Five Ways to Rethink Parent Involvement
Parent involvement is not what it used to be. Once upon a time, so the story goes, parents did little more than shoo their children out the door to the neighborhood school around the corner. After the kids were gone, the parents did grown-up things like heading to the office or cleaning up the house until the afternoon bell rang and the kids trooped home from school. School and home were separate realms, and parents often didn’t move between the two.
Of course, this has all changed. In the era of emails, cell phones and texting—not to mention school websites and Facebook pages—parents expect to be kept up to date on what their children do during the school day. Also, with greater homework expectations and a broader understanding of how it "takes a village" to see a child through to his or her high school graduation, parents are often expected to be fully engaged participants in their kids’ education.
So what does parent involvement look like today? Beyond bake sales and signatures on field trip and homework forms, parent involvement can be as complex as a school leadership role or as fundamental as being seen and heard at school. Read on for a shortlist of different aspects of modern parent involvement.
Many schools today operate with a school or site council run by parents, staff, and administrators. These councils can help guide the school toward its academic and community goals by setting budget priorities, weighing in on curriculum decisions, and acting as a resource for the broader parent community. In Chicago, for example, Local School Councils have existed for nearly thirty years as a form of school governance. As council participants, parents can help select a school’s principal and learn how to advocate for all schools at the state level.
Schools or districts should not assume that parents know how to comfortably lend a hand at their child’s school; instead, many researchers recommend that schools invest in training parents on key "involvement" skill sets. The Illinois-based Parent and Educator Partnership group, which advocates for improved family and school relationships, advises school leaders that "well-designed parent leadership programs" will often include hands-on training related to such contemporary school concerns as data analysis and program evaluation.
Many children today live in multigenerational family units, enriched by the presence of uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. Rather than limiting parent involvement to mom or dad, many school districts are branching out and making efforts to include additional family or community members. The program Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song, run by recording artist Larry Long, recognizes this by having school children interview significant elders in their families and compose an original song to honor the elders’ stories. Families then come together at school to share a meal and listen to the stories and songs abundant in their community.
Bringing involvement home
Most contemporary teachers and experts celebrate the idea that parents and family members are a child’s first teachers. One way to more fully acknowledge this is illustrated by the California-based Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project. This program offers a model of parent involvement that reaches beyond the schoolhouse door and into the homes of students and families. The goal, according to the project’s website, is to boost communication, trust, and student achievement rates by arranging voluntary home visits between teachers and families.
Don’t forget about high school
Parent involvement matters at the high school level, too. Montgomery, Alabama, high school teacher Foster Dickson operates on the assumption that all parents want to be involved in students’ education. Dickson sends a letter home to parents on the first day of school, letting them know how they can get in touch with him and asking how he can most effectively contact them. Foster’s approach is highlighted on the Teaching Tolerance website, and offers a reminder that parents and family members are still an important source of support for adolescent students.
Parent involvement today is about much more than simple classroom help and making sure kids get to school on time. Educators and school districts also have many additional ways to tap into the strengths of their students’ families, with an eye toward making school a welcoming, successful learning environment.
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