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Help Me Define "Parent Involvement"

Would you look at that? I spent a week doing other stuff and completely ignored my blog. I should be punished with some hot fudge drizzled over a brownie, shouldn't I? Yes, please. Someone do that. Put some Nutella on it as well.

It's a safe bet that I'm hungry right now and I'm also home sick from sitting outside where all the allergens in the area could attack my nostrils and sinus cavity so it's a good time to clear out my head of some stuff.

WARNING: Writing in some sort of linear sequence is not a part of this Sudafed-induced haze I'm in. See that? I just ended a sentence with a preposition. WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME?

Congratulations to Delaware and Tennessee! They won the biggest chunk of the Race to the Top monies that UP TO TEN STATES COULD HAVE SHARED. This isn't a bitter sentiment, but Delaware is just so small. Hopefully, they can use the money for some serious turnaround reforms. My education head is kept busy lately with reading, reading, and more reading. I'm looking at a lot of research lately and also keeping up with professional journals as I am always on the hunt for What's Working in the public school systems in America.

Last week some friends and colleagues of mine were talking about how we would Dream the Dream of getting an unlimited amount of money and the possibilities of what that could do for our schools. As we continue to discuss what we've read lately we kept coming back to the same thing: parent involvement in schools. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times (and subsequently rolled my eyes at the thought) that parents aren't involved and that they just don't care.

"If parents would get involved more we wouldn't have these problems in schools."

"The parents just don't care. They send their kids to us and expect miracles in fixing their social and emotional issues."

"Parent involvement at my school is at an all time low."

"Parent support is a joke."

Of course, I roll my eyes. It can't be just like that everywhere. Elementary schools have an enormous amount of "support" or what we define as support. It begins to wane once students hit junior high school and then by the time they are in high school it seems as if the only job of a high schooler is to completely keep parents out of the picture and tell them NOTHING. That's the way it works in my house, too. My children are not as successful with that one because I'm on several email listservs and I check their grades online daily as I check the grades of the students at my own school. When my students get wind of the fact that I have my own high schoolers they always ask, "Why don't they go to school here?" to which I reply, "Do YOU want to go to high school where you mom works?" and then they just nod their heads and say, "Oh. Yeah."

But those quotes (and they are an amalgamation of ones I have heard consistently over my 16 years as a teacher and administrator) assume that values aren't held by parents once they have teenagers. In many cases it also implies that the middle class holds the keys to the morality and codes of behavior where "parent involvement" is concerned. There is little corroboration to that belief and no research I've ever read on the topic confirms it.

My current reading list is as follows:

  • A weekly newsletter called The Marshall Memo that has all the hot trends and topics and research in education.

  • The newsletters and books from an organization I belong to called ASCD.

  • Just about anything from Pedro Noguera. You should read him, too, because he is both oh-so-smart and oh-so-easy on the eyes.


  • Fires in the Bathroom by Kathleen Cushman (with a forward by Lisa Delpit whose books I have devoured.) It's a genius of a book based on a program with teenagers and the book is broken up into chapters where high school students offer teachers advice on how to teach them. Most of it has to do with relationships we solidify with students and that is where my life work depends.

When the topic of creating a school comes to mind, we all dream of that and what it would look like. Many of my teacher-friends were complaining how much reality television is ruining and lowering the standards of class among other things. I saw an opportunity, though, and suggested that we create school curriculum based on some reality television shows. It was silly, but still kind of fun to create this list:

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (Health, PE, Foods)

Biggest Loser (PE)

American Idol (Music - choir and band)

Good Eats with Alton Brown (Chemistry, Foods)

Millionaire Matchmaker (Relationships, Health)

Undercover Boss (Career and Technical Education)

Project Runway (Fashion Merchandising, Business)

America's Next Top Model, The Bad Girl's Club, and the Real Housewives series (Mental Health)

Even this "dream" is nowhere near reality, but at least I got to amuse myself for awhile when there wasn't anything sparkly and robotic catching my attention. But the question we keep forgetting to ask in matters of restructuring and revitalizing educational systems is this: what really defines parent involvement? We don't ask what that really looks like from the parent's point of view. To our detriment, we fail to get the perspective of one key member of this equation.

