My mother was the librarian at my primary school and would often peek into my classroom or give me a quick hug in the cafeteria, so I admit that regarding parent involvement, I had a slight advantage. Nevertheless, once I moved on to third grade and left the familiarity of the primary school, my mom remained involved, at least as much as a full-time working mother could.
I learned when I was teaching full-time that a child’s overall educational experience is so multi-faceted, it’s sometimes hard to dissect it and even determine what is making it go well for some children and poorly for others.
There are a number of contributing factors that we as parents cannot change. We cannot change a medical diagnosis of ADHD or Autism. We cannot change educational assessment data that clearly indicates a learning disability. We cannot change the fact that schools do not have enough money to buy all of the innovative resources and programs they would like or hire enough teachers so the student-teacher ratio meets what’s considered optimal. We cannot change the fact that students may not mesh well with every single teacher they will have from kindergarten through 12th grade.
We do have control over one thing, however. Parental involvement. It’s well known that the right kind and the appropriate amount of parental involvement positively impacts a child’s educational experience and academic success. With that being said, there is a fine line between involving oneself to maximize your child’s experience and over-involving oneself to the point where children feel smothered or nervous if you are not around. They may also fail to learn important life lessons because Mom or Dad always swoops in to save the day.
Many working parents feel anxiety because they just don’t have the time to volunteer, but there are many ways to be involved in your child’s education without having to physically be in the school giving your time. Volunteering is merely one way to stay connected. Consider the following ways to foster a relationship with your child’s school and in turn, positively impact your child’s educational experience.
1). Keep the lines of communication open: Talk to your children about school, consistently and openly. When you see your children after school, try not to be on your phone. This makes them think, “That device is more important than me and my day.” As soon as you see your children, while it’s fresh on their minds, ask them about school. Try not to ask “yes” and “no” questions, such as “Did you have a good day?” or “Did your teacher like your science project?” Ask open-ended questions, such as, “What were some of the activities you did in science today?” or “What did you and friends chat about at lunch?” This forces them to talk, and then you can begin an ongoing conversation. This is an easy and organic way to feel a part of your child’s schooling experience.
2). Check their agendas and help with homework: A traditional and simple way to stay involved with your child’s education is to check their folders or agenda books and to help with homework. This shows your children that you value what they do each day and that education is important to the entire family. It will also provide you insight regarding classroom activities and instructional strategies. There is no need to hover over your children or do their homework for them, but be nearby in case they need you.
3). Utilize technology: For a number of schools, newsletters sent home in the backpack are a thing of the past. Many schools now use email, voicemail, text messaging and social media to communicate with parents. Make sure you know which, if any, social media channels they utilize and be sure to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ them. To guarantee that you are receiving information from your child’s school, make sure your information is updated in the school database. If the school does not have the correct phone number or email, they may be trying to contact you, but you are not receiving the messages. Teachers still appreciate parent notes of praise and concern, so if that is easier for you than email or phone, continue communicating that way. The common theme here is communicate, communicate, communicate.
4). Volunteer: If you can volunteer, schools truly appreciate you. Whether it’s chaperoning a field trip, serving on the PTO/PTA, assisting at the book fair, donating financially, helping with a class project/party, or working with a group to clean up school grounds, schools value any help you can offer. If you are a working parent, be on the lookout for volunteer opportunities that occur after school or on the weekends. These may work better for your schedule, but do not feel bad if you cannot volunteer at all. You can still be a vital force in your child’s educational experience by involving yourself in other ways.
5). Attend/help with school functions: Many school functions, such as sporting events, plays, and concerts are after school. If your child is involved in an extra-curricular activity, please make every effort to attend. When children look out into the crowd or the audience and see their family watching them, they feel proud and special. These activities and your involvement in them foster confidence and happiness in your children which ultimately makes them better students.
I love the quote by Jonas Salk that states, “Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.” Sometimes I have to chant these words in my mind when I’m trying to hold on too tight to my own children.
When it comes to parent involvement at school, be there for your children so they know they are always rooted in your presence, in their school, and in their home. Likewise, give them enough space to learn important life lessons like perseverance, resilience, and self-confidence. Give them just enough distance to grow the wings they’ll certainly need later in life.
I wrote an education column in WNC Parent Magazine very similar to this blog post. Now, as the parent of a kindergartener, I’m trying to follow my own advice. The tips in this post came from my experience as a teacher, talking with other teachers and some research. Hope you found them helpful!