Enhancing Parent Involvement
Increased involvement of parents and families often is cited as one of the most important ways to improve public schools. A variety of studies confirms that parent involvement makes an enormous impact on students' attitude, attendance, and academic achievement. Although some working and single parents may be unable to contribute to schools because of work commitments and time constraints, educators are discovering many additional ways that parents can help students and their schools. Some of these ways are dependent upon the school's desire to involve parents.
To effect change, parents must find time to participate in their children's education while schools must provide the supports necessary for them to be involved. The resulting partnerships between parents and teachers will increase student achievement and promote better cooperation between home and school. Together these efforts will connect families and schools to help children succeed in school and in their future.
As parents and families become more involved in the education of their children, everybody wins. Below are just a few examples of the benefits of enhanced family involvement:
As a result of increased involvement in their children's education, parents and families develop more confidence in the school. The teachers they work with have higher opinions of them as parents and higher expectations of their children, too. As a result, parents develop more confidence not only about helping their children learn at home, but about themselves as parents. Furthermore, when parents become involved in their children's education, they often enroll in continuing education to advance their own schooling.
Family and school benefit when they cooperate. Children feel that these two institutions--by far the most important in their lives--overlap and are integrated. Parents who help their children succeed academically gain a sense of pride in their children and themselves. Such parents are strong advocates for the district.
Traditionally, parent involvement in education has included home-based activities (such as helping with homework, encouraging children to read, and promoting school attendance) and school-based activities (such as attending PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, concerts, and other school events; helping to raise money for various school-improvement projects; and volunteering at school during the day).
The traditional kinds of family in involvement in education have been expanded to included six types of parent involvement in schools: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community. Each type of involvement is valuable, and each has an impact on students, teachers, and the parents themselves.
Some parents readily volunteer their time for the schools. Other parents are reluctant or unable to participate. Although getting parents involved in their children's schools is a great challenge for educators, research shows that educators can do a great deal to promote greater parent involvement. The Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning (1994) indicates that parents who receive frequent and positive messages from teachers tend to become more involved in their children's education than do other parents. Many parents respond to encouragement from educators. In fact, several studies have illustrated that the best predictor of parent involvement is was what the school did to promote it. School attitudes and actions are more important than parents' income, educational level, race, or previous school-volunteering experience in predicting whether the parent will be involved in the school.
School attitudes and actions toward parent involvement are largely influenced by administrators and teachers. Because leadership is critical, administrators may need special training to help them develop the skills needed to promote family-school partnerships. Don Davies, former U.S. Commissioner of Education and former president of the Institute for Responsive Education, states, "In any school...leadership is essential if a school staff is to choose the partnership approach to school reform.... In most cases, the leadership to reach out to the community will have to come from the principal."
Professional development and training in parent involvement could play an important role in helping all educators connect with parents. Educators and scholars alike agree on the necessary skills for working effectively with parents and families, but scholars also stress the importance of teachers involving parents in the curriculum.
Research has yielded considerable information regarding the sustained commitment and effort that make parent involvement successful. Not surprisingly, teachers and parents work together most effectively when both exhibit warmth, sensitivity, and a feeling of competence. Teacher-parent partnerships foster mutual support for teacher and parent roles, increase parent involvement in various school activities and improvement projects, and lead to positive growth for students. To promote such partnerships, the Family Involvement Partnership for Learning suggests that members of the school community develop a family-school compact for learning. Such a compact can capture the sustained effort required for successful partnerships.
For working parents, time constraints often prevent school involvement. Sixty-six percent of working parents indicate that they do not have enough time for their children (Families and Work Institute, 1994). Educators should make every attempt to plan school meetings, activities, and conferences at times when parents are available to attend. Employers need to be flexible with the work schedules of working parents and supportive of their efforts to be involved in their children's schools.
Some parents may have other reasons for not being involved with their children's schools. A growing number of parents do not speak or read English well enough to communicate with teachers and administrators. Because of cultural differences, many parents are not familiar with the expectations of their children's schools and don't understand how to go about getting involved, even if they want to. Some parents lack the educational background or skills they feel they need to interact with teachers and staff. For others, their own negative experiences as students make them uncomfortable going to the school.
The language barrier may be a problem for parents who do not speak English. One solution is to have a resource person--either a teacher or another parent--who can communicate with the parents in their first language. Another possible solution is to have children accompany their parents and act as translators at conferences and meetings.
Some parents lack the ability to read or are embarrassed about their lack of schooling. Educators should realize that not all parents are able to read newsletters, field trip forms, or homework assignments. They must not depend on the written word as the only form of communication with the home. Home visits, phone calls, one-on-one meetings, and other personalized contacts with parents are important.
Some parents are too distrustful of schools to help them educate their children. Three solutions have been prescribed to address this issue: get parents involved in special activities like P.T.A. and school outings, enlist them in regular school affairs as assistant teachers or library aides, and incorporate them on planning and management teams. Having parents interact with school professionals as colleagues and peers does a great deal to reduce the barriers between them. Empathy is critical in any program for disadvantaged parents.
Teachers who feel overburdened with their teaching load may not have the time to reach out to parents. They need to be given the necessary time to contact and meet with parents. To coordinate parent-teacher meetings and develop parent-involvement programs, the school may designate a parent liaison or home-school coordinator.
It is important for schools to offer different forms of parent involvement; no one form of involvement is necessarily right for every family. Educators and parents should aim to increase the percentage of parents involved in at least some ways. Every school has at least some parents who are deeply involved; the key is to steadily increase this number.
Finally, teacher-parent conferences are ideal opportunities for suggesting and explaining simple home study activities. Teachers can follow up such conversations by sending home notes and photocopied materials.
Innovative and energetic teachers find ways to involve parents in education. Capable administrators can do that on a larger scale.
Implementation begins by making certain that all staff members understand the subject's importance. Administrators can hire staff sympathetic to parent involvement by discussing the topic in job interviews. In-service training and amended contract language can help to educate and convince tenured teachers. Simply asking or requiring teachers to schedule some of their parent conferences in the evening can make a big difference. Some districts hire a parent-school coordinator to work with faculty and parents to integrate school and home learning.
Administrators can also alert parents to home education's advantages. Newsletters and calendars offer simple and inexpensive vehicles. Some districts use more sophisticated media. Radio, television, posters, or fliers can convey short, catchy slogans on home education's importance, or they can speak to more particular topics. The Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, widely publicizes its teacher-parent conferences to encourage participation.
The DeKalb County School System in Georgia uses signed contracts to underscore how important parent involvement is. The contract, which is also signed by the student and teacher, commits the parent to talking about school daily, attending teacher-parent conferences, monitoring television viewing, and encouraging good study habits. In turn, the teacher agrees to "provide motivating and interesting experiences in my classroom," explain the grading system, provide homework, and so forth. The district holds a signing day at the beginning of each year.
There are many ways to awaken and tap the special abilities and concerns that parents have in their children's education.