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Helpful Tips for Working with Parent Mentors
As a parent of a child with a disability, Kim Chester knows personally the importance of parents being actively involved in their children’s education. She also understands that in order for students to be successful in school, parents, teachers, and administrators must work together from the time the students enter school until the day they graduate. As a parent mentor for Bartow County Schools, Ms. Chester has worked with teachers, staff, and administrators to integrate family engagement into school and district activities and to build a culture in which family engagement is expected and valued. Based on her experiences as a parent and a parent mentor, she has identified seven practices to support parents, teachers, and administrators in working together. They are listed below:
- INCLUDE parent mentors from the beginning. When parent mentors have the opportunity to work with families early in a student’s school years, a true partnership and trust can be developed and maintained. Often, teachers invite a parent mentor to assist in hostile situations or in a student’s last year of high school. Parent mentors are most effective when they work to develop strong bonds between family and school from a student’s early years.
- COMMUNICATE skills that are being taught at school. Parent mentors have opportunities throughout the year to disseminate and reinforce this information to parents in various environments in which the parent and parent mentor interact. In many cases, parent mentors can offer parent training on HOW to incorporate these critical skills in the home and in the community. Many parents do not know inherently how to infuse this information into their daily lives and often need specific training and strategies for doing so. In many cases, parents simply need an opportunity to become aware of these vital strategies.
- PARTICIPATE in parent mentor activities. If the parent mentor is offering training or sending information that impacts your students, please take note. This allows the teachers to be informed of parent resources or strategies that may positively impact students. By participating in parent mentor activities, educators clearly communicate their desire to work collaboratively with the families which often positively impacts the level of trust parents have in the school system in general.
- ENCOURAGE families to include the parent mentor. This tip can go both ways. Often, a parent has no trust in the school and parent mentors can work to reestablish trust with the school system. In other situations, parents may not see the need to connect to the parent mentor or may misunderstand the purpose of a parent mentor. When trusted educators take the time to explain the purpose and benefits of collaborating with the parent mentor, the team can access more resources and provide a broader base of support for students.
- SHARE information with parents. When you receive information and announcements from the parent mentor, please stop and think if that information could be useful to any of your students. If so, please forward the information on to the family even if you think the family has received the same information. By receiving it twice, the parent is more likely to respond or utilize the information.
- ACKNOWLEDGE the expertise and experiences of the parent mentor. Parent mentors work to remove barriers in an effort to make the team function more effectively. Barriers between home and school occur for many reasons including a lack of trust due to bad school experiences when the parents were children, not feeling valued as a parent, or feeling all alone and isolated from others. Parent mentors offer a unique connection to parent, because Parent Mentors are living the life of a parent with special needs. In addition, parent mentors are surrounded by other parents who are living it as well. This bond between parents is strong and can often move a barrier that seems immovable.
- BROADEN your circle of supports. Parent mentors are working with families daily to find resources for families. This creates a web of crucial supports for our families that are vital to students’ success. Parent mentors are often associated with key individuals in family service agencies, mental health clinics, recreational services, independent living supports, transportation resources, etc. In addition, parent mentors are often connected to individuals in the community that might be able to aid in providing internships, employment opportunities or recreational activities.
Parents provide a vital influence on their child’s attitude and beliefs. Without a parent’s support and active involvement, the team is often incomplete and unproductive. For successful transition to occur, many important decisions must be made in regards to school, work, finances, relationships, etc. When parents, schools, and the community work together, the student is more likely to succeed. Over time, the absent, disengaged, or reluctant parent relies on the camaraderie they share with the parent mentor to trust and then become an active participate in their child’s transition through school and into a successful post-school environment. In the end, the entire team wins as OUR students become productive and contributing members of society.
Kim Chester, Bartow County Parent Mentor