Getting Parents through the Door: Parent Engagement That Works
In the last few years we’ve seen the importance of parent Involvement emphasized in relevant literature and law. Schools have realized that they cannot do it alone and that parent-school partnerships result in the best outcomes for student learning. But just what is parent involvement? Educators may be surprised to find that parents and teachers often have very different views on just what parent involvement entails. Iv’e written before about how I often hear teachers say that they lack parental support for their English Learners. Upon closer investigation however, what they really mean is they lack academic parental support. This distinction is important because it speaks to the expectations we hold about the roles that parents and teachers each play in educating students.
The Center for Public Education breaks parent involvement into six categories: parenting, communicating, decision-making, learning at home, volunteering, and collaboration. For many EL parents, parenting represents their view of parent involvement. They, as the parents, make sure their children are fed, get a good night’s sleep, arrive at school on time and behave while there. These things represent their fundamental roles, while they leave formal education to the experts. Often my EL parents’ first question during teacher-parent meetings was about the child’s behavior, while the second question was about academics. EL parents may not consider education their primary role. They may be deterred from taking a driving role in their child’s education by a lack formal education, lack of advanced English language abilities, or simply a of lack confidence.
Yet many teachers’ views of parental involvement fall on the far other end of the spectrum- volunteering. They expect to see parents in the school building and to actively participate in helping students master learning standards. Take it from a parent’s perspective however; a parent who works a minimum wage job makes much less than the average teaching professional. Volunteering during the school day may mean having to find transportation and child care, or even taking time off work. Why would a parent in this situation lose a day’s pay to go do the job of a person who makes more money than they do? You can see how some parents might be incredulous at the very idea.
So does that mean parents should not be expected to participate in their child’s learning? Of course not. But it does mean teachers should recognize their expectations may not align with parents, and that parents may be contributing in the only ways they know how. If we as teachers want parents to be partners in education, then we must first engage them. Getting them in the school building is often the first step. Once parents are in the building we can educate them in the myriad of ways they can support their children and empower them to take ownership of their children’s learning.
Back to school: How parent involvement affects student achievement, Center for Public Education
How do we get parents in the door? One of the three most effective ways, in my experience, are a performance in which their child participates, inexpensive or free access to food, and family-friendly events that include other members of the family.
- Performance: Parents will often come to school to see their children perform. If you have any doubt of this, check the parent attendance at your school’s sporting events. Even if children are only playing a small role, such as sharing a poem to parents in the classroom, parents will often come to see their child in the spotlight. You can leverage this by making your classroom an art exhibit, placing students on the evening’s agenda, getting students excited ahead of time, and/or collaborating with other specialists (art, music, band, PE, coaches), to incorporate student’s skills into a parent evening.
- Inexpensive or Free Food: At some schools PTAs can cover the cost of providing families a meal, at others schools partner with community groups, churches, synagogues, mosques and/or write grants to provide a meal or treat. This is not just a matter of economics, but also convenience for families who don’t have to rush home to feed everyone before returning for the evening. Consider your families’ tastes and preferences which may be culturally specific. Think about surveying parents and students to find out what they like to eat.
- Family-friendly Events: One way to ensure parental involvement is to be open to the whole family. This can mean providing childcare for younger siblings so that parents can focus during a PTA meeting, or incorporating activities the whole family can enjoy. Curriculum nights are a great time to get the whole family learning together by asking older siblings to act as helpers and planning adapted activities for younger siblings.
Once we have parents in the building, we can begin the process of engaging them by building strong relationships, educating them about additional roles they can play, and empowering them to make crucial decisions about their child’s education.
Want more? Check out this article Why Is Parent Engagement So Hard?