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Building Bridges Between Home and School

January 28, 2020 - 4 minute read

Charlotte Ashford

Creating Bonds That Last
As a prior teacher, I sought to build a connection between home and school. I found it only after I began assigning occasional homework to parents rather than my students. Additionally, it produced better relationships between several of my students and their parents/guardians because I inadvertently humanized the teaching process through collaboration that built community.

One of my most memorable parent homework assignments was a quick write where parents had to respond to the following question with two to three sentences: If you could be an addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division sign, which one would you be and why? I expected parents to write answers that were math-related since I was a math teacher. However, parents wrote from their hearts, and with such complete transparency that it brought me to tears and gave me a glimpse of the struggles they faced.

I recall one parent writing that she desired to be an addition sign because she wanted to spend more time with her children. Another parent wrote that they wished to be a subtraction sign so they could subtract poverty from the world. Still, another wrote that they would like to be a multiplication sign so they could multiply their finances. One parent wanted to multiply her children because they brought her so much joy, while another wanted to add strength to her body because she had multiple sclerosis.

I often share this story with teachers who are looking for non-traditional ways to engage parents.

Traditional Ways to Include Parents
What are the typical ways teachers use when attempting to engage and involve parents? Many, like the ones listed below, are tried and true attempts that have minimal impact, due to their traditional nature.

  • Requiring a signature on a test, quiz or other documents
  • Providing a flyer for Back-to-School night or parent conference
  • Sending home notes that explain a situation at school

I was guilty of all the above and more and questioned why parents weren’t involved in their child’s education in meaningful ways in my class.

Flipping the Script
I vividly remember the first time I assigned parent homework. I expressed to my students that when their parents or guardian questioned if they had homework, they were supposed to say loudly and proudly, ‘No, but you do!’ I instructed them to give their parent/guardian the homework paper and explain that they needed them to complete it so they could earn homework points. I was cautious about assigning difficult homework because, after all, parents were no longer in school and might cringe at the idea of having to complete anything after a hard day’s work.

Providing homework for parents was a unique way that I better connected with my students and their parents. I always took the time to find out what type of learners my students were so I could create projects that matched their learning style. An accompanying parent homework assignment was for students to read an article to their parents about learning styles and have them discover whether they were an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Some parents even learned they had a parenting style that was the opposite of how their child learned, and it bolstered healthier communication.

During Back-To-School night or parent conferences, parents would comment on how much they enjoyed the different assignments and were ecstatic that I thought enough of them to involve them in various activities. Including parents in the homework process is an invitation to build community and can help minimize behavioral issues in the classroom because of the connectedness between teacher, student, and parent.

Parent Homework with a Twist
Teachers can create assignments so unique it piques parent curiosity and invites them into the learning process. For greater parent engagement, consider one of the following, or design a culturally relevant project:

  • Guess how many red skittles are in a bag or how many pepperonis on a pizza (graph data from all students)
  • Design an 8-page book from a brown grocery bag and illustrate the family tree, historical figures, or parent’s employment duties (Smoosh Book: suitable for all subjects)
  • Find out who can build the tallest tower using uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows

Teachers can methodically include parents by soliciting their opinion or seeking to understand how they learn or even inviting them to participate in class projects. While some may prefer to remain in the shadows, others would appreciate being included, even in small homework assignments. I believe that when teachers purposefully include parents in small ways, it can validate that they not only care about their students but about the various contributions the parents can make in subtle and profound ways as well.

Before joining LAUSD, Dr. Ashford was a long-term substitute for a private Christian school. Her tenure at LAUSD has included teaching middle and high school Algebra 1, Geometry, and Robotics. Dr. Ashford is a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) and the Council of Black Administrators (COBA). She completed her doctoral studies at Concordia University and went on to obtain an administrative credential at Cal State Dominguez. She loves movies with her all-time favorite being Shrek.

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