We have seen ways to involve parents in the classroom that help students succeed. This is no less vital for parents from different cultural backgrounds or from “nontraditional” families.
The challenge for teachers is what to do when the styles of communication and cultural beliefs do not respond to traditional methods of involvement, such as PTA meetings, parent conferences, or parent advisory boards. How, then, do we find ways to involve parents in the classroom and students to get the best educational experience while respecting their cultural values?
There is no single magic solution for ways to involve parents in the classroom but there are steps schools can take to acknowledge and accommodate different cultural groups.
Danbury, Connecticut schools are tackling this issue. Within the school system, there are forty-eight languages spoken, representative of a wide range of cultures. The schools have organized a Multicultural Parents’ Day. The goal is to bring together people of the community in a “non-threatening social setting.” They share native foods, dance, clothing, ideas, and beliefs. The hope is that the family is able to form solid relationships with teachers, staff, and other parents. Community members also get to see student talent shows and art and essay contests, helping them feel pride in their students.
The Multicultural Parents’ Day Committee, which plans this day, was created to help the home feel more comfortable with the schools and communities. Even getting to know the layout of their child’s school and how it works is vital in helping parents feel less intimidated, overwhelmed, or alienated. Those who attend Multicultural Parents’ Day (about 400 a year from over twenty different ethnicities) reported feeling more positive and viewing the schools as friendlier.
Other ways to involve parents in the classroom involve day-to-day activities and communications that can be accommodated to meet different cultural needs. For instance, many families feel awkward or uncomfortable approaching teachers with concerns, feeling it is not their place. Establishing an early relationship (before something is wrong!) can help them feel more equipped to approach you if there is a concern. And it will help them feel more receptive to your approaches in the future. Some parents communicate verbally, and notes and newsletters will not be as effective. On the other hand, notes and newsletters may be preferred by others. It can be hard, especially in large classes, but an effort should be made to figure out ways to involve parents in the classroom.
While communities may speak forty-eight languages, everyone responds to respect, and overtures to treat them as equals and as valuable components of their children’s education will be appreciated. You can always work out optimal details after you make contact. Most people respond to the effort and will work with you.