It seems like every third research paper I come across is about how dramatically a child's home life influences their academic life. It puts this great pressure on we educators to try and expand our teaching from the students to their families. But, we're generally unprepared to do this. Instead, we end up getting frustrated and depressed and feeling like what we really need to do is grab those parents by the neck, bang their heads against the wall, and yell, "Your child doesn't listen to you because he thinks you only talk to your cell phone! How can your child learn when he is so tired he fell asleep on the toilet!"
Okay, so while I've never actually done any of those things (only fantasized about them), I don't expect they would be terribly effective either with the parents or the school district. So, what is an ever-gracious and patient Montessorian to do?
What Parents Want
When thinking of families, approach all of your work from their perspective: they want their child to thrive and excel. They are probably way too busy and are overwhelmed by media and terrible news stories. They most likely don't get enough peace and quiet or exercise in their daily lives. If your parents are in a high-poverty area, you can add chronic stress about making ends meet and staying safe to the list. So, the last thing we want to do is add more to their to do list. They have enough! At the same time, we absolutely need to connect with them. So what's a Montessorian to do?
First of all, feed them. Throughout history, humans have connected at shared meal times. Have a BBQ or ice cream social and at those events, have resources available and make a short presentation on the key topic. But don't bore their pants off, present it from the child's perspective. If you want to talk about independence, get down on your knees and pretend you are a child trying to get a snack. Make them laugh and inspire them. And, just like any good entertainer, leave them wanting more.
When you want to get them into the building, connect it with the children. Last weekend at Sandra Girlato's math workshop, she gave us a great idea; a busy mom is much more likely to make time to come to school if her child says, "Mom, we have to go to school tonight so you can eat the muffins I made." At school, let the children show their parents around the classroom. Parent nights always have a good turn out because the parents don't get bored by some adult blah blah blahing, they get to spend fun time with their children as their children take on the role of teacher. Do you see my point? Make it about the child and the parents will come.
In addition to the above, I would definitely try to get every child and family in for a mandatory "screening" before school starts. In public schools, these screenings are often required. The beauty of it is that if you send out letters in June with dates saying "You're child has a mandatory preschool screening schedule on August 3 at 9:30 AM,..." the child and family will show up! And then, they are yours. Take this time to (1) let the student have a 30-minte one-on-one tour of their classroom by their classroom teacher while (2) the parents get 30-minutes with a mentor or administrator who will spend 5-minutes talking about logistics (e.g., drop-off procedure, lunch, snack, uniforms) and 25-minutes talking about independence, responsibility, sleep, screen time, and exercise. Then, swap and let the administrator give the new students a hallway tour while the parents get 15-minutes alone with their child's teacher. Schedule the meetings at 1-hour intervals throughout the day until all the families have come in. When someone doesn't show up, track them down and get them in ASAP.
The whole point of this is to help families know not only that their children are safe and respected but also that there is something really amazing going on at your school. Prepare your staff to behave like they are fresh out of finishing school and that alone will make the parents take a second look. We want them to know that there is no better place for their child to thrive and realize his or her gorgeous full potential. This is our chance to let everybody realize we are all on the same team; friends for life.