Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting parents to come to school

In the course of sending three kids to 7 different schools, I’ve seen a lot of different results as far as parental involvement goes. If you have a high income school, where a lot of parents have the kind of job where leaving early is an option (i.e. professionals or stay-at-home parents), you will see a lot of highly involved parents, successful fundraising and annoyingly tedious meetings because everybody wants to share their highly informed opinions. If, on the other hand, you have a more diverse parent body and you are looking for ways to draw in parents, there are many things that work.

Things to do to get parents involved in your school that I have actually seem to work in practice:

  • Have meetings that are very focused on one issue and only expect the parents who are working on that issue to come
  • Let parents make appointments for conferences and let them actually talk to someone to figure out a solution for logistical problems
  • Provide child care that the kids involved actually see as fun
  • Give sincere thanks to parents who come and explain why their participation is so valuable
  • Let parents keep track of the time that they are volunteering at a school and at the end of the year give prizes for the top families
  • Have agendas and time tables that are followed and meet with parents after the meeting if they have things they want to talk about that won’t allow following of the agenda
  • Understand that different parents have different commitments and acknowledge their time contributions in terms of effort, not absolute hours or meeting attended
  • Get kids involved in why this meeting or this fundraiser or this progress report is important and let them lobby their parents to attend. A report card conference where a kid is eager to show-off a folder of work is very hard for a loving parent to refuse
  • Come to terms with the fact that you will not be able to get some parents involved, for whatever reason. Put a little extra effort into supporting these kids so they know that someone is valuing their work and is concerned about how they are doing

Things you can do to drive away parents:

  • Get defensive whenever a parent asks why an administrative decision was made
  • Never have decision makers (i.e. upper administrators) come to meetings where parents are voicing their opinions or asking questions
  • Always hold meetings at the same time and on the same day
  • Administer harsh and out-of-the-blue punishments on kids that have no basis in published rules or what has been done in the past
  • Start assemblies with yelling at the audience for not being quiet while they have waited for a performance to start for many long minutes
  • Have teachers talk to parents exactly the same way that they talk to their students, i.e. threatening and lecturing as opposed to seeing them as partners


  1. Your post goes along with a book I am currently reading called "A Path to Follow: Learning to Listen to Parents." The book addresses the problems with parent-teacher relationships and hits on some of the points that you made.

    The book says there are problems with the channel of parent/teacher contact because of "conferences scheduled for a precise 15 minutes, scheduled visits to classrooms by all the parents at the same time, report cards and notes sent home - all these are invitations to start a conversation, rather than real opportunities for conversation."

    The book also goes on to say that for many parents, the only contact they have with school happens when the teacher has negative news to report.

    Definitely an interesting topic! I'll stay tuned to see if anyone else has anything to add.

  2. The top group of suggestions-have tried all in one way or another, The bottom group-have never done, would never do.

    Have you considered that teachers are parents, too? We treat you and your children the way we wish to be treated. We do the best we know how to do and try to practice current thinking.Example-our parent conferences last week were scheduled before school, after school until 7:30PM on either Thursday or Friday or Saturday morning.Anyone who could not make those times was free to schedule at their convenience. All my parents have my cell # and two email addresses.Still low turn-out and sadly not parents we really needed to see.(I love all parents but need to visit with some more than others.)

    Your suggestions are welcome but are not new thinking on the topic. We labor over how to reach parents. I attended incredible training by Joyce Epstein at JHU several years ago but BSCP does not seem to use her work any longer although she is considered a guru of parent and community involvement around the country

    I feel you must have had some terribly difficult school situations with your kids because you seem so full of sad/angry feelings towards schools and educators. The teachers of my kids are some of the best friends our family will ever have and in balance I was pleased with their schools. Their schools practice most of what you list as helpful and never did the things you mentioned on the second list.

    Not sure what I am saying except the communication/perception divide is huge and will never be solved on any blog. While I have enjoyed blogging, my physical, and emotional energy will not allow me to continue. I truly feel misunderstood and very unappreciated. I think I need to continue my work on a face to face basis where I can be judged by actions not words. All good wishes for your children and you,as well.

  3. Arghhh!!! Clearly I have done a poor job of communicating. I thought I had prefaced this post with these are some of the things I have seen first hand in only seven schools, not every school in the city. I have seen quite a few things that have worked, but I have never seen a perfect parent engagement plan. Where they work the best is where the whole school, especially the administration buys in with the points I made in the first group. These things have happened in the minority of the schools we have been in, but I think more schools are going this direction. These are not statements about individual teachers, but whole school protocols. I absolutely do not think I am very unique in the feeling of not being included in schools. I know that this feeling has driven parents to become very involved (giving up jobs and personal lives). I am sorry if anyone things these statements were directed as accusations towards them. I am 99.9% sure no one who did any of the things listed in the second group in my personal experience reads this blog.


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