I believe the easiest way for teachers to involve parents is for teachers to find out what parents want or need from them. I’ve been lucky enough to have some educators offer me this along the way, and it motivated me to be there for them–we were true partners.
My first experience was back when my daughters were in pre-school. The Center offered monthly parent meetings. In the first half of the meeting, the parents would meet while the children were being cared for in another room. We would either talk informally about issues we were having, or there would be a guest speaker based on past talks to address issues; like a financial adviser or someone to teach us time-out techniques. The second half was reserved for a parent-child activity. I felt more connected to the program because of this offering. It was also an opportunity to get to know the other parents, and we had a blast with our kids.
The year my oldest went to KIPP (The Knowledge is Power Program Charter School), we would have Breakfast with the Principal once a month on Saturday mornings. The principal would update parents on upcoming activities and then would open it up for parents to ask questions or discuss issues. Out of those meetings, we learned just how many of us were struggling with our middle-schoolers’ changing behaviors, bodies and therefore, our changing relationship with them. The principal added to the weekly newsletters short articles on the physiological development for these ages. It helped to know that (1) we weren’t alone, and that many of our concerns were normal, and (2) to know that we had someone to go to that knew our child when we didn’t know what to do next.
These days, my involvement with my youngest daughter’s PTA allows me to know the principal and curriculum director, as well as stay informed on many of the events and challenges (mainly budget-wise, of course). My relationships with those at their after-school program helped me to feel comfortable enough to speak up about a problem. This led to the development of a ”Mean Girls” program, where family therapists spoke to the girls about their friendships and treatment of each other that everyone benefited from.
I think it’s important for educators to remember that on top of school, parents and families are dealing with issues that can be overwhelming. Some parents are gone; they may be serving our country overseas, deceased, or divorced. Too many parents are out of work and struggling with financial and emotional issues. Every day, we’re dealing with challenges with our children with no road map.
My daughters thrived in the places mentioned above. I was probably verging on being over-involved at KIPP; I am on the parents advisory board at their after-school program; and I’ve also joined the Booster Club at my younger daughter’s school in addition to my PTA duties. When I feel like someone has gone the extra mile for me and my family, I’m happy to do whatever is in my power for them.
April McCaffery is the single mother to two daughters, in 5th and 8th grade.
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