Educating kids is a big job. It takes help from parents, community groups, and even business partners. As director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University, Joyce Epstein helps schools partner with all these groups to help students succeed. One of her top priorities is promoting productive family involvement.
NNPS draws upon decades of research on parent involvement and school improvement to help schools and their partners focus their efforts on what works best. That means making sure everything they do helps schools reach their goals. We talked with Joyce to find out how parent groups fit into the picture.
What is your message for parent group leaders?
Have a conversation about “What is the goal of parent involvement?” Is it to involve parents for parent involvement’s sake, or is it to help youngsters do better in school? We have learned that if it isn’t about the students’ success, then principals and superintendents and community leaders consider family involvement “fluff.” If it is about student success and if it’s in tune with what the teachers are working hard on every day, then family and community involvement is considered central to the success of school improvement goals.
What are some ways PTOs can contribute to student success?
Parent groups can help by creating a welcoming feeling at school. For example, the PTO might sponsor a picnic before school opens to help all families feel that they are partners with the teachers for the new school year. Other parent groups have held a drive-through breakfast to offer parents coffee and a “thank you” for what they’re doing to support their children as students in school. When there’s a good climate of partnerships at a school, it’s more likely that other activities that focus on student learning goals will occur.
We also want everyone to be working on activities that will link family and community involvement to student results and good outcomes. PTAs and PTOs can make sure that any curriculum-related programs that they have are tied to what teachers are working on with students in their classrooms. If the parent group recruits volunteers for a “reading buddy” program, for example, it’s important to make sure that what they do links to what the teachers need the students to practice. Otherwise, the program may involve parents as volunteers but may not really help the kids improve their reading skills or attitudes.
What is your advice for PTO leaders who want to increase parent involvement?
Talk with the principal about how the group’s activities can be linked to what the staff is trying to achieve with the school improvement plan. And keep the focus on student success. Also, we would like the PTO or PTA to let the principal know that NNPS can be a resource to the school (and to the district) to provide ongoing guidance for strong and sustainable partnership programs.