I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and attended a school that probably failed at many things. Parent engagement was not one of them. My mother worked a lot, as did many of my friends’ parents. But no matter how much my mother worked, she was always at every school play, every school concert and every awards ceremony. This was true for other parents, too.
Not much has changed since I was a kid. Now, a parent of three boys – two in elementary, I’ve seen parents faithfully at award ceremonies and concerts. However, rooms are always empty at parent meetings.
Considering this, it would be easy to assume that parent involvement is low. But I believe that parent engagement is high and it’s important for schools to think about the particular events that engage parents.
Moreover, it is important for schools to meet parents where they are.
My elementary was very good at this. Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings were always slotted before or after concerts and award ceremonies. Because of this, my mother never missed a PTA meeting. That was more than 20 years ago, yet few schools have tried this probably for a few reasons:
- Schools rarely have opportunities to share what’s working with other schools. Future research must work to bridge the communication divide between schools.We have paid a lot of attention to what’s not working, and we must shift to including what is working even at “failing schools.”
- Perceptions about parent engagement and involvement – at “failing schools” and typically at schools that serve low-income and/or students of color, there is a perception that these parents are too busy and often times unengaged. This point should not be overlooked. Schools have to start asking the questions, what are parents too busy for and when do they seem unengaged? More often than not, parents seem too busy and unengaged to attend traditional meetings that often times require more work and don’t seem to provide immediate or direct benefits to their child.
With this in mind, if schools do look to have meetings tied to events, these meetings will have to be carefully planned – meaning that schools and parent organizers will need to be prepared to be specific about meetings and respectful of parents’ time. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the answer for every school. Instead, this serves as a proposal – something worth trying. I also hope this post serves as a call for more success stories being shared. The answers to all of education’s problems and concerns are amongst educators, students and parents. So let’s get to talking!