$2 million grant will help at-risk students through parent-teacher partnerships

September 7, 2021
Story contact: Brian Consiglio, 573-882-9144, consigliob@missouri.edu  

One of the most challenging parts of teaching for early-career educators is managing disruptive or poor-performing students in the classroom. Due to a lack of direct training, communicating with parents of struggling students can add to the stress.

Now, as part of a four-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, researchers at the University of Missouri will help mid-Missouri teachers effectively engage and collaborate with parents to ultimately improve student academic and behavioral outcomes.

“We know from decades of research that when parents are actively engaged and involved in their child’s education, it tends to help the child across the board, whether it’s academically, behaviorally or developmentally,” said Tyler Smith, a senior research associate for the Missouri Prevention Science Institute and a staff member in the College of Education and Human Development. “When families and schools are on the same page, students tend to perform better, but many teachers don’t receive direct training on how to effectively engage parents, so this grant helps fill that void.”

Smith and his research team will provide training to elementary school teachers in Jefferson City Public Schools and Fulton Public Schools on topics such as parent involvement and family engagement. The collaboration will help create both class-wide parent engagement communications plans and interventions tailored for at-risk students and their families.

“If a student is struggling academically or constantly getting in trouble in the classroom, and that is the first time all year the teacher reaches out to the parents, that can be a stressful and tense introductory discussion,” Smith said. “Starting the school year out on the right foot, whether it is hosting an open house for parents in the classroom or parent-teacher conferences, will set clear expectations and encourage brief, positive interactions that make a world of difference.”

Smith added that teachers can increase family engagement by sending materials home to parents that support what is being taught in class, encouraging parents to read to their children at home, monitoring their student’s homework completion and assisting them in setting academic goals.

This is a photo of Tyler Smith.

Tyler Smith is a senior research associate for the Missouri Prevention Science Institute and a staff member in the College of Education and Human Development.

“We know from previous research that parents play a huge role in supporting their children’s education and development,” Smith said. “If a child is struggling behaviorally or academically, there might be something going on at home that the teacher is unaware of, so just communicating more often and being on the same page can prevent minor problems from turning into major ones.”

With students returning to the classroom this fall, Smith explained that teachers may feel overwhelmed at times but ultimately have their students’ best interests at heart.

“It’s important to remember that often the two most supportive pieces in a young child’s life are their parents and teachers, and that is why I am so passionate about working with families and schools,” Smith said. “As a researcher, my overall goal is to support collaborative parent-teacher partnerships that improve student outcomes, and I am fortunate to be able to help out.”

Funding for the grant project is provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

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