Let’s talk a little bit about parent involvement. How do we move past involvement and strive for engagement? What would that take? What would it look like? In thinking about some of the reasons why parents may or may not be engaged in our classrooms, a few thoughts came to mind.
I work in a lower income school among some of the best parents with the biggest hearts. They love their babies and they want what is best for them. If they could, I’m sure they would love to be super-involved in their child’s education. But let’s face it…we can’t all be Susie-Room-Mom. (Even though I LOVE Susie-Room-Mom…especially when she texts you for your Starbucks order, yes, Lawd!!!)
In my 10 years, I’ve heard teachers’ remarks regarding “these parents” and how they “just don’t care” and wonder “how they couldn’t check their child’s homework” and such… And I’ll be honest-it hurts my heart because that isn’t always the case. Of course there are exceptions but there are TONS of reasons why a parent may not feel comfortable engaging in our classrooms. Why? Maybe…
Some parents might feel intimidated.
This might be for various reasons. Off the top of my head…
*Language barriers. English language learner parents can be intimidated for obvious reasons. If I moved to another country under less than favorable circumstances and enrolled my kids in school, I wouldn’t be the first in line to sign up to make copies or bring the cupcakes. I’d sit at home and hope to the high heavens that they were educating my child appropriately.
*Mom Guilt/Dad Guilt- “I haven’t been involved…why start now…” “I was late to the conference, the teacher is probably mad at me…” “I work 2-3 jobs and just don’t have time…”
*A lack of content knowledge themselves. I’ve had parents who couldn’t read very well. It might be something they are embarrassed about, so are uninvolved because “that’s the teacher’s job.”
So what can we do?
*Check our privilege. We are teachers. That means we are college-educated contributing members of society. On our worst days we can at least fall back on that. A lot of parents are not. But you know what else they are not? Dumb. They can feel when someone thinks poorly of them and the last thing they want is to feel worse than they already do. This might involve challenging your assumptions about “these parents” or speaking up for them when a colleague generalizes or assumes. Even when these thoughts aren’t vocalized, they can manifest in demeanor, comments, and even our wording.
*Make our classrooms warm, inviting, and accessible. Make sure they know they are welcome in your room and if they dare to take you up on it, roll out the red carpet! If your school allows you to go social, do it! Instagram, tweet, post, FACEBOOK LIVE! Tell your parents you’ll be broadcasting live at 1:00 p.m. on Facebook and if they can’t catch it then, they can watch the play back later. But here is the kicker: what you send out socially doesn’t need to be amazing! Tweet the mundane. Snap a reading club for the ‘Gram. This will allow parents that might feel intimidated to be a fly on the wall when they can. If they know we are serious about them coming in, they might be more likely to come.
*Validate ALL forms of volunteering. When you are giving the weekly shout-outs for all of the wonderful things that parents have done, don’t forget the mom that sent in a bag of pretzels by way of her son. Was that random? Yup. But that might have been the best she could do. It might be HER version of volunteering, and we can choose to honor that.
*Snap photos of your anchor charts and send them home! Our students already think they are little versions of us, so having a copy of the charts we make in school would be a great way for parents to see what you are teaching.
*Evaluate how much you send home. I’ll let that one be.
*When you get a parent that says they want to help at home, have GOOD resources ready to go! How can we make sure parents are able to help and hold their own child accountable? I used to be a mess in this area because I was overwhelmed during parent-teacher conferences and I would just type a list of websites and have a packet of practice sheets to send home. I always wanted to be more intentional, but I didn’t have the TIME! Recently, I’ve been taking the skills that most parents are familiar with AND students struggle with (time, money, quick recall for facts, sight words, etc…) and turning them into at-home interventions that parents can do. They are set up so that parents can take 2 weeks and really focus in on one particular skill. They can see how their child progresses at home and they report back to you (if they choose). These will be copied and ready to go at all times, so if a parent asks for meaningful ways to help, I will be ready! You can see them in action here and you can check them out below.