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3 Ways Teachers Engage Families in Classroom Life (and How You Can, Too)

A family member works with a student in the classroom

Ali Austerlitz is a former Pre-K teacher and current DonorsChoose.org Partnerships Director.As teachers, we rarely have the chance to watch one another in action, to learn from colleagues innovating in their classrooms. That’s why we’re excited to work with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create space for that collaboration. This past fall, we worked with the Gates Foundation to launch the Teaching and Learning Engaging Families innovation challenge, a call for educators’ very best ideas to connect parents with their students’ learning. Thirty judges from our teacher community rated every submitted project, and their frontline wisdom helped surface the most innovative, effective, and replicable concepts from three incredible educators.The best part? These three superstar teachers will now lead instructional webinars for the rest of us, helping educators across the country adapt and replicate their winning ideas in hundreds of different classroom environments.Our three teacher winners are:

Mr. Munoz | Germinating, Growing, and Cloning: A Family Botanical Experiment

My plan is to create a Parent-Child Botanist Club, where my students' family members will be given the challenge to create a replicable way of growing the best seeds while experimenting following the scientific method. Every week, I will teach the families through a lecture/lab after school focused on one aspect of the scientific method, beginning with asking a question all the way through analyzing the results and drawing conclusions. The process will lead to a culminating event- a Botanist Expo where the Parent-Child Botanist Teams present their findings and promote theirs as the best way to grow seeds. This project will allow the families of my students to share their botanical expertise while learning alongside their child in a school setting.Mr. Munoz cares deeply about his students’ personal backgrounds. When he learned that many of the families he works with have emigrated from countries where agriculture is a way of life, he created this project to align with their interests. He believes that other teachers can uncover parents’ passions and match them up with academic activities.

Mrs. Livingston | Bringing Families Together with Books and More!

Students will each get to take home two copies of a book to share and read with their families. Once they have finished reading the book, the student will then turn in a brief synopsis of what they have read to redeem their movie and a bag of popcorn. Students can then go home and enjoy the movie with their parents. After the family has watched the movie, they will work together to create a project of their choice to compare the book to the movie. The best part is, once they finish one book, they can check out another set and continue this all year long!Mrs. Livingston believes movies are a great way to effectively engage both students and families, in the comfort of their own homes. And the act of comparing texts to film adaptations gets at a key higher order learning skill, one that is easily transferable to other subject areas.

Ms. McGaha | Literacy Comes Home!

Every month a teacher and assistant will visit each child's home and bring them a new book to add to their bookshelf; as well as engage families in a literacy skill lesson. Teachers will plan to spend about 20 minutes per home, and read the story with students and their families. By the end of the school year, each family will have 10 new books, and 10 home reading sessions with their Teacher.When Ms. McGaha learned that many of her students’ families could not afford key learning resources and needed her staff’s help understanding how to best use such learning tools, she started her home visits program. She is eager to work with other teachers to dream up how they, too, could draw families in by meeting them where they live, literally.Congratulations to our three teacher winners! Tune in for the webinars of these three teacher leaders. Teachers who attend these trainings will receive a $45 DonorsChoose.org gift code and be eligible for matched donations from the Gates Foundation when they create projects based on the winning ideas. Here's how to sign up:

  1. Sign up for a free WebEx account. Use "DonorsChoose.org" as your company name if you do not wish to use your school name.
  2. Confirm your account by following the link in your email.
  3. Click on the link below for the webinar that you'd like to attend.
  4. Select "Yes" when a pop-up asks you if you'd like to attend. You'll also be given the option to receive an email reminder for the webinar.

Joel’s Webinar: A Family Botanical ExperimentTue. 3/14&Mon. 3/20 @ 3pm ESTJessica’s Webinar: Literacy Comes HomeWed. 3/15&Wed. 3/22 @ 5pm ESTKelly’s Webinar: Bringing Families TogetherThu. 3/16&Thu. 3/23 @ 5pm EST

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