Focus

How Parent-Friendly Are Your Schools?

by STEPHANIE D. SANDIFER

We all want to improve parental involvement in our schools. We invite parents to parent-teacher meetings, PTA/PTO meetings, volunteer opportunities in classrooms, and on field trips and various other events. But it's not enough to just invite parents to campus -- we also need to ensure we are creating parent-friendly environments at our schools.

As a teacher and later a campus administrator, I always was aware that our campus had parking reserved for parents. I was actively involved in planning parent involvement activities and helped in all aspects of parent engagement, including decisions about hospitality rooms and where signs should be posted to direct parents and visitors around the campus. I've worked with administrators who hold disparate ideas on what parent involvement is and how to go about fostering and supporting it on the campus.

Stephanie SandiferStephanie Sandifer


As a district-level administrator, I was required to make frequent visits to a wide variety of campuses, where I quickly became aware that not all campuses are equal when it comes to layout and parking. Accessibility differs widely based on how principals implement parent engagement strategies along with such factors as school architecture and location.

In other words, not all schools can lay claim to being "parent-friendly." What I mean by this term is that a campus visibly and actively welcomes parents by allocating space for parents, providing strategically placed signage that helps parents navigate the school efficiently and encouraging parents to become part of the learning environment through meaningful volunteer opportunities. Of course, being parent-friendly requires attention to accessibility and hospitality.

Assessment Queries
So how parent-friendly are the schools in your district? Here is a short series of questions that can help you assess your own campuses.

•  Is there a designated parking area for parents only? Is this parking area clearly marked and sufficiently monitored so only parents park there?

•  Are entrances clearly marked? If you have signs that direct parents and visitors to enter through the front entrance, is it obvious where the front entrance is located?
 
I've been to older campuses that have multiple entrances on different streets, an artifact of remodeling over the decades. Which front entrance is the correct entrance?

Consider adding arrows and specific directional information to your signs, such as, "Please enter through the East Entrance located on Main Street," rather than using a more general directive.

•  Where is parent parking in relation to the front entrance?

•  Is the parent parking area protected? For example, if you are holding a special event, say a school district blood drive or a meeting of district administrators, do you keep the parent parking protected from other visitors? If not, consider asking the blood center employees to park their vans in the faculty parking area and marking off spaces in the faculty lot for the district administration visitors.

•  Inside the building, do you have clear signage directing parents and visitors to the front office for checking in? Are these signs posted in multiple languages to address the needs of your school community?

•  Do you provide maps to parents who may be visiting the campus to meet with a specific teacher or counselor? Do you have student office workers who might serve as guides for visitors?

•  Do you have a community information bulletin board in a prominent location near the front office, front entrance or parent resource center that contains updated information and memos about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and school news?

•  Is student work on display for parents and visitors? Is there information posted that clearly explains the purpose of the work, the high standards being met by the work and the outcomes of student learning?

•  Do you have a parent resource room where parents can learn more about the school, learn more about how to support learning at home, and learn more about how to become more active in the school community?

•  How does your school use technology to engage parents? Do you just have a static school website or do you incorporate the use of blogs, Twitter, e-mail, wikis and Facebook to engage the parents and the community in the instructional program of the school? Do parents only hear from the school when their child is in trouble, or is there consistent, ongoing positive communication between the school and parents/community?

A Welcome Feeling
Superintendents can use these questions while visiting campuses, and principals can assemble a committee of faculty, parents and students to discuss the questions and brainstorm ideas for improving the parent-friendly nature of their campuses. If we want to raise parental involvement in education and in the learning environment, we must ensure parents feel welcome and know they belong on the campus.

Stephanie Sandifer is author of Wikis for School Leaders (Eye on Education) and maintains the Change Agency blog. She lives in Houston, Texas. E-mail: StephanieDSandifer@gmail.com