents

As educators, we spend a lot of time with other people. That time can be ongoing, longer relationships or brief, specific encounters. You can categorize mosts of your interactions, at school as well as in the rest of your life, into two columns: transactional encounters and transformational relationships.

When we have transactional encounters, they don’t necessarily have to be bad. They are defined as a limited interaction for a short period of time and may or not be repeated. When you’re out to eat and get a chicken sandwich, you are having a transactional encounter with the person who takes your order. It can be a good one (when it’s their pleasure to see you) or a not-so-good one (when you’re in the drive-thru and they make you park your car because you had a salad). When you go to get your drivers’ license renewed, it’s a transactional encounter. You are unlikely to see that meeting turn into a long-term relationship.

Transformational relationships as the name suggests are quite the opposite. They are beyond an encounter and are instead a chapter in a longer, ongoing book. Transactional encounters are about the transaction; transformational relationships are about the relationship, the people, and how they change individually and together over time.

That takes us to the parents of our students. The time we have together with them is very limited. The nature of our interactions? Unfortunately, they can tend to be matters that are transactional in nature. We spend time with parents when they have an issue or concern, when they are completing required paperwork, and when they are delivering and/or retrieving their children.

What if we worked more intentionally to extend our school family to our parents? What if we created an environment in which those encounters became less transactional because we’d spent time getting to know each other in advance? We also should never forget– the right kind of attitude can make a transformational relationship out of a transactional encounter. Think about your favorite restaurant, coffee shop, or office you go to. Chances are that you feel the way you do about that place at least in part by how you’re treated, by how someone there sees you as a relationship waiting to be developed instead of transaction that has to be completed.

It can be a positive thing for an administrator to know a lot of the parents at the school from previous experience and longterm relationships. That fast-forwards the matter of trust and makes for better relationships and partnerships.

It can’t stop with a widely-connected administrator, however. The relationship of the parent to the school is also defined by their relationships with teachers, with office staff, with bus drivers. If we work at it, transactional encounters don’t have to be only that. Putting your child on the bus can be transactional, but with the right bus driver it can be a relationship that defines a positive perception of everything about the school.

How do we do it? Listed below in the infographic are five ways to connect school and home. There are probably five million things you can do to develop these connections. (We stopped at just five). These ideas are ways to make deeper connections with parents without the need of extensive time. Connections lead to relationships, which lead to trust, which open doors for true partnerships between school and home, between teacher and parent, between people in a community working together for the well-being of individuals and the greater good for all.

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How To Partner With Parents For Success

“Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors.”

Richard Rothstein, 2010, How To Fix Our Schools

Working to lead students to success without developing a partnership with their parents is like driving a car with a flat tire. Cross country in the rain. Without windshield wipers.

You get it. Research tells us that the influence of parents, or others raising a child in place of parents, is among the most impactful in determining student achievement. We know that a particular type of parental involvement is very effective in leading to student achievement, but at schools we typically don’t spend much time to foster that behavior. John Hattie’s meta-analyses show a high effect size for parental involvement* (.58). There are other things that are prominent at schools everywhere that don’t have the same research basis, but we do them anyway. For example, homework (.29 effect size); 1:1 technology (.16) and mentoring (.12). (Remember that anything below a .40 effect size is not considered to be successful in advancing student achievement.)

So, it’s possible that we do things that may not yield a lot for our efforts while missing out on something that could make a great difference. Why? We know that we tend to do things the way they’ve always been done. Even when we make an effort to “increase parental involvement,” we often spend time on things that don’t necessarily produce a high yield.

Let’s look at Hattie’s study of different types of parental involvement (2018) and their effect on student achievement.

Supervising Child's Homework                        0.19
Parent Participation in School Activities 0.14
Communication with School and Teachers 0.14
Parent Listening to Child Reading 0.51
*High Expectations for Student Achievement 0.58

(and verbalizing these to the child)

According to Hattie, more than homework, more than 1:1, more than mentoring, more than getting parents to come to school events, more than communication between teachers and parents, what really makes the biggest difference is when parents establish and communicate high expectations for student achievement with their child.

It would seem to reason that we the school would work really hard to encourage and influence parents in communicating these high expectations. Yet, when I talk about school separately to parents and teachers/administrators, there is often frustration on each’s part with the other. Rather than dissect those arguments, perhaps we the school would benefit in our mission by seeking more positive relationships with parents. If we could become partners with parents(and often we do!), we can more intentionally focus on a tidal shift of educational expectations among the families of our school. To become partners, we first have to have a relationship, which follows making connections with each other. Those relationships lead to trust, and with trust influence, particularly if we never grow tired of working to earn that trust.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. Relationships take time; partnerships take time, trust, and intentional focus. As much effort as it may take, the benefits of doing so are well worth the effort.

