What Matters Most…

As a former principal and teacher, I ask you, “How does your school community define “parental involvement?” 

We have long held a belief that parental involvement is paramount, and we have actively sought ways to involve parents in the decision-making and event planning of our schools. We have come to realize, however, that this approach is vastly insufficient. While asking parents to sit on committees and seek input on school issues is important when considering the inclusion of multiple stakeholders, this approach disregards a large subgroup of parents, namely those that are unable or disinclined to attend meetings within a school.  Experience and research tell us these very parents are often the most necessary to include in school decisions.  Students who most greatly need the involvement of their parents are those who are struggling academically, behaviorally, and socially.  The mission of most schools regarding parent involvement is to break down barriers that preclude parents from being fully involved in their child’s education.  This is often created by establishing partnerships with various community resources.  In essence, schools act as the liaison between the parents and the needed community resources to enable and empower them to be as involved as they desire to be, to the benefit of their child.

Community Partnerships are the backbone of any approach to parental involvement.  Without the support and resources provided through the established partnerships, students could be ill-prepared for the academic challenges presented at school. To ensure that schools are meeting the non-academic needs of students and families as well as the academic needs that might preclude them from being fully involved in the education of their child, a very diverse list of possible partners needs to be explored. The following is a list of partners that I have used in the past that I have found to be quite beneficial to my former students and their families: A Center for Mental Wellness; Delaware Guidance; Food Bank of Delaware; Operation Christmas Wish; Family Shade; Special Olympics DE; YMCA; Delaware Division of Health and Social Services (DHSS); Child Inc.; Parents as Teachers; Stand By Me; Children and Families First (CFF); Delaware 211; Newark Area Welfare; Dover Area Welfare; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Toys for Tots; Vision Center of Delaware; Sight for Students; Seal A Smile Program – DPH; American Academy of Family Physicians Anti-tobacco Program; Thurman Adams State Service Center; Delaware State Dental Society; Girls on the Run; Girls Inc.; American Cancer Society; Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; Proctor and Gamble; Parent Information Center (PIC); and Parent Advisory Councils.  All of these programs and agencies have contact information on their website.

Despite a successful program that truly reaches out to offer parents help and services to meet the needs of their families and children, schools still encounter challenges to the approach. Primarily, not all families want help. Sometimes the needs that are presented may be too painful to honestly address on the part of the families, and sometimes the needs presented by the school are not considered “needs” by the family. To combat this, frequent and thorough communication is the best method.  Educational professionals must work together to coordinate and communicate effectively to get the best results. Teachers are generally are the first line of communication.  However, it takes all school personnel to achieve the desired result.  Parents must feel welcomed by the school.  To accomplish this, invite parents into the school, sit with them, and seek to understand their point of view.  Schools sometimes find that parents do not fully understand the services that can be provided to their children and/or family and refuse to participate on those grounds. In this case, it is imperative to invite the parents and the service provider to meet at the school or at a mutually agreed upon location. Typically, the parents become more open to the services being offered.  Taking this extra step can remove the barriers such as the fear of the unknown on the part of the parents.  Flexibility is the key for school personnel to remove all barriers regarding time, place and by being mindful of meeting around parents’ work schedules.  Schools can also hold conferences on different days and times, (e.g. evening and weekends), text, and offer communication by phone, email, as well as going to the workplace of the parent if feasible.  Going above and beyond to eliminate the barriers that would otherwise stop parents from being fully involved in their child’s educational experience is absolutely necessary for the success of their children.   These are just a few suggestions to consider when defining and or redefining parent involvement at your school/district.