As a teacher, one of the most consistent challenges for our school was parent engagement. While I recall sending home flyers at least once a week inviting parents to join us for a workshop or parent info session, we usually had no more than ten parents show up, causing us to wonder what we were doing wrong. It wasn’t until I sent home personal invitations inviting parents of my students to join us for a student-led health fair that we had over 40 parents show up. It was that day that we realized that perhaps the issue wasn’t so much that we weren’t sending home enough communication; the issue was that we weren’t allowing parents to be engaged with the presentations, discouraging many from attending.
As a coach at an elementary school now, I am often tasked with hosting parent workshops as well. From my first day here, I noticed that there was a clear parent disconnect from the school. Workshop after workshop, we were often left disappointed with the lack of parent engagement. Yet, we had parents often requesting more workshops because they wanted an opportunity to get involved with the school. It was through a more hands-on parent academy that I realized that the issue wasn’t that parents were apathetic; the issue was that we weren’t being creative in the way we led our workshops.
I now choose to start parent meetings with all the important information at the beginning, reserving at least half of the time for a hands-on activity. A few days ago, I welcomed our School Site Council and instead of telling them about what our students do in our Innovation Lab, I led them through a rotation, guiding them through each activity and helping them learn how to use each tool. All 17 members of our School Site Council participated. Every one of them left excited and even purchased some of the educational toys I shared with them for their own homes as they saw how fun and instructive they were. As they left, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe we’ve had the solution to our lack of parent engagement all along and simply haven’t made the time to revamp the way we do things.
I often hear “this is how we’ve always done things” as the excuse for not brainstorming a new approach. While I can agree that there is no need to reinvent the wheel with everything, I do believe that it is time we all look for ways to be more innovative in engaging and recruiting parent participation at our schools. If we want parents to acknowledge the importance of their presence and participation in their child’s education, it is imperative for us to do a better job of providing opportunities to welcome parents to our campus to do more than listen to presentations.
Parents want to take part in their child’s educational journey; it’s time we stop talk at them and allow them to participate in the same kind of activities their children do. Perhaps then, we will allow for them to feel more connected to their child’s overall experience and serve as better advocates for their kids.
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