Increasing Parent Involvement
Since parent involvement relates positively to student achievement, parents are encouraged to participate in their children's education in a variety of ways both at home and in school. At home they are asked to read with their child, provide a quiet place for homework, supervise assignments, monitor television and internet use, and promote school attendance. Schools request that parents attend Parent-Teacher Association meetings, "open houses" as well as academic, art, drama, and athletic events. Parents are invited to volunteer in classrooms, serve on advisory committees, and support fund raising for special projects. Yet, many parents do not participate.
Educators should not assume that if parents or guardians are uninvolved, they are disinterested. There are many reasons why parents do not become active in school life:
- Too little time/work schedule/single-parenthood
- Lack of resources/transportation/child care
- Language barrier/cultural isolation
- Social isolation/low educational level
- Not knowing how to contribute
- Feeling overwhelmed, intimidated or unwelcome
These barriers need to be considered and overcome if schools are to promote parent participation.
What are some of the actions school officials can take to increase parent involvement?
- Staff Training
Training on being positive during conferences, home visits, phone calls and other parent interaction fosters participation. When educators are considerate and sensitive to a parent's ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, communication and cooperation can occur. Parents need to hear that their involvement will increase their child's academic performance and that there are no educational requirements for participation. Listening to parent's concerns about their child and/or their thoughts and ideas on ways the school could improve demonstrates concern and interest. If parents feel welcome, useful, and respected, they will respond.
Provide a parent handbook of clear, practical information including rules, procedures, and specific ways parents can be involved in the school. If many parents speak a language other than English, have the handbook printed in both languages. Notes and newsletters are an important way to keep parents informed; however, phone calls, one-to-one meetings and home visits will enhance support.
- Time and Location
The area served by the school needs to be taken into consideration when planning parent involvement. Being flexible with the time of day and location of meetings and activities will allow all parents to take part at least occasionally. Consider meeting in community centers, apartment buildings or other facilities located near where families live. Try to schedule special events that will not conflict with other school or community activities.
- Parent Conferences
When parent conferences are scheduled, offer an interpreter if needed, or if appropriate, have their child act as an interpreter. Make sure you begin with a positive, encouraging comment about the child (see Guidelines for Parent Conferences Concerning Angry Children). At the conclusion of the conference, ask each parent to complete a survey form that includes questions about his or her occupation, hobbies, talents, interests, and work schedule that will assist in future scheduling. Provide space where parents can write concerns and/or their specific needs. If completion of the form appears to be difficult for the parents, an interview may be necessary. Collect the forms, and if possible, address their concerns before they leave.
- Child Care and Transportation
Whenever possible provide childcare and transportation so that the majority of parents can be included in various conferences, meetings, and activities.
Invite parents to provide classroom enrichment activities such as discussing their occupation, hobby, or talent. They may also provide art, music, or a cultural awareness program. Ask them to assist as a helper or tutor, accompany field trips, or perform a variety of routine administrative duties such as answering the phone, helping in the library, or keeping other parents informed.
- Parent Room or Resource Center
Establish a comfortable place in each school where parents feel welcome to come with their young children to learn or work on school projects with other parents. These are often staffed by a parent advocate or family resource coordinator who links families with schools and community services such as medical treatment, child care, job training, mental health facilities, shelters, food stamps, parenting classes, literacy programs, libraries, English language classes, emergency assistance, clothing, or school supplies.
Share school facilities with other agencies such as Parks and Recreation to offer children's after-school programs, as well as adult computer, language and other training classes. Family recreation opportunities could be offered in the evening or on weekends.
- Parent Training
Sponsor workshops to improve parenting skills. Provide childcare, food or other incentives. Stress the importance of modeling positive behaviors and ways to help children learn at home. In addition, recruit parent leaders who are representative of the student population to attend conferences and training. Promote parent involvement in advisory councils or committees that plan together and make decisions regarding school policies.
Parents differ greatly regarding their preferences, capabilities and time available; therefore, schools must offer a variety of ways parents can become involved. Helping parents feel they are valuable partners in their children's education takes time and effort, but the results will be better home-school cooperation and increased student success.
(Also see "Inviting Parent Involvement through Survey Forms" and "Ten Ways to Involve Fathers in Their Children's Education" under Teacher Ideas at www.kellybear.com.)