Getting Parents Involved and Engaged at School

By Cheryl Spittler

“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”
— Jane D. Hull

Over the past 25 years, I’ve been involved in education as both a parent and an educator. I’ve met some parents who are very involved in their child’s education and others who seem uninterested and disconnected.

As I’ve taken the time to get to know the parents who seem disinterested, I’ve encountered a variety of reasons for their lack of involvement:

  • Some recall negative school experiences of their past
  • Some are too busy with personal and work demands
  • Some simply aren’t comfortable talking to educators

Regardless of the reasons, as schools move toward creating rigorous, student-centered learning environments, they need to be proactive in strengthening the bonds between teachers and parents.

“Family engagement does not happen in a vacuum. Rather, it takes the committed actions of both families and schools working together to support student success.” — The Harvard Family Research Project (2010)


What exactly is parent engagement?

According to the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, “Parent engagement in schools is defined as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents.” — Recommendations for Federal Policy (2009).

Research clearly indicates that parent engagement in schools has a direct impact on student behavior, academic achievement, and enhanced social skills (Epstein, & Sheldon, 2002). Children from diverse cultural backgrounds often fare particularly well when parents and educators collaborate to bridge the gap between the cultural differences at home and school.

Stronger ties, better understanding

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit. As parents become more aware of the policies that are impacting their children’s education, their perceptions of the school improve and they start to feel more committed to (and invested in) its success. Many eventually become active stakeholders in crucial educational decisions.

In turn, teachers and leaders also benefit from parent engagement because it helps them develop a better understanding of families’ cultures and diversity, as well as a deeper respect for parents’ abilities and time.

Engage, Connect, Sustain

Engage: Show parents you care about them. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Return their calls or emails promptly; reach out to them with more good reports than bad reports about their children.

Connect: Build and continue to nurture positive relationships with parents. Make them feel welcome in your school and classroom. How is your school environment? Is your classroom warm and welcoming?

Sustain: Establish a team or committee that’s dedicated to parent engagement. Involve parents in a variety of activities. Use technology and social media to keep the communication and involvement going. Consider providing transportation (school buses?) to parent teacher conferences or open houses. Find a student group to sponsor child care for the evening during conferences.

References:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parent Engagement: Strategies for Involving Parents in School Health. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.
  • Harvard Family Research Project- Harvard Graduate School of Education (2010). Parent-Teacher Conference Tip Sheets for Principals, Teachers, and Parents.
  • Olsen, G., & Fuller, M. L. (2017). The benefits of parent involvement: What research has to say. Education.com.
  • NEA Education Policy and Practice Department: Center for Great Public Schools (2008). NEA Policy Brief. Parent, Family, Community Involvement in Education.

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Cheryl Spittler is an experienced professional developer and teacher with 20 years of classroom experience. She has her B.S. in Secondary Education (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), M. Ed. In Curriculum and Instruction (Wayne State University). Currently, she is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in K-12 Instruction from Grand Canyon University. Cheryl holds certifications in Franklin Covey’s Speed of Trust, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, AWR 148: Crisis Management for School Based Incidents- Partnering Rural Law Enforcement and the Local School Systems and is an expert in school climate and bullying, behavior and instructional management. Ms. Spittler has years of experience working with high risk youth including Native American youth.

She has served as a lead trainer in the redesign of the Bureau of Indian Education Curriculum integrating the Common Core State Standards. Her curriculum work includes both rural and urban school districts, ranging from single schools to entire districts. In addition to developing curriculum/instructional design, Ms. Spittler has worked as a classroom teacher, university professor of special education, and is an expert in classroom management.