So I ask, parents of kids: what is your definition of involvement? What does that include? How do you help your child be a successful student.

Because I, for one, really want to know.
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Reader Comments (43)

Well, there's the 'do your homework' thing.

But I loved the way my daughter's pre-k had the parents come in to read books to the student or show expertise, like how to do art or cook. They had all kinds of parent days! Learning fairs with prizes, just fun stuff.

Current school doesn't welcome parent involvement but there was a bingo night with pizza. That sort of worked. Then the kids got to bring home books.

I admit I kind of dread being involved because I'm overwhelmed. But if it were meaningful in some way, I would be. I don't want to just sit around listening to what the teachers want or hear how my kid sucks or whatever. I will, but I won't enjoy it. But I would welcome collaboration with the teachers of any kind. Like if they were doing a unit on the sea and they wanted us to bring my daughter and friends whose parents were busy to the aquarium or something? Do you know what I mean? Either something where you are really participating in the kids' learning or maybe influence the classroom instruction in some way?

Genuine, mutual participation might create interest.

If there was a TON of money then food would be a draw.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterozma

Call me biased, and you'll be right - I am a former music teacher and I still judge festivals -- but I'd pick Glee over American Idol. Idol may be reality, but Glee is mighty realistic.

Survivor? I always wonder where the intelligent contestants are. When the tribes are starving I want to shake them up and say, "Didn't you read Hatchet? My Side of the Mountain??"

But I'm with you on Jamie Oliver and Alton Brown. I'd take them into my school any day of the week!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy

I am new to your blog, but have enjoyed reading it the past couple of weeks.

I am not an educator. I am a parent to a gifted middle school girl. I have worked hard to be an advocate for her educational needs. My husband and I moved to a school district in the most boring suburb in the history of the universe so that she could be a part of the public school program that best fit her needs.

During preschool, I acted as president of her cooperative preschool and worked in the classroom. During elementary school, I volunteered in class, communicated with her teachers and staff, was part of the PTA, and chaired several volunteer organizations. Now in junior high, I chaperon every activity night, am on several committees and have just agreed to act as PTSA president next year.

I believe wholeheartedly in being involved and being an advocate for my child. I know I tend to go overboard, but it has made a difference, I think. She is not yet embarrassed when she sees me at school, and was actually excited when I told her about being PTSA president next year.

That being said, I know I am in an enviable position. I was able to stay home with my daughter and get my M.A. while she was in preschool. I worked flexible schedules and went to law school while she was in elementary school. And I am now hoping to open my own practice to keep as flexible a schedule as I can so that I can show up when I want/need to and be there to ask her about her day and who she ate lunch with and what homework she has and make sure her teachers know who I am and that I want to know what is happening.

Wow. I guess I have an opinion on this.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuniverse

I only have a toddler, but I did go to high school, so I’m going to speak from that experience. And I was a brilliant student who got miserable grades. I even dropped out for a week, before a parent-teacher-counselor intervention sent me back. And at the moment I fell apart, my parents were in shock. They assumed I was doing fine, but they never bothered to find out if I actually was. They didn’t check my attendance, which would have told them I regular ditched my math and science classes. They didn’t ask if I had homework, or if I had done it (which I hadn’t). They never asked if the books I spent hours reading were for school. They didn’t notice when months went by and they hadn’t seen a progress report, even though our school issued them every six weeks. They didn’t ask about my IB exam schedule, the SATs, or anything else. They assumed I was smart and I could handle my responsibilities.

In other words, there were many opportunities my parents could have taken to investigate how I was doing in school. Modern parents have technology that allows them to do this, but my parents had the great technology of 1993, known as a telephone and their own mouths. They were completely uninvolved with my education by the time I hit high school, and I struggled and fell apart because of their inattention.

