When I was a little girl at Agnes J. Johnson School in Weott I remember wishing my mom would come to school and help in class. She never did. I would beg her. There was no conflict with work. I didn’t understand. Finally she revealed that she just didn’t feel comfortable with the other parents or teachers.
Parent engagement is a topic all educators are familiar with. Most of us send notes home or email as a form of communication between school and home. We make phone calls, we receive after hour texts and Facebook messages, and we chat briefly in the aisle of the local market (while students look on in awe at the realization that teachers shop too). Parents come in to lead a center in the first grade class and parent conference times are rescheduled and doubled up to accommodate divorced parents who won’t sit in the room together. Newsletters are posted on class websites and tireless parents push up the sleeves of their school mascot sweatshirt as they clean out the popcorn machine after the PTO “spirit day.”
Most of the time these interactions result in positive relationships, but sometimes it’s just not enough to encourage parent engagement. As a parent myself, I will admit to rarely knowing what my son was working on in high school. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know who all his teachers were. I attended two school meetings and felt like I wasn’t part of the club. I did, however, appreciate lurking on the school Facebook page to learn more about school events.
Disconnects like this are common. Brenda Alvarez wrote an article for the Harvard Education Publishing Blog about parent-teacher relationships, citing these comments as evidence of the challenges both parents and teachers face:
- I’m doing everything I can
- I need more hours in the day
- I’m so tired
- I feel like I work all the time
- I’m so stressed
- I have no “me” time
Our team of HCOE Learning Specialists is working on a Parent Engagement Toolkit and having some great conversations as we dig into the research. One of the intriguing books that has come to our attention is A Cord of Three Strands, a new Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools by Soo Hong. The author also wrote an article about what inspired her research.
What draws a parent in? How do you find that balance (there is such as thing as too much parent engagement)? What strategies have been successful for you as an educator? As a parent, what has helped you connect with your child’s school?
Writing this, I find myself in a strange dichotomy. On one side I’m frustrated as a teacher, seeking more parent involvement. It doesn’t matter if I’ve posted the field trip directions on my class website, sent them in an email, shared them in a Google doc, and sent them home on a handout. There will still be parents who don’t get the information, even after I send them their requested text and Facebook message. At the same time, as a parent, I have to admit to deleting unread emails seeking help for the school trip fundraiser.
As with any relationship, there needs to be a balance and understanding of what is needed and the resources available. School and home can feel like two different, separate worlds, and yet the bridge is the universal wish that every child has a fruitful, positive experience.
Everyone has a gift to share. Teachers, create those moments for a parent to shine. Parents, observe and find those opportunities to connect with your child through school and to build your network of community with the other parents.
I turned out all right, even without my mom volunteering in my class…but I can’t help but think that maybe she is the one who missed an opportunity for growth and connection.