Let’s start with the reasons why parents might not be participating with their child’s school in the first place. There are five factors that can influence parental involvement: parent efficacy, communication, language, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This paper will speak of these factors and what can be done to encourage involvement within the classroom and school.
Imagine walking up to a counter in a McDonald’s to ask for a job. The manager quickly explains the old fry cook unexpectedly quit and that he is in dire need of a replacement. He hires you on the spot. You are whisked into the kitchen, given a spatula, and shoved in front of a huge griddle that is covered in all-beef patties. Truth be told, you have no idea what you are doing. Without any formal training, your efficacy – your belief in your ability to successfully complete the required task – is minimal at best
This is what it is like for some parents when it comes to their children’s education. Parent efficacy – when applied to academics – is the parents’ belief that they are able to help their children be successful in school. One of the biggest issues at some campuses is the completion of homework.
This could be due to a generational gap in the way children are being taught and how their parents were taught. Today’s classrooms are set up so students have more experience in hands-on learning, technology, and cooperative learning groups. Setting up classes at the school campus that would teach parents how to help with homework, or to learn the new strategies that their children are being taught in various subjects, would help parents have a better sense of efficacy in helping their children with homework.
Now, imagine walking into a McDonald’s. It looks like an upscale McDonald’s. Lovely pictures adorn the walls. It is well maintained and clean. You are expecting the service to be as impeccable, but when it is your turn at the counter, you are treated rudely. Then you fill out the little customer satisfaction card, the manager reads it, scoffs, and walks away. What have the employees at that McDonald’s just communicated to you?
When a school’s culture sends the message to parents that their needs and the needs of their children are unimportant, parents will stop being involved. School needs to do good job at keeping up-to-date on the needs of their families and students.
Most often, teachers are the link between the school and home. Teachers can be a strong link by changing the way they communicate with parents. Most parents only hear from a teacher when their child is failing or misbehaving.
Regular parental contact that includes a positive message about their child makes parents more willing to cooperate when they get a call about a concern. It can also help parents feel at ease with the teacher and more willing to talk about problems that are arising on the home front. When a teacher learns of a concern, she (with the help of other school personnel) can find the resources necessary to help the family out, be it clothing or food donations, help with holiday gift-giving, or giving references to free or reduced cost doctors, counselors, or glasses.
Language and Cultural Background
Let’s go back to McDonald’s. This time when you go up to the counter, the menu is written in Japanese and the items on the menu have changed from cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets to sushi and soy beans. Needless to say, if you were not accustomed to the language and food, you would probably be a little confused on what to order and how to order it.
Two other influences that affect parental involvement tie into each other. They are language and cultural background. A school needs to take into consideration the language and culture of its community. More and more schools are finding themselves in a culture that is predominately Hispanic. Therefore, they are running into a lot more parents who only speak Spanish.
To help keep all parents aware of what is going on, schools need to send home flyers and report cards in English and the native language of their community. Any notice of public meetings or upcoming events that hang in the school hallway should be displayed in both languages. Having a school-sponsored, adult ESL class that meets once a week will also help build a bridge between school and home.
During your last trip to McDonald’s, you pull up about ten minutes before closing time. You would have been there earlier if you had not been held up at work, but you go in anyway, figuring that ten minutes is enough time to make your order and have it prepared before the restaurant closes. Unfortunately, as your reach out to open the glass door, the manger pulls it shut and locks it. You are taken back a little, so you point to your watch showing the time. The manager simply shrugs and tells you the restaurant it closed.
Often times the hours parents work conflict with school hours. Even though they would really like to be more involved, their economic status makes it so their priority is to provide for their family’s basic needs, not their educational ones. In a study on parental involvement, researchers found that the lower the socio-economic status of families, the less involved the parents were. A lot of parents who work at low-paying jobs work many odd hours to support their children. Schools need to do their best to accommodate the atypical hours their parents keep.
Parent-teacher conference scheduling is one of those times. Teachers should make it a point to meet with the parents no matter what time they can come in. Sometimes that means that they have stay late or come in very early on conference days in order for parents to meet with them. Other times, teachers might have to met with parents on alternate days in order to accommodate their schedule.
If the need presents itself, phone conferences or home visits might have to substitute for the typical parent-teacher conference. To be honest, it is nearly impossible to meet the scheduling needs of all parents, at least not without opening a 24-hour drive-thru window. Nonetheless, schools truly need to try whatever they can to meet parents were they are at.
Even though many factors might influence parental involvement, a school dedicated to meeting the needs of its community will overcome these challenges. All it takes is a staff that is more than willing to meet the needs of their customers.