A while back I wrote a post called "Getting parents to come to school". Feel free to go and read it if you like. It seemed a pretty non-controversial post to me, but it got one reader so pissed-off that they said they were never coming back. I suppose the issue was that in his/her mind, schools already do all they can, that they are in no way responsible for any lack of parent involvement. To which my response is, maybe at your school...
So, I thought I'd try a post looking at the problem from the other side. What happens at schools that keep parents from being more involved. I'm looking at administrators, PTA/PTO leadership, teachers, or North Ave depending on the problem. I'm also going to say what I think a solution is to this problem, because no one likes a whiner who complains, but doesn't suggest anything that would work better.
- Have PTA meetings that go on and on, but really don't have any positive results that justify parents sacrificing their time to be there
- PTAs need to have real agendas and time lines and actions and responsibilities for each and every meeting. I realize that this is a lot of work and a lot to ask from poor schmucks that make the mistake of running for office, but I believe this is the number 1 reason people don't come to PTA meetings. If the school administration really wants to have a PTA, maybe they need to help develop these agendas, at least until the leadership can figure out how to do it on their own.
- Allow a single parent to monopolize all the time at a PTA meeting talking about something they care passionately about, but isn't on topic and/or doesn't follow the agenda.
- A PTA leader should offer to talk more about this after the meeting ends at which point they need to come up with an action plan that will drive this issue to closure that the aggrieved parent agrees to. Most times a parent repeatedly yammers on about something like this, it is because they don't see any change or progress being made. If it's a dead issue (i.e. can't be done) the PTA leader needs to own up to this and say (in private) that we can't talk about this any more
- Make going to report card conferences chaotic, rushed and hit or miss as far as talking to the teachers you would really need to talk to, often being blindsided by a problem at the meeting
- One solution would be to have teachers reach out to parents with the current grades and how concerned they are about specific students. Then have actual appointments with enough time to talk about concerns. Knowing that there's something important to talk about, the parent could juggle between various teachers and come up with a possible schedule that lets them meet with the right teachers. On the other hand, if there are no issues, maybe a quick email is enough and they can take conference night off and leave it to parents with bigger issues
- A second solution would be for the team of teachers to meet with parents, like an IEP. This would allow everyone to discuss issues and at a certain age would include the student.
- Have lots of fundraising, with no real idea of what the money is for, or after the fundraising, how well the fundraiser went.
- The solution here seems obvious - fund raise with a specific goal in mind, communicate that goal to parents, communicate successes and failures, thank everyone who pitched in. If that's too much to do, don't complain about poor participation.
- Whenever a parent calls to ask about something negative that they think is happening at the school, get defensive quickly and go on the offense against their child and/or the parent
- If you want involved parents, expect that their ideas of how things should be run might very well be different than yours. Understand that loving parents want to believe and support their students. Thank them for being involved and genuinely listen to complaints. This takes time and patience, but if you want to form a team with parents, you might have to engage in unilateral disarmament.
- Try to solve all problems at the same time with equal priority, or alternately (since the end effect is about the same) maintain that there are no problems and spend all the time you interact with parents on defending the status quo
- Brainstorm initially to identify problems, but focus and prioritize. Some issues that have real importance will be totally overlooked, but progress, momentum and a sense of accomplishment is worth a great deal, while a diluted message is confusing and discouraging.
For something a little more concise, check out my fellow Bmore Ed NaBloPoMo Crew:
Epiphany in Baltimore
Maryland Math Madness
and The Smallest Twine