Getting Parents Involved

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Parents getting involvedWhen it comes to parent involvement, too many educators love to play the blame game. And if they’re not carping, they’re probably emitting hot air. It’s fundamentally arrogant, based on the assumption that parents don’t get it.

Here’s the pattern I’ve observed: Schools and districts appoint committees and task forces to organize parents or to study the issue.  Some schools make parents sign contracts promising to come to meetings. Some set up classes for parents to teach them how to be involved in their children’s education. Perhaps they change policies so that parent teacher meetings can be held at more convenient times. They might even provide baby-sitting services at ‘back to school’ night.

If schools began involving parents at the most basic levels in the early grades, things would be different. And not with high-falutin’ pedagogical concepts and principles–but with real stuff.

Here are a few simple examples: 2nd grade teachers could tell the kids to write five sentences about your Mom’s favorite food (or your Grandmother’s).  What happens next?  Duh, the kid gets the parent involved.

The next week’s assignment: Interview your parent or grandparent about her favorite colors. Find out why.  What are your own favorite colors? Why?

And so on, every week.

Make it a bit more complex in 3rd grade. Those teachers could regularly assign homework that requires the child to write about his/her parents or grandparents.

Week one: interview your mother and write a paragraph about the first movie she remembers seeing.

Math can be part of this as well. Go shopping with an adult and compare the prices of several products in different stores.  Do the math.  Ask an adult how much a movie cost back when she was a kid. What’s the difference between that price and the cost of a ticket today?  Compare other items. Do the math, and then report to the class.

Week two: interview your father or grandfather and write a paragraph about the first house or apartment he lived in.   Ask an adult how much he or she earned per hour in their first job. Do the math to figure out how much that would come to over a year.

Week three: ask your mother or father what their secret dream was growing up. Write a paragraph about that, and about your own secret dream.

You can bet that the parents and grandparents would want to see the homework, probably before it’s turned in, and certainly afterwards to see what the teacher wrote about it.

And so on …..  These sample topics can be much more imaginative, of course, and the tasks for kids in the higher grades would be more complex, but you get the idea.

Soon ‘parent involvement’ would be in the fabric of the curriculum, and most parents would be intimately involved in their children’s day-to-day schooling. Educators would have to find something else to complain about.

21 thoughts on “Getting Parents Involved

  1. The tone of this is so offensive! A lack of parental interest in some communities is a real problem. Dismissing it out-of-hand is outrageous.


  2. If teachers are not complaining about lack of involvement they are complaining about too much interest in their kids, and calling parents cute little names like helicopter parents (they always hover around).


  3. Yes, the tone is offensive, but the idea is good and simple. It would work, and would help to build community, conversation, vocabulary, social skills and family homework support habits. For many parents, it would make them feel more comfortable with what could be an intimidating school building. As an urban educator, I find this especially true for my families that are new to the community or who have immigrated from other countries and whose first language may not be English.


  4. I think that this article is right on the money. It is one way of making parents an integral part of planning, preparing and implementing curriculum. Refreshing to see it described in such easy to understand examples. I am passing this on.


  5. You need to remember that teachers are also parents, so when do those teaching parents get time to spend with their own families if they are continually coming up with new ideas to involve the under- or uninvolved parent? And really — one more thing to add to a teacher’s days and planning — you’ve got to be kidding. The ideas here sound great, but I am unconvinced that this will affect parent involvement as much as you think it will, particularly as the child moves through middle and high school. Typically, the parents who are involved generally have students who are successful and one seems to feed the other (a chicken-egg thing). We so seldom get to see or even find a reliable way to have any contact parents of teens. I make numerous attempts each year to involve parents by having them respond to students’ projects or writings and offer the students bonus points for the response. You’d be surprised how few parents are willing to take the time to write a two or three sentence response. Of course, it could be that there is so little real communication between the parent and child that the parent isn’t even told about it. Even so, to expect the school system to be able to effectively repair dysfunctional families is simply unrealistic and unfair.


  6. I sense that you are making an assumption here that teachers know what to tell parents to do that would be truly helpful. In my experience, working thousands of teachers in hundreds of schools across the country, this is not true. What teachers tell parents to do is make sure kids get their homework done. But that homework is often inane and useless. We know from research that our teachers are woefully under-trained. It makes sense to assume, then, that their communications with parents are only as good as their teaching — which, by all accounts and my own hundreds of observataions — isn’t good enough. Parent/Teacher communication has a fundamental problem: teachers aren’t good communicators. It makes no difference how early they start communicating. Content matters more than timing.


  7. Two of my colleagues in the Teacher Leaders Network — Renee Moore and Larry Ferlazzo — recently wrote about parent involvement (vs. parent engagement) at the Public School Insights blog sponsored by the Learning First Alliance. I thought their views, one urban and one rural, were refreshing. And they’re teachers.


  8. John, REALLY? Carping? Hot air? Arrogant? Love to play the blame game? Your wonderfully creative and practical suggestions for family engagement are diminished by your presumption that teachers don’t know how to or don’t want to involve families. As we spend increasing portions of our time, effort, energy, and resources PARENTING other people’s children rather than EDUCATING them (the latter being dependent on the former)your tone is way off the mark. John, you know better.


  9. You’ve raised an important issue, John, and I appreciate your curriculum ideas.

    Schools do want parental involvement, but they understandably tend to think first on how to get parents to help the school by volunteering, chaperoning, fundraising, joining committees, passing tax proposals. All valuable to the school, but as the research shows, having little impact on achievement.

