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Tool: Parent education workshop

Sometimes providing written information and single sessions with parents are not enough to help them truly understand the curriculum in your school and classroom in enough depth to understand how to be helpful to their children at home.  The following are six tools for getting targeting a specific aspect of your curriculum and offering Parent Education Workshops to help parents can develop deeper understandings of your curriculum and see how they play a role in it.

1 of 6 . What questions do parents have about the curriculum?  You may already have a good idea of issues and questions parents want to raise about a particular aspect of your curriculum.  Perhaps they do not understand why you have first graders use ‘invented spelling’ when they write in their journals. Parents may be unfamiliar with why you are spending a full class period in your 10th grade math class to discuss one problem.  Or perhaps parents want to know how using Webquests in social studies will help their middle school student understand history. You could also send home a survey and ask parents to respond in writing, or ask your students interview their parents and take notes on questions such as those listed below.  Adapt this form to your situation; you may need to have it translated for parents whose first language is not English.

Making connections: What are your questions about the curriculum?


Dear Parents,

I am organizing a “Learning about the [subject matter] Workshop” series so we can talk in depth about goals for the year, the types of things your student is learning, and how you can become involved in supporting that learning.  To help me plan for the series, please respond to the following questions.  I will be sending a [flier, newsletter] home soon with more information about the workshop dates, times and location so you can mark your calendar.

Thank you for taking the time to help make the workshops a success!

[your name]

  • What questions do you have about the curriculum or teaching approaches used in [subject matter area]?
  • What questions do you have about your student and the curriculum as it is offered in my classroom?
  • What do you want to know about homework in this subject?
  • What else would be helpful information in supporting your student’s learning?
  • What is the best day/time to old a workshop?
  • Approximately how many workshop sessions do you think you would have time to attend (circle your choice):  1-2 workshops; monthly workshops; twice per semester
  • Are you interested in helping with the workshop? If so, when/how may I contact you?

2 of 6. What do I think parents need to know about the curriculum?
Rather than trying to help parents understand all that you know about the subject area you want to address, think about a specific area or two that are especially important for them to learn more about. The following planning guide can help you establish priorities for meeting both your needs while also being responsive to parents’ questions.  After filling in column 2 with your ideas and using the parent survey to fill in column 3, rank order your priorities in column 1 regarding the area that is most important to address.

Selecting a workshop focus

Possible target area

(rank order)

Key points I want parents to understand

Parent questions

___ What are my goals for the students and why are these important?

___ What types of tasks do I develop to help students reach the goals?

___ How do I assess student progress and evaluate their learning?


___ What types of homework assignments do I give?


___ What role(s) do I want parents to play in supporting their student’s learning?


___ How will parents stay informed about what is expected of them and maintain communication with me?


___ What are key challenges the parents and I will need to overcome and how will we work together to them (e.g., linguistic differences, students’ motivation, behavior issues)?

___ Other:


3of 6. How do I engage parents in informative, engaging discussions that are responsive to their questions?
  When parents make time to the school in the evening or on the weekend, keep in mind that they (like you) are busy people whose time is valuable.  So you want the workshops to be informative and engaging.  A first step is to help parents feel comfortable with you and with each other.  A second step is to engage parents in meaningful tasks, ones that helps them  experience the types of learning that typically takes place in your classroom.  A third step is debriefing the experience.  With this groundwork laid, you are ready to communicate the information you think is important and respond to questions.  The following planning guide may be useful in getting ready for your event.

Planning guide for the workshop(s)

How will I help parents feel comfortable? 


  • Show/discuss brief slide show of students interacting in the classroom
  • Ask parents to share something about their students
  • Provide a walking tour of the classroom that shows different materials and resources
  • Use ice-breaker activity to help people relax

What format will parents learn about the targeted area?  


  • Engage in tasks students complete (e.g., math problems. writing workshop, Book Club, Literature Circles, science experiments, use of primary sources)
  • Videotapes of classroom approaches followed by discussion
  • Examine classroom materials (e.g., science kits, manipulatives, children’s literature)
  • Create materials that can be used with students at home
  • Examine assessments used in a subject matter area
  • Discuss student work samples


How will I communicate information about the curriculum?


  • Provide brief handout (translate if necessary)
  • Include drawings/graphics to illustrate main ideas and key connections
  • Use Power Point slides or video to illustrate your curriculum in action


How will I elicit and respond to parent questions?


  • Use questions collected from survey
  • Ask parents to write questions on 3 x 5 cards
  • Ask parents to meet in small groups and list key questions on poster board


How will I know what parents are learning?  


  • Parents talk about their response to the workshop
  • Parents ask questions
  • Parents talk about what they will try at home in the next few weeks


How each workshop (and the workshop series) comes to a close?


  • Ask parents what they would find useful as next steps
  • Ask parents to fill out a written evaluation


4 of 6. How will I get a good turnout for the workshop?  Successful orientations require active promotion—to get the word out, to remind parents, and to create a curiosity about the event.

A checklist for promoting good parent turnout

  • Publicize: Use simple, inviting language (and have it translated if necessary) to let parents know about the workshop initially and to provide reminders. 
    • Newsletters, fliers
    • School calendar
    • School or classroom website


  • Provide food: Food is a great way to get people to gather together and help create a relaxing atmosphere.  Let people know ahead of time what type of food is available so they can plan their schedules around it.
    • Provide light snacks (juice, pretzels, apples)
    • Have parents sign up to purchase pizza or another type of food that could be their dinner if they’re coming from work


  • Get input from parents: Parents can help with making the workshops a success in a variety of ways.
    • Planning
    • Phone tree for publicity and reminders
    • Translator for written materials
    • Food
    • Child care
    • Transportation for families


  • Accommodate family schedules: Use the information you gathered from parents to select the best day/time to gather people together.


  • Include students:  Students can become your best recruiters for your event.  They can:
    • Write hand-written invitations to parents
    • Remind parents of the upcoming workshops
    • Help plan which task(s) parents will complete during the workshops
    • Provide child care (secondary)
    • Be greeters or guides to the classroom


  • Provide services: Families have different needs and experience different challenges in being able to attend school events.  The following are examples of services that might assure good participation in your workshop:
    • Child care
    • Find other families who can provide transportation
    • Arrange translation services

5 of 6. What about parents who are not able to come?
By thinking in advance about this question, you may be able to find efficient ways to keep parents who were unable to attend your workshop filled in.  The following checklist provides a guide for how to follow up.

Follow-up checklist

  • Have a sign-in sheet so you are clear about who was able to attend and who may need follow-up information.
  • Develop handouts for the workshop that make a good summary of ideas covered.
  • Plan for a way to keep a record of what happens during the workshop so you can provide a summary of questions raised and ideas shared for all parents.
    • Have a parent take notes
    • Have a student take notes (secondary)
    • Save artifacts from tasks completed
    • Audio tape the meeting (with participants’ permission)
  • Provide contact information and encourage parents to ask questions.

6 of 6. How will I find the time to do all of this?
  At this point, you may be thinking that taking on the planning and development of workshops is more than you can manage in your beginning years of teaching.  At the same time, you know that this is an important step in establishing good communication and helping families understand what you are trying to accomplish in your classroom.  Here are some things to consider that may help you:

You are not alone! Find out…

  • What school-wide events and services are available that might support my planning and implementation of the workshops (also see Section VI: Understanding School-Wide Support)?
  • What have my colleagues done in the past and what resources have they used that would help me plan my workshops?
  • What colleague groups could I collaborate with to share ideas, resources and work load in planning and offering the workshops (e.g., grade level teams, subject matter departments)?
  • How can I enlist parents to help plan and carry out the workshops?

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