What do schools do for parents as children transition from one grade to the next or from one school to another is very little to…..absolutely nothing. That’s unfortunate as it can break the continuity of parent engagement at school.
From elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school, there is a transitioning process for students. Alongside this is the transitioning of parents, as well. They, too, are growing and their growth requires a mindset change. Parents are most active in elementary school, where they are more likely to partner and engage with their child’s teachers.
But what happens when children reach the next levels of learning at new schools? Parents are not provided with a clear sense of the roles they may play in these new, and very different learning environments. Especially as children age into adolescence, and they become more independent, parents are left confused as to how they can remain in partnership with teachers at school.
Parent partnerships and engagement with educators decrease each year of school after the elementary years- such a wonderful and inspiring time for schools, parents and children. This does not have to be a mere fond memory for everyone-only in elementary school. We can change this and continue to enjoy, invite and encourage parent engagement throughout children’s school careers.
It is important for schools to help outline parents’ role, purposefully design, map out and value their presence in both middle and high school. Although children tend to cringe at the presence of their parents in school, there is a place for parents which doesn’t involve them hovering over their child. Children require more space at this time, and schools and parents can respect that while still there with a slightly changed ‘look’ of adult guidance and support.
There is/are roles that parents can play which will accompany each transition period. Parents can perform as Ambassadors for other parents and the school. This doesn’t mean that parents are mandated to fulfill certain duties as though employees. These days, there is usually a Liaison charged with duties in schools.
A Parent Ambassador is akin to a team captain who conducts surveys of parents and the school. They gather information as to the various activities they can look forward to at school. They can demystify the new environment, and come up with the roles they feel most comfortable with regarding learning at these new levels.
Parent Ambassadors can elaborate on the new learning set up: classrooms, subjects taught, offices and departments, class scheduling periods, which subjects are taught by which teachers, etc…. There is a thing called ‘homeroom’ in the upper grades and parents go into new levels uncertain as to how it works, i.e., the role of the homeroom teacher.
Parent Ambassadors, who must be recognized as such, with the collaborative assistance of other parents and staff can help create a school schedule, a booklet of ideas, mutual concerns, and a set of best practices for new, incoming parents. Unlike the traditional school handbook, this one is focused on parent engagement and enlightenment. It will outline processes and procedures in terms understood by other parents.
An Ambassador is like a welcoming committee who, with the assistance and guidance of a liaison, will help parents transition into their new role as parents and advocates in their children’s learning and developmental process. There are some things about parenting and learning that are best understood and communicated by other parents. A special language exists between them and this lingo can be shared while new partnerships are being fostered and established at school.
Ambassadors can bring communities together. They can restore or help solidify and unify whole communities. They can help bring other parents into the school, and boast that they too are parents. They’ve been there. Ambassadors can be the glue that keeps parents active and rid them of the discomfort or ambiguity of their new roles in school. They can help to assure parents that today’s school environment is better, more friendly, more accommodating and eager to have them in the bigger family.
How do you choose an Ambassador? There are a number of ways to do so. Volunteers, election, secret ballot…. The best thing one can do in choosing an Ambassador is to avoid choosing the most active parent. Though they may be great at outreach, they require little motivation to engage. The parents who represent the least active, more shy, reserved and even less savvy, may be better suited for the job.
It is extremely important to highlight the fact that this person is not ever working alone, nor is it ‘work’ that they do. It still remains a group thing. Even classrooms or grade levels can have Ambassadors to ramp up engagement. The critical aspect to consider prior to selecting one to serve in this function is to acknowledge who you are as a school, a classroom. Recognize who your parents are, and do not be afraid to overestimate the capacity and potential of parents. Most likely, educators will underestimate parents’ strengths, in particular, parents of color.
By the way, diversity, poverty, housing or language fluency, parents are all in possession of strengths, intelligence and are extra sensitive to implicit bias or disingenuous vibes. Similar to their children and babies, well-intended efforts by people are recognized, but doesn’t outshine cultural insensitivity.
So, decide what you need from parents, listen closely and let them tell you what they need and want, from you specifically. Co-develop goals and define your roles, not narrowly, but broadly with some degree of fluidity.
Set your goaL and gather your resources. Then begin to partner with parents just as they partnered in their child’s elementary grades. Once again, this role does not negate the role of Parent Liaison at school. It supplements this role, and supports teachers, each other and their children at school.
Ambassadors aren’t coordinating bake sales or fundraisers particularly. They aren’t particularly focused on politics either. Their concerns are each other, their child and all that which is related to learning and succeeding in the classroom. With a mutual goal, it will become a Win-Win for everyone-every teacher, every parent and every child, every school community!