    But some of us have learned this the hard way and are trying to turn the old model upside down. At nonprofits like ours,, we’re helping parents (and schools) focus on the steps that do predict success.


  10. My criticism is directed at administrators and principals who are enablers, who set up task forces or create parent advisory groups. Most teachers know that parents are a child’s principal educators but they may need to be steered TOWARD creating homework that requires parents, grandparents and guardians to be involved because their lives are the subjects. (And if you read my blog last week about cheating, imagine if my teacher had told us to have our parents read our poems before we turned them in. I wouldn’t have been able to cheat!)


  11. Some excellent and specific ideas. But at times you are too hard on educators who have great plans but still cannot get parents involved, then the parents complain when poor Johnny seems lost==or parents blame schools for problems which parents made. They expect schools to be babysitter before and after school, feed breakfast, psychoanalyze–and oh yes, teach THE BASICS all for $1.98 with no tax rate change. I am not getting more conservative– just more realistic.


  12. At Parents for Public Schools, we work to engage parents with their public schools and help them find their voice in the arena of policy and governance. We provide training to help them understand the organization of schools and districts and where the entry points are for them. Rather than blaming either educators or parents for lack of involvement and engagement of parents, we should work to help both groups understand the benefits if parents are full partners with their schools. I do agree that there is a big difference between involvement and engagement. Different parents, for many reasons, will be at different places on that journey. As a former elected school board member in Texas, I worked with parents of many cultures who often did not understand how or that they could be involved/engaged. This is one of the places where the real work lies in American schools today. Blaming anyone and creating the enemy is the last possible way we will ever engage more parents. My hat’s off to our public school teachers who would love nothing more than to have parents as partners in meaningful ways. And I have yet to meet parents who don’t love their children and want the best for them. We need to find ways to elevate this dialogue and make sure it remains in a prominent place in our national public education diaglogue.


  13. Fantastic ideas. Research tells us that other than effective instruction, parent involvement can have the biggest impact on student achievement. Further, the most effective type of parent involvement is the type that occurs at home. These are great strategies for including parents in what their kids are doing in the classroom. As the director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center, I have found that parents want to be involved and often teachers want to involve them, but nobody is sure of what to do. Concrete strategies are just what they need!


  14. As is usual in such a complex issue, there are not black and whites, no sides, no them and us. That’s where our difficulty starts. Parent involvement as Dr. Joyce Epstein (one of the leading researchers in parent involvement that leads to student achievement: defines it in much broader terms.

    The secret to parent involvement begins with relationship and acknowledging the parent as a true partner. That’s difficult within the “institution” of schools today. And many teachers have difficulty taking off the “defensive” hat when they may feel their job is on the line and instead putting the child and genuine interest in their success first. The same goes for the parent. If we can move from conflict over an issue to common ground over the child, we have a start. My experience in 12 years of marrying parent involvement and literacy is not that parents aren’t interested in being involved. It is that they need practical, in the real world and within their empowerment window ideas on how to contribute. Their role isn’t the same as the teacher’s and visa vera. But if both bring to the table a primary interest in the child (instead of themselves) and a genuine appreciation for the other’s role, it will happen.

    Although I like the idea of sending things home to get parents involved, without a relationship, for some families, that’s not likely to occur. That’s where it has to start.


  15. I think it is obvious you have not been a teacher in many years. If involving parents were as simplistic as you make it, there would never be a problem. You need to get back to school to understand the reality of dealing with divorced parents that never communicate and can’t be in the same room together. Nor have you dealt with parents who think their child would never lie. There is so much more to consider.


  16. At my grandson’s elementary school we are so involved it’s ridiculous. Sometimes too much is too much! We supervise and sign homework every night, once a week we do a reading response together, have projects due once a month, picnics, field days, wellness days, open houses, etc….. Yes, involved. But our family sometimes wants time to be a family, not gather ’round the schoolwork. Let’s see balance.


  17. John, it is great to read your ideas about parent involvement. I found them practical and useful Some of the negative comments reinforce what you said about “the blame game,” After decades of work in this field I am delightewd to see how much interest there is in the topic, how useful the Web is, and that you are still making a visible and useful contribution nationally. Keep it up. Much needs to be done to persuade many more school administrators to get serious about establishing real partnerships with their parents and the community
    organizaqtions and agencies that can help their students and their parents.


  18. I’m trying to get concerned teachers and parents to pay attention to what schools are using to disinfect for H1N1. Many don’t realize that cleaning supplies are often more hazardous than the H1N1virus itself. Even bleach, because it has to be diluted properly (and usually isn’t) can be dangerous when incorrectly used. Here are some resources to help parents determine what their schools are using, and what they should be using: H1N1 in Schools and Environmental Working Group Report on Schools


  19. It always seems in forums aimed at educators that there is always so much hostility from teachers. It seems they have lost all passion for the gift of teaching and have become all wraped up in how much money they are getting for how little they can work. Teachers here in California are so angry all the time in regards to parents and students. That negative energy only helps to discourage envolvment from both. Just as teachers are now so restricted in what they can bring to the classroom, so are the parents. We are a world of restrictions due to lawsuits..can the system not get its due blame instead of teachers and parents? Both are pointing fingers when they should be partners in educating the youth of today to allow for positivity in the future. I am a parent of 4 and future teacher myself.


  20. In my country, things are worse especially in public schools. We rarely get any visits from parents of our students. They seem consumed by their struggle for earning their living. They leave it all up to teachers because the majority have lost control over their kids. Some parents bring other teachers home to take any responsibility off their shoulders.


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