Strong schools are linked to nurturing environments for both students and educators alike:
- A strong school environment consists of highly trained, highly motivated, highly collaborative teachers who provide an engaging and challenging educational experience for their students.
- A strong school has administrative leadership that supports the overall mission and works hard to create an atmosphere of safety and accountability.
- A strong school will include a caring counselor, a dedicated central office staff, countless numbers of hard-working support staff, and students who have aspirations of achieving great feats in life.
One factor less commonly associated with student success, however, is the role of the parent. Each day a student may enter the doors to a strong school, but without consistent parental involvement, that student will never be able to reach his or her full potential.
Does parental involvement really matter?
Simply stated, parental involvement makes a difference. In a 2002 report from the Southwest Educational Development Library, students with involved parents were more likely to attend class more regularly, earn higher grades, and exhibit better social skills. While this may not come as a surprise to anyone, the amount of emphasis placed on parental involvement can vary from school to school.
In many cases, the idea of parental involvement is considered unrealistic due to factors such as socioeconomic status, school proximity in rural areas, or prior history of parent participation.
Profiling the involved parent
Data from the U.S. Department of Education collected and analyzed by Child Trends Data Bank reports that the most involved parent is highly educated, English speaking, white, lives above the poverty level and has students who attend elementary school.
But this profile of a parent does not represent the majority of parents in many schools. These schools often struggle with parental involvement, thus find it more challenging to reach their students on an academic level. This is not to say that parents who do not meet the involved parent criteria listed have no desire to participate in their child’s educational environment. Rather, there are obstacles preventing them from doing so on a more consistent basis. This is where a school that is seeking greater parental involvement can begin to make an impact.
Closing the gap
The first step to increasing parental involvement is to identify the barriers. In the report “One Dream, Two Realities” from Civic Enterprises, the biggest obstacle is a lack of time. This is not a surprising result, considering that low-income families often have to work more than one job in order to make ends meet. Although there is little that an educator can do to improve upon this obstacle, other areas were identified that can be affected.
The biggest is a lack of communication. Some parents may not know exactly how they need to communicate, what they should be looking for, or who their resources are within a school system. Particularly in a world that has evolved digitally, parents who do not have regular access to a computer or even a phone can be unintentionally left out of the loop.
Many schools that receive federal Title 1 funds must use a portion of those funds on parental involvement activities. This can be the first step toward building the bridge between school and home. Parents who cannot speak English may feel intimidated when visiting their child’s school. The same can be said for any parent who did not complete their education or had negative experiences when they were a child.
If the goal is to increase participation, the school must be willing to meet the parents on their terms and institute an environment of collaboration and trust. Providing activities in the evening can bring in parents who work throughout the day and offer them some much needed face time with those who spend all day with their children.
Parental involvement outside the school
Even with various school activities, some parents still want to play a larger role in their child’s education but can’t make it to open house nights or parent/teacher conferences. Offering alternatives that allow engagement can still enhance parental involvement.
- Creating homework assignments that encourage family involvement can be a powerful tool. This doesn’t need to be as extreme as a science fair project, but can be as simple as playing a math game together.
- Offering translation of school notes or handbooks can provide informational access to parents who do not speak English.
- Positive contacts to parents by telephone can be a very powerful tool for breaking down the walls of parents who have a negative opinion about school. Unsolicited positive contacts may take a few extra minutes each week, but it is a time investment that can pay off in a big way to teachers in the future.
Aside from poverty, parental involvement can be one of the greatest deterrents from a child’s academic success. A school can have an impact on the level of parental involvement by making it a priority and thinking beyond the traditional methods of parent participation. A simple change of philosophy could be just what a school needs to improve its productivity — and enhance a student’s college and career readiness.
Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- "Parental Involvement in Schools," Child Trends Data Bank
- Dale Russakoff, "Schooling low-income parents in helping students," Los Angeles Times
- Margaret Finders and Cynthia Lewis, "Why Some Parents Don't Come to School," EBSCO Publishing
- John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio, Ryan T. Streeter and James R. Mason, "One Dream, Two Realities," Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation