When it comes to a student’s educational journey, complete with all its struggles and successes, it’s abundantly clear that no single person is wholly responsible. Teams of teachers, administrators, interventionists, and to no lesser degree, families, play a role in supporting and leading each student. However, the intentional inclusion of robust parent engagement has not always been the case. In the last two centuries, compulsory education has gradually led to a separation in communication between school and home. As the developed world incorporated education as a state-sponsored right, families fell into the role of fund raisers for extra needs. It’s only been in the last few decades that the role of parents in a student’s education has become a focus, and with good reason. Research shows that engaged parents lead to increased homework completion, higher attendance rates, fewer disciplinary issues, and overall better achievement, which is why “parent engagement” has become a popular buzzword in education. However, real engagement, or the personal act of supporting and participating in a student’s educational journey, is a fairly tricky task for schools to encourage or measure.
Because approximately 75-85% of a student’s waking hours are spent outside the classroom, communication between home and school is incredibly important. In addition, existing parent engagement may be obscured by busy schedules, cultural and language barriers, as well as socio-economic status or unwelcoming environments. What may look to be a lack of engagement, is actually a lack of visibility for the team inside the school. Zarate’s research on Latino parent engagement found, for example, that traditional forms of parent involvement like back-to-school nights or open houses lacked appeal and importance. While Latino parents may seem uninterested in those particular activities, Zarate’s findings lined up with research that found in some Hispanic cultures, teachers are viewed as experts. It may be that Latino parents defer decision making to teachers. What had been interpreted as lack of engagement is in fact a cultural difference and a lack of measurability. Our understanding of these complexities, and above all, our openness to difference is the biggest hurdle in creating a cohesive team of engaged parents and informed educators. Not only must existing engagement be acknowledged and encouraged, but further participation and support must be fostered. As we think about strengthening communication from school to home and vice versa, we must ask ourselves whether or not we are open to the variances in types of engagement from our communities.
Review strategies on increasing parent engagement by challenging the traditional perspectives on parent involvement. Gain perspective on navigating the spheres of parents’ influence on students’ learning and discover ways to support the student-teacher relationship to achieve your desired outcomes.
Collaboration is key. Although you have goals for your district, school, and classroom, work with parents to identify and establish goals that you’ll mutually work on with their child. An underlying theory of successful school-community partnerships is that schools should not operate separately from families and communities but instead they should function as collaborative partnerships.
What passes for adequate parent engagement is most often based on a standard set by the school district. An engaged parent is often defined as a parent who attends parent meetings, signs permission slips on time, and generally refrains from questioning the status quo of the district. While that may sound like an ideal scenario to some educators, the reality is that effective parent engagement incorporates parents’ roles in shaping a child’s concept of herself as a learner. This includes setting high expectations for a child, displaying enthusiasm, encouraging productive study habits, and having a seat at the table regarding educational decisions on campus- all components that are difficult or impossible to measure, but must be encouraged by the school in order to see benefits.
In order for educators and parents to be on the same page with how to best support the child in these ways, they have to be able to communicate easily and directly. It is imperative that communication between home and school be two-way to best facilitate productive conversations. Barriers like scheduling for on-campus meetings or sharing educators personal after-hours information can hinder the free flow of information that needs to happen in order to fully support real engagement.
There is no one-size-fits-all process to make that happen because each school district is made up of a unique set of challenges. Whether that be a large immigrant population, a military base, or a rural, tech-scarce environment, every district struggles in its own way. The good news is that quality communication and lasting relationships are possible for everyone if our leaders in education will be open to input from all stakeholders.
The relationship between your school district and the parent community often seems to hinge on big events such as the success of your football team or the opening of your brand new state-of-the-art makerspace.
“It is the one-on-one positive communication with parents that creates lasting buy-in. When parents can truly be a part of the conversation surrounding the success of their child, support for the district is a natural byproduct.”
Ultimately, a healthy relationship is not forged in expensive initiatives, but rather in creating meaningful conversations between teachers, principals, administrators and parents. This guide helps assess the health of your school district’s parent communication and offers strategies on how to remove barriers to create more meaningful relationships in your community.