Inspiring Parent Involvement

Following a scheduled school-wide parent-teacher conference night, administrators will not be surprised to hear their teachers comment about low attendance. Oftentimes teachers remark about how the parents they really need to see are the ones who avoid the event. Schools nationwide face the dilemma of how to encourage parent involvement. A teacher's influence upon a student can only go so far with no support from the student's home. Understanding why parents avoid supporting school initiatives is key to bolstering the relationship between a school and the families they serve.

Most schools build their programs with the assumption that the students they serve come from a home with "legitimate parents," meaning at home, the parents understand and support the school's purpose and goals. In the same way, schools customarily use two-parent families for the model when building plans for family involvement. Along with this narrow-minded viewpoint, "the institutional perspective holds that children who do not succeed in school have parents who do not get involved in school activities or support school goals at home" (Finders and Lewis). With increasing diversity among the student body, schools have a duty to know those they are serving. With this comes the responsibility of understanding the parents' points-of-view.

As it turns out, most parents value knowledge and want their children to have an education. The problems prohibiting parent involvement tend to be social, economic, linguistic, and cultural. It may come as a surprise to teachers that some parents fail to trust the school system because of what it did to them. Even if a parent attended a school other than the child's school, the unpleasant school experience transcends the school walls and permeates throughout the entire educational experience.

Since parents were in school some time ago, course offerings and standards have evolved. Even if a parent had good grades in school, he or she may not have been required to learn the rigorous content expected of today's student. Parents who feel deficient in the material to be covered may try to mask their shortcomings by refusing to engage with teachers or even their children. Parents who genuinely want to assist their children with homework difficulty may find inadequate directions. Sending home clear instructions to parents is not the normal procedure for teachers. A lack of literacy skills may exacerbate the problem, even when a language barrier does not exist.

Time constraints and financial restraints are commonly thought of as predominating factors in determining the level of involvement a parent has with a child's school. Educators understand that parents have to work. They know that not everyone works under a flexible absence policy. Many times schools try to accommodate parents' busy schedules by arranging for early or late meetings. While this allows some the flexibility they need, others must juggle transportation issues or arrange for childcare during the time of the meeting. No single plan can prevent all the potential complications.

Cultural practices could possibly prevent a parent's involvement in his or her child's education. Some believe that it is the responsibility of the child to care for himself or herself. The cultural beliefs may hold the viewpoint that one must be independent from parents in order to be successful in life. These mindsets may not be changed, but if a school works to offer a variety of opportunities for involvement, something may appeal to those who fit into such a situation.

One of the best practices used by teachers to encourage parent involvement is to build trust. Teachers who write class letters informing parents of classroom news and teachers who phone or schedule meetings to introduce themselves have great potential for fostering a personal relationship with their students' parents. Building trust is essential in stimulating a parent's desire to become actively involved in his or her child's education.

Another easy way to increase parent support at school is to clarify what their participation will entail. A lot of times, parents are aware that a school needs help in an endeavor or a school needs attendees for conferences or back-to-school-nights. Many parents think that they will have to fit a certain mold in order to lend a hand or act as a key supporter in a child's education. Providing parents with podcasts and/or videos that show what an experience will be like is recommended. Even by watching a video alone, parents are being provided opportunities to know the school in a welcoming way (Parent Engagement). Similarly, meeting school staff at a location off of school property may be conducive for some.

Schools and parents can become staunch supporters for each other. Schools must realize that not all parents are experts in the field of parenting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends schools offer parents access to seminars on the following: understanding child and adolescent development, monitoring children's daily activities, and setting expectations for appropriate healthy behavior and academic performance. In turn, schools could benefit from parent involvement through volunteerism. Parents should be encouraged to volunteer in school buildings. They can work as mentors, coaching assistants, monitors, chaperones, and tutors.

When schools understand why parents are not supporting teachers' endeavors to educate their children, then schools will be better able to address the problems. Creative solutions exist. Understanding the reason for lack of involvement can help schools to better reach their diverse population.