Engaging Parents in School Wellness: Communication Is Key

March 26, 2014

Three tips to communicate with parents about school health issues

Last fall, HSC and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) developed a toolkit to help principals engage parents in promoting wellness. At the heart of HSC’s work in Chicago is our effort to engage stakeholders — parents, teachers, students, principals and others — in creating healthier school environments. HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development program engages teachers and principals in making their classrooms and schools vibrant places that support healthy students in the classroom, in the hallways, in the cafeteria and beyond. Building on HSC’s expertise in creating healthy school environments, this blog highlights the importance of good parent-school communication.

When parents and schools communicate clearly and consistently about students’ health, students always win. Parents know and love their children best, and schools have resources that ensure that students are healthy and ready to learn. But communication between home and school isn’t always easy.

A few important tips for schools include :

  • Start healthy conversations. Make parents feel comfortable and welcomed every time they step into the building. Encourage conversations about their children’s health and about how parents can support a healthier school environment. Beyond creating a friendly atmosphere, make sure parents know that healthy students are better learners. Integrate this idea into common interactions between educators and parents, such as parent-teacher conferences, open houses and other school-based community activities. Reiterate this healthy message in printed materials such as the school mission statement, newsletter, website, student report card and more.

  • Plan ahead. Throughout the year, be deliberate about communicating to parents that healthy students are better learners. Create a communication calendar and note where to integrate wellness messages. For example, as part of the back-to-school days, inform parents about the required wellness policies, especially the expectations for classroom celebrations and rewards. Remember to inform parents about upcoming and regularly scheduled wellness activities, such as workshops, wellness team meetings and health screenings.

  • Seek feedback. Ask parents what types of wellness activities interest them and what resources they need to get involved. By providing opportunities for feedback, schools can maintain vibrant lines of communication between educators and parents. Plus, parents will feel their concerns are taken seriously.

It’s important to build a school culture that works thoughtfully and deliberately to form respectful, reciprocal relationships with families. Great things happen when schools and parents work together. For example, at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Chicago, Principal Michael Heidkamp praises parents for their ongoing efforts to support students’ health. He says: “Our parents have carried the banner for health and wellness through multiple administrations over several years.” Heidkamp also said the school’s parent wellness team was the driving force behind the school being awarded “Gold” status by the HealthierUS School Challenge.

Heidkamp serves on the Principal Advisory committee of HSC’s Fit to Learn program, a professional development program led by principals for principals. The Principal Advisory Committee is composed of principals with successful track records of championing health and wellness in their schools. It touts the power of school-family relationships in moving the needle on wellness.

Despite many principals nationwide making parent engagement a priority, there’s still more work to be done — and with good reason. Research shows again and again that healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school, and to be engaged and ready to learn. By prioritizing clear, consistent and welcoming communication with parents, schools can support student health at home and at school.

Learn more:

  • Strategies on parent engagement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn how parent engagement acts as a “protective factor” against unhealthy behaviors.

  • This chapter of the Chicago Public Schools’ EngageWELL school wellness toolkit focuses on parent engagement, and was produced by the Chicago Public Schools Office of Student Health and Wellness in partnership with HSC.

Read the rest of HSC’s parent engagement blog series, here!

Made possible [in part] by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Grant Number: 1H75DP004181-01) to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of Student Health and Wellness, Healthy CPS. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions and official policies of CPS or CDC.