The teachers and staff at Salisbury’s Overton Elementary have been trying something new this school year. Instead of making calls to parents when there’s a problem, educators are calling with good news, in addition to making home visits that have the express purpose of connecting with families and letting them know about all of the amazing things their children are doing in the classroom.

This new practice been been nothing short of transformative.

“We never know where a child is coming from; I learned the importance of meeting our students and parents where they are.”

“Sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone in order to better understand our students.”

That’s just some of the overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers who have embarked on a new journey this year to build stronger relationships with families. At Overton, more than two-thirds of the student body is economically disadvantaged, and school leaders have identified the need to build more resilience in the school culture in order to successfully reach students who are experiencing adversity at home or in their communities. In partnership with the Public School Forum’s NC Resilience and Learning Project, educators at Overton formed a Resilience Team and together decided that strengthening parent engagement is a key ingredient to developing a trauma-sensitive school.

Strengthening parent engagement involved a two-pronged approach. One strategy includes positive phone calls to parents letting them know what’s going right, which is a departure from what has typically been a call to let a family know when something is wrong. The second strategy is for teachers and support staff to make home visits. With these encounters, contact was made with more than 30 families that otherwise would not have been able to connect with school staff due to a variety of barriers, including transportation, work schedule, and/or no phone service.

These significant, positive changes have been incredibly transformative for the students and their families as well as teachers and staff at Overton Elementary. Seeing and understanding students’ home environments has helped educators to adjust their pedagogical approaches when appropriate, and families are encouraged by a stronger connection to teachers and a better understanding of what their children are capable of during the school day.

Members of the Resilience Team are already putting more ways to engage parents into action, including a parent-teacher brunch, sending postcards home to parents describing what’s great about their children, and setting up a weekly coffee hour open to all parents that is a time for conversation, community building, and hearing from different speakers on key education issues.

The Resilience Team plans to measure the success of these new parent engagement initiatives through qualitative feedback from teachers and parents and by comparing Title One parent night attendance numbers from last school year to this school year.

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