When I was in junior high, my mom spent an entire day at school with me, even changing and running with us at PE. She got to see what my days were like, how the kids interacted, and what we learned. I was slightly embarrassed, but also very proud. And the idea that my teachers now knew her by name and face went a long way toward shaping my behavior and performance in school. I know not every parent has enough flexibility to take a single day off of work and do something like that, but many do. I can just imagine the effect it would have is just 1/3 of parents spent a day with their teenagers in school once a year. A lot of assumptions could be replaced with experience.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYolanda

ozma - That makes me wonder about what you said about the current school not welcoming it. Is it because they don't welcome it or because they don't know HOW to ask for your involvement?

Daisy - How awesome would Alton Brown be in a chemistry class? He would get those kids to GET chemistry. I'd take that class.

Suniverse - I love that you figured out what you believe just by writing a comment! :-) So, if I'm hearing you right, you are involved in aspects of the school that don't have to do with the teaching and learning. Don't get me wrong - that is fine. But I want to know if you want to be involved with more of the learning. Is that as strong an opinion with you as well?

Yolanda - Everything you just said? Wow. You have summed up the brilliant, gifted kids that, even in 2010, have some parents that assume they are responsible enough to handle everything. I don't think that attitude has changed that much. Sometimes, when those kids get in trouble, their parents are absolutely shocked because, of course, that kids knows better. But just a little bit of digging and one will find that their struggles are not that of a student who isn't learning on pace, but one who has social/emotional issues to tend to and it masks itself in a way that isn't very helpful when we're trying to figure out how to help.

These are great comments. I'm taking copious notes.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

What is Parent Involvement...that's an interesting question.

As a middle school teacher, we say we'd like parent involvement but to many of us that means only that parents follow-up on their kids in regards to their homework and study habits. We only want them to come to school for activities when it's convenient for us to have them there and many of us get offended or threatened when our methods are questioned or suggestions are made to us about instruction/material.

As a parent, I feel excluded and alienated from what happens at my son's school. When I ask question or make suggestions, I am made to feel like a trouble maker. I am the parent of a special education student but when I make recommendations on how to engage him in learning I often hear, "He'd be the only student we are doing that for"... okay? AND?

As an example, my son managed (and his ADD/Learning disabled self) to get away with visiting the health aide every other day during his regular (hard for him) education classes for his first quarter this year.

I wasn't made aware by the health aide, his regular education teacher or his SPED teacher/support staff. They assumed I knew...and no one could explain to me how he was allowed to get away with it. How can parents correct problem behavior if they are not made aware it's occurring?

Involvement is more than checking his homework and chaperoning activities. Parents should be partners whose ideas and input are equally valued as members of a learning community. We should be involved in the development of curriculum, learning activities and assessment. Parents and their ideas should be welcomed and appreciated if for nothing else to encourage them to be more involved. Many parents are intimidated by teachers and administrators, which encourages them to remain disconnected.

I think parents would love to be collaborators, if it truly meant being involved in a meaningful way.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMissy

I am not an educator, but feel that I have been involved as much as possible in the years since my oldest son started school (he is 11 now). Over the past year I have found myself backing away from involvement because of the negativity at the school. They closed the library - parents tried to volunteer to keep it open - giving hours upon hours of time and effort - only the teachers wouldn't use the facility in a "silent protest" of the job of the librarian that was lost (it wasn't really "lost" - she was tranferred to the high school to fill the position of someone who retired). This year I gave 6-10 hours a week copying math assignments for an entire grade (12 or so classrooms) - even taking the time and money to go to a local copy center as to not use school paper and machine time; the only time I ever got any feedback was when I made a mistake - I stopped at the end of February. I am someone who really wanted to give the time, to make a difference, unlike many parents who view school as a way to get their kids out of the hair for the day, and I feel like my efforts were totally in vain. I still try to help out where I can, but am burnt out after six years of effort.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

And I apologize, I never mentioned how much I enjoy your blog - you should be commended for the effort and caring you seem to put toward your students. Sorry if I ranted, but it is something that is still an open wound to me!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

As an educator and someone prepping for the dissertation stage, I have to agree wholeheartedly with Missy. We want parents to be involved but only if they do it "our" way. We dread that parent who is too opinionated and rag on those who don't have time to show up to parent teacher conferences in