During school events and initiatives, when we have made efforts to include parents and caregivers, we can notice who is missing. We may remark that certain individuals or groups of parents and caregivers are consistently missing, possibly those we most need to reach.
Our first reflex may be to assume that certain groups or individuals are not present because they don’t care. We may choose to focus our efforts and energies on those who are already most involved. We need to be mindful of the barriers that stand in the way of an active presence in the school for many parents and caregivers. (See Understanding Parents and Caregivers.) Until participation within our school community reflects all groups within that community, we can humbly recognize that we have not yet identified effective strategies to overcome those barriers.
There are no simple recipes for stimulating the presence and participation of those parents and caregivers who are hardest to reach. Rather, we can reach out continuously and proactively to those who are missing, or whose contact with the school is fragile or tentative. Statements that “everyone is welcome” are not always sufficient; positive action is necessary to ensure that everyone truly feels welcome.
Traditional means of outreach such as sending letters or emails may be tossed aside or ignored. If communication is solely in English, if parents or guardians have difficulty reading, or if families do not have a computer, these forms of communication may be extremely alienating.
A variety of alternative forms of outreach may be more effective, keeping in mind who your families are, remembering their life circumstances and trying to imagine what they might be experiencing. Sometimes this requires extra steps or special efforts. For example:
- initiating personal, face-to-face contact on an individual basis whenever possible;
- making a phone call, which may be experienced as a warmer and more approachable form of contact;
- meeting hard to reach parents and caregivers on their own grounds – in a non-threatening and accessible location, for example, a restaurant or café, or a community centre (though in many cases this may not be feasible or desirable, for example, when a teacher feels unsafe);
- at a school event, approaching a parent or caregiver who looks lost and alone to greet them and chat with them;
- issuing a special, personalized invitation (by phone or in person) to special events, such as parent workshops;
- getting students involved in recruiting parent involvement.
One school has established a committee comprised of teachers as well as parents and caregivers to welcome newcomers to Canada. Members of this committee reach out and contact new families and accompany them during their first months. They make sure their basic needs are met, that they have warm clothes, that they are connected to services and resources in the community that can help them.