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Ten End-Of-The-Year Questions For Parents

One of the greatest areas of growth in our schools is in our work with parents.  As we reach the end of the school year, now is a good time to get data from our parents.

We can do so in surveys, in formal meetings, small-group settings, and informally.   Perhaps as important as when we talk to parents is what questions can we ask them to support the work and collect data that can be helpful.

While all schools are engaged in surveying parents, conversations may bring a deeper level of information.  Even if surveys were more focused on questions that support the individual work of your school, the data you collect might be richer.

parents involvementAs always, what you need to know is based on the context of your school as much as anything.  To prime the pump of your thinking, please find a set of ten possible questions for parents at the end of the year. They are written to be used across grade bands, so you might want to adapt the wording to make it most appropriate for your school level.

You may find some, all, or none of them to be questions that you’d like to ask, but no matter which you choose, consider the value of asking engaging questions to the parents of your students as you approach the conclusion of  the school year. On to the examples:

Ten Questions for Parents at the End of the School Year

  1. What did your daughter/son enjoy learning the most this year?
  2. What do you believe that your son/daughter learned well this year?
  3. In what ways did you support your child’s learning?
  4. In what ways did we at the school help you support your child’s learning?
  5. How could we have partnered with you more effectively this year?
  6. What skill or skills do you want your son/daughter to know how to do more effectively?
  7. What can we provide for you, if anything, to help you continue your child’s learning this summer?
  8. What can we do in partnership with you to start next school year off on the right foot?
  9. Is your daughter/son learning what you expect them to be learning at this point in their schooling?
  10. How can we be the best partner possible with you to help your son/daughter grow in what they know, what they can do, and who they are?




Cupcake Wars: Let Them Eat (Cup) Cake!

We need to partner with parents.  Their contribution to their child’s performance in school is just as critical as that of the school’s.  The attitude that parents have about the school is coming back to you everyday through their child.  Your student’s effort in school is critical to their performance academically, socially, and behaviorally.  The extent of that effort may be directly related to the attitude about school they derive from home.

So, why do so many schools seem to build walls where bridges would be more effective?

Here’s a good start.  Please let them bring cupcakes.

Why?  Isn’t this a non-academic issue that has no bearing on student performance?  Maybe not.  If parental support equates to student effort (research says so) and student effort yields performance (you say so) , you might want to think about whether your school makes everything easier or more difficult on parents.

First, before you say it, yes I know that students have food allergies and that there are legitimate safety concerns to be addressed.  You’re a professional educator, a principal, a leader.  You can figure it out and make it work if you want to.

Let’s say you can figure out a way to incorporate cupcakes into your school environment (for the record I see it happen at highly effective schools regularly). Why would you care?  What’s the deal with cupcakes?

cupcakes-to-schoolJust as many  of our teachers (and principals) say that parents have changed, parents can just as easily and perhaps more profoundly say that school, teachers, and principals have changed.  It’s often difficult for our parents to help students with their homework.  The level of challenge has risen greatly.  The methods we use, particularly in math, are different than when the parents were in school.

Many of our parents want to bring cupcakes in because it is something they can do, something they feel comfortable with, and, very importantly it’s something they may have seen their parents do.  As much as curriculum has changed and testing has changed, some of our parents need something to hang onto that they feel good about.  Cupcakes.

If it is truly worth it to cut out that interaction and what it may mean, on many levels, to the parents at your school then go for it.   I would encourage you to consider the big picture of school and home relations.  How do the parents coming into your school feel about the school?  Do they feel like you are reaching out to meet them, or stepping out to block them?

The truth is, it isn’t about cupcakes, but it IS all about relationships, perceptions, and being a real part of things. We would be well-served to recognize the significance of relationships and to understand how our parents feel.  If you choose to outlaw cupcakes, do consider your approach in doing so.  It’s not just what you say (or do), but how you say it.

Remember to build a place where parents FEEL welcomed, ARE welcomed, and are given a chance to be a real part of the place, cupcakes or not.

As far as cupcakes go, that’s a decision for you to make as the principal.  Just be cautious not to win the Cupcake Battle and lose the Parent Partnership War.

#Leadership365   /48

Resources for Partnering With Parents

If we are to lead our students to their academic potential, we need a partnership with parents and “home.”  Research shows that school accounts for one-third of a student’s academic achievement, but as leaders in our field, we should feel compelled to find effective ways to build partnerships that work towards academic success. 

Please take a look back this week at the previous columns that shared the critical background pieces to this effort.  Today, with the foundation set, we’re ready to share resources to support your work in partnering with parents.

  1. Georgia Department of Education Parent Engagement Division   You can find a treasure trove of resources available at the GADOE Parent Engagement Program’s website that is located here:
  2. Project Appleseed  is a national organization devoted to public school improvement, focusing on developing effective school/home relationships.  There are tons of resources here, including a calendar of activities that you can use to support your efforts.  You can find them here: Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 9.33.02 PM.png
  3. National PTA  The National PTA has a focus on parental engagement and a website to support your work.  Here’s the link: Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 9.35.04 PM.png

So, with all of those resources, what do we do next?  Here’s $0.02 worth of advice.  These strategies and resources have great potential to help you move forward if the ground is fertile for sowing these seeds.  If you have prepared your faculty to move forward and fundamentally change the way you look at and work with parents, then you’re ready to dig into these sites.  IF you haven’t, it doesn’t matter how good or how free the resources are.

As the leader, before you begin any initiative or movement at your school, you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have I clearly communicated “WHY?” this effort is needed?  Does my faculty and staff understand it clearly?
  2. Is the timing right?  Is the need clear and the moment advantageous?  Is my faculty preoccupied with something else?  Is there a more advantageous time to launch this initiative?
  3. Have I planned for ongoing progress?  If I’ve only planned the initial phase without the follow up, does this have a chance of working?

The work with parents might be the critical piece that can build upon the efforts you’ve already made as a school towards student performance.  It’s important that you get the implementation right.  Pave the runway before taking off.

#Leadership365  /47

Working On Our Relationships With Parents

At schools and as school leaders, we should be having an epiphany of sorts if we haven’t already done so.  We should be understanding that instead of wishing our students’ parents were our partners, we should be working intentionally on our relationships with them to make it so.

The impact of school makes up about one-third of a student’s performance; another third comes from community influences and the final portion comes from the home.  In this blog, we’ve examined the impact of that influence and how it can positively increase the level of effort a student expends at school.

In short, we’ve built our pyramid of interventions squarely on top of a goldmine of influence from home.  We are working as hard as we possibly can to support students and their needs at school, but we need help from home.  Wishing that “home” all looked like we would want it to be is not a strategy for success.  Intentionally working on our relationships with parents, however is a critical and important way to improve student achievement.

This is one of the reasons that we have found ourselves where we are in our relationships with parents:  we haven’t fully acknowledged or understood that working with parents CAN BE the most effective intervention we could ever come up with.  If given the choice of working directly with students to support their work or spending that time with parents, we (teachers, principals, APs) would almost always pick to work with the students.  (We love working with the students… why wouldn’t we?)  Here’s what we have to realize:  working with parents is high leverage work.  If we can effectively partner with parents, we can extend our reach beyond the door of the school, beyond school hours, beyond the calendar.

How do we do this?  One thing that is certain to fail is to merely keep “doing” parental involvement and engagement the same old way and expect different results.  We need to  be creative, we need to listen, we need to speak the language of the parents (even when that language is Facebook.)  Before we can get into specific strategies, we have to begin at the foundation and that foundation is the way we look at parents.

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 9.01.08 PM.png

Principals, you need to lead the way in how the folks at our schools look at parents.  If you’re a teacher and you have a student that is hardly trying, misbehaving, and not producing in the classroom, it’s easy to be frustrated with the student’s parents as well.  The problem with this premise is that can often lead to widening the wedge between school and home.  We need to set our frustrations aside and treat every parent who comes our way as the most important visitor we’ll have all year.   That’s a lot to ask, but it’s the winning hand.  As the principal, you’ve got to work with your faculty and staff to get them to that place.  Many of them will be there willingly and from the beginning, but if we can create schools that welcome parents just as we welcome students, we will be on the track to success. 

How do we do that?  It’s important that as a school, we adopt a standard by which we will treat others we come into contact with, including parents.  If we can establish the standard and support each other in living up to it, it will change our school.  It might change the entire community as far at that goes!

What if we pledged that whomever we see as we represent the school, we will respect, we will value, and we will listen to.

In my years as a teacher, coach, and administrator this is probably the most important thing that I learned.  Everyone wants to be listened to.  Not everyone wants you to fix everything… sometimes listening is enough.  Everyone deserves to be respected.  We do not know where someone is coming from unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Finally, we should value everyone and refrain from judging them.  Who are we to judge anyway?  Love more, judge less.  If we do this, we are most certainly on the track to building lasting relationships with others, and in this case relationships that can help build a partnership in a child’s or adolescent’s success in school.

This sounds so simple, and in a way it is.  That’s why it evades so many.

There’s more to building the most effective partnerships with parents than this, but there’s nothing more important, and nothing that you can do to supplant it.  Look at all the parents who come in with the same excitement, enthusiasm and encouragement as you reserve for their children.  That will lead to success.


#Leadership365   /46






What If Your Students Increased Their Effort at School? Partnering w/Parents

Schools need parents and parents need schools, and we all need the community as well.  According to years of research, we know that the contribution that schools make to a student’s academic performance is roughly one-third, while the other two-thirds come from home and community contributions.

Here’s a way to look at how well we know the importance of parental engagement on student performance.  Think about this:  what percentage of your students, on a regular basis, are trying their best?  what percentage are trying enough?  what percentage hardly try?  You can do this with any size sample… the school as a whole, a grade level, a department, one teacher’s class.  Doesn’t matter, but you pick the sample group and then estimate the percentages.


Once you begin to focus on student effort and which students give their best, just enough, or hardly any effort, then begin to examine WHY?  Why do the students who try their best do so?  How about the one’s that try only enough, or even the ones who hardly try?  I’ve done this exercise at many different places with varied demographics and locations, but the top answer is almost always the same:  those who try their best are doing so because of influences that come from home.


Before you say it, yes there are some children and adolescents who are intrinsically motivated and just want to do well.  Even those are often attributed to encouragement from home.  Yes, there are also “bootstrap” stories of students who have had little help from parents or family and have decided to pull themselves up on their own. As teachers, we love those stories and are pulling for them to succeed.  Speaking of teachers, some of the students who try their best are doing so because of the influence of a caring adult in the school.  All of those categories are real, and they are all important.  It’s accurate to say, however, that home (parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles, family) can be a significant factor in the level of effort that a student expends on a daily basis at school.

We are often quick to point that out for those students who we would sort into the “red” quadrant above that of students who we have determined hardly try.  For those students, it is the absence of support from home that we often identity as the reason for their lower level of effort.  If we are going to make that connection, we should objectively give credit on the other end of the scale as well.

So, why examine “effort?”  What does this have to do with school/family relations?  More importantly, shouldn’t we be getting back to some intervention that will help the student raise their achievement scores?

What if I were to tell you that we are reaching a saturation point on what we can contribute to student achievement from the school’s level?  Granted, this is making an assumption that at your school that you are indeed doing what’s appropriate, accurate, and effective in improving student achievement.

Here’s the aha moment… you will reach a point that you can no longer merely hope for adequate support from home, but in order to see student achievement improve, you’ll need to be intentional, strategic, and consistent about building partnerships with parents. The effort that students will expend depends upon it.  It will require a different mindset towards parents than the one that many schools/leaders/teachers currently possess.   We need to look at the parents of our students in a new way.  We need to see them as the goldmine towards student achievement, because they indeed are.

How do we do it?  See you back here tomorrow.

#Leadership 365  /45


“Partnering With” Parents Much More Effective Than “Dealing With” Them

At your school, do you deal with parents, or do you partner with them?  There’s a definite difference and it begins with you as the school’s leader.

In my travels, many teachers and school leaders believe that parents of students today are different.  Teachers leaving the profession note that parental engagement and challenges with parents are among the chief reasons for their departures.


The cartoon (above, credit to Pinterest) has circulated around the education word for the last few years.  The extent to which this characterized parents most likely differs from school to school, but it is hard to argue that relationships between school and home have changed over recent years.  The questions that school leaders should be asking, however, can potentially reverse these trends.

  1. How do my teachers view the parents of their students?
  2. What would a closer partnership between parents/school mean for student achievement?
  3. How do we move from dealing with parents to partnering with parents?

Just as teachers who have been around for awhile would say that the parents have changed, its just as true that parents would say the same, that teachers have changed over the years.  Waxing nostalgic is not a great stance or strategy.  School leaders should be wary of painting such broad strokes about a group of people so critical to student success.  That said, we have much more influence on how we, as a school, view and relate to the parents of our students.

A quick reminder of where student achievement derives is plenty enough reason to place a new priority on our relationships with home.  Despite all of our efforts at school, our contribution to student achievement makes up about a third of a student’s performance.  While we have worked hard to fine tune our part of the contribution, we would be well-served to assist in the other areas (home and community) that contribute to a student’s success. 


The leader sets the tone, shapes the norms, and develops standards by which the school operates.  If the principal and administrative team tolerate parents, then the faculty will follow that lead and learn to manage them while proceeding with their efforts to educate the children. If, however, the leader sets a positive tone towards parents and embraces them as partners in their children’s success, the faculty will follow suit.

Yes, there are challenging parents at your school and every school, but what if we began to double down on our efforts to engage and partner with parents?  What if the result of this work led to the students at our school giving a greater effort in school?  What would your school look like if all of your students increased their daily effort by 10%?  15%?  25%?  You know what would happen.  Decreased behavioral issues; increased performance; happier students, teachers, and parents.  That’s what we could get if we had a renaissance in parental engagement, greater effort by students.  

Is this all just talk?  Hardly.  But the reason that everyone isn’t doing is it is because it’s hard to do.  Be the leader that makes a difference.  Think about how your school and home relationships stand today and what you can do to make them closer than ever.

#Leadership365  /44


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