do they just play or do they learn to
read? Teachers responded with a three-day kindergarten orientation for parents
at which they gave parents learning
materials and showed them how to
support reading at home. An astounding
95 percent of families came.
Pushing For Pride
in Student Work
Renata Lantos, principal at Bielefield
Elementary School in Middletown, also
had students’ reading on her mind.
Bielefield’s attendance zone is the largest
in the Middletown district, and more
than one-half of its students are from
low-income families. Although reading
achievement is now improving steadily,
at the time of compact creation, it was
below average for the state.
After attending the Compact Conference, Lantos realized she and her staff
had to revise their compact, which consisted of general compliance statements.
Two teachers developed a presentation
for families that explained the schools’
reading goals. They linked practical
strategies for improving reading skills to
these goals and showed how these strategies could be outlined in the compact.
For example, Bielefield teachers now
assign each student books that fit that
student’s reading level. Teachers have
agreed to help students select “just-right
books” and provide parents with reading
materials connected to the books each
week; parents agree to ensure that their
children read regularly, encourage them
to share and use new vocabulary, and
use the materials the teacher sends home
to have “book talks.” Students agree
to read these books regularly, keep a
reading record, and build a list of new
words they learn.
During follow-up conversations, a
major issue came up: Students needed
to take more pride in their work. They
were handing in subpar work that
showed a lack of motivation. “The
whole building got involved,” recalls
Lantos. “Parents had great ideas, such as
focusing on ‘pride in work’ in the newsletter and exhibiting student projects.”
At each grade level, students discussed
what taking pride in your work means.
Teachers constructed a rubric that
pinpointed three levels of student effort
and time on task. Students described
the basic level as “No effort. I worked
way too quickly, and I didn’t reread
or revise my work. The paper is not
my best and neatest.” The top level is
“My best effort. I thought and tried my
hardest. I spent enough time to give my
brain quality time. I carefully reread and
revised my work.” Teachers sent the
rubric home, and parents signed off on
reading it. Parents agreed to regularly
review their children’s work and discuss
Tools for Engagement
The following books and websites
provide resources for engaging
families in students’ learning.
n Beyond the Bake Sale by Anne T.
Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian
Johnson, and Don Davies (The
New Press, 2007). See especially
n Connecticut State Department of
Education’s web page on compact
tools ( www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/
n Family Involvement Network of
Educators ( www.finenetwork.org).
n National Network of Partnership
Schools ( www.csos.jhu.edu/p2000/
ppp/ index.htm). See especially the
compilation of promising practices.
n San Diego Unified School
District’s website on family
engagement ( www.sandi.net/
with them the meaning of pride. During
parent-teacher conferences, teachers
refer to the rubric.
Lantos says the result has been a huge
improvement in student work: “Even
2nd graders get it, like the one who
wrote: ‘Now I know what quality work
looks like.’ ” All Bielefield students have
produced at least one “pride paper” that
meets the top-level criteria on the rubric.
Keys to Success
We have discovered practices that help
turn compacts into catalysts for action.
The most important thing is to create a
setting for parents and teachers to talk
about how to help the kids—and to get
to know one another. At Macdonough,
Romeo asked staff members to facilitate
meetings with families to ensure teacher
buy-in. The process went from a conversation between a self-selected group
of teachers and parents, to discussions
among many teachers, to one with
the entire parent teacher association.
Parent leaders who emerged went to
follow-up compact conferences, which
strengthened their capacity to engage
Continuing follow-up by the principal is important. Administrators
should affirm practices that teachers
are already doing—such as book drives
and trips to the library—and explicitly
link existing practices to the compact
and the school improvement plan. This
takes teachers’ actions beyond “random
acts of family engagement” and integrates them into a systematic plan for
improving achievement (Weiss, Lopez,
& Rosenberg, 2010).
Working with grade-level colleagues
inspires teachers. We found that developing compacts for each grade level
made a big difference. At M. D. Fox, the
literacy coaches facilitated grade-level
meetings and brainstormed specific
activities for teachers in each grade.
There is a striking difference between