My friend told me excitedly about meeting her son’s second grade teacher. She got such a good vibe that she volunteered to grade papers. She added, “can you believe it?”
She’s a hands-on mother, but she still doesn’t see herself as an “involved parent” because of her lack of volunteering on school grounds for the last two years. She has good reason. She works full-time, and she goes in early to be home with her son after school so she’s unavailable during school hours. I take issue with the idea that she’s not involved, but I can understand why she thinks others might see it that way. This teacher has offered ways to help that doesn’t disrupt her work day.
More than that, the teacher’s own involvement was infectious. My friend could feel that this teacher goes the extra mile, and was inspired to do the same.
My own so-called parental involvement has come about for similar reasons.
The first time I volunteered in the school environment was when I could feel that very same vibe at my daughter’s school. The teachers and administrators were inspiring. When they asked ever so politely if any parents were available to help chaperone a field trip in the evening hours, I practically jumped at the chance.
First, it was the wording. They didn’t demand volunteers, they asked. Then, it was the timing. I hadn’t responded to earlier requests for daytime activities because of my work schedule. Throughout the year, there was always a variety of opportunities that made it possible for me to volunteer when I could without feeling guilty for the times I couldn’t.
I was happy to continue giving of my time throughout the year because I was always treated with respect, and the atmosphere was always welcoming.
The past two years, I volunteered as Secretary of the PTA at my younger daughter’s school because of that same warmth and respect I felt with the other parents and administrators, and their understanding when I couldn’t volunteer for certain activities. (And it certainly helped that they provided child care for the meetings.) And even though my older daughter wasn’t a student at that school, she felt just as welcome there.
In my older daughter’s school that she just completed, I never volunteered for one activity, and never felt any guilt about it. Every time I stepped foot in that middle school for the last three years, I was treated like cattle. It got to the point where we’d be planning our escape before we even walked in. There were always long lines for everything, there were constant demands for our patience, and only a handful of teachers and one counselor that were pleasant to be around. After graduation, we celebrated that we never had to go back there again.
Schools looking to increase parental involvement should start by looking at how parents are treated when on campus. Is there a warm welcome? Do parents look lost or frustrated, or are they smiling? (Look at all the parents; there are some who will always look miserable, some who will always look happy, but what is the average of the parents there?) Are there a variety of times and ways that parents can volunteer? Can parents keep in touch in a myriad of ways? Schools might want to consider sending an informal survey home for parents to anonymously answer. Are certain frustrations written over and over? What activities are the families’ favorites?
Involve parents by inspiring them.
April McCaffery is the single mom to two daughters, in 6th and 9th grade.
- The Parental Involvement Generation Gap
- Re-thinking Parental Involvement
- Taking Control of Your Parental Involvement
- Parental Involvement Through the PTA
- What should parental involvement mean?