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Making Schools Work for Parents

As another calendar year approaches its end and Kwanzaa is days away, it=s the perfect time to assess effectiveness in all areas of our lives and revamp our plans for the coming year.   
On the school front the Fall Open School sessions have just concluded.    Conversations with teachers and parents in various schools brought home the fact that changes can and must be made at the level of the individual school.   The general designation for the conferences is for an afternoon session and an evening session for a  total of approximately five hours.
 This arrangement clearly doesn=t produce the intended result.  Afternoon attendance has traditionally been low B and continues to be.  A number of middle school teachers, each with 75 B 80 students on their rolls reported seeing an average of five or six parents in their afternoon session.  No surprise here.  Working on my Masters, the research showed that the greatest obstacle to parent involvement was scheduling events during the day.  
While more parents attend the conferences during the evening hours, another problem arises, especially at the middle and high school levels.  In these schools teachers have four or more classes of 25 plus students.  Some teachers said that up to 50 percent of their parents signed in but because of the numbers and the time constraint, they didn=t always get to meet with them.  I remember the ritual of going into class rooms filled with waiting parents, signing in and leaving to see if I could see another teacher or if lucky, two before my name was reached on the first list.  That didn=t always work and what was originally intended to be an opportunity to hear about my children=s progress and needs, became a tension filled obstacle course.  So if this system doesn=t work for 50 percent of the parents attending, what can we expect at 60, 70, 80 and above?
 Fortunately, I discovered that some school communities are taking the initiative to make Open School more parent and teacher friendly and in the process having it serve its intended purpose B provide an opportunity for parents to meet, greet and confer with the adults (teachers and administrators) who often spend more waking hours with their children than they do. 
Some schools designate a period of days for parent-teacher conferences and parents make appointments based on their schedules.  Others convene the afternoon and evening session in a combined block of time. An elementary school stretches the conferences over a two-week period and parents have 30-minute blocks of time.   In one middle school, the Homeroom teacher assembles the information from the student=s subject teachers.  Parents then meet with the Homeroom teacher and can request meetings with the subject teacher if desired.  You all know that you can request conferences with the teacher(s) at any time during the school year, of course.   I=m sure that there are more innovations out there on a wide range of topics and I=d like this column to be the vehicle to share them.  There is a correlation between effectiveness and team spirit, between team spirit and parent involvement, between parent involvement and student success.  The more we share what works, the closer we come to reaching our goal B school success for all children. 
It makes sense that promoting team spirit and problem solving is easier to implement within a school than in the entire city.  By students, parents and school staff increasing the effectiveness of their school, the system, city wide is made effective.   The ball is in your court.  We can change anything that we take responsibility for B responsibility does not equal blame.  What things could be improved in your school that would have a positive impact on student success?  Working with your Parent Coordinator to reform the next Open School Week might be a good project to start.
I=d like to extend an invitation to the Parent Coordinators to let us know what you=re up to at your school.  What challenges do you face?  What challenges have you met or are meeting successfully.  The invitation is ever open to parents to let us know what your successes and needs are.  Remember people are resources.  Please email me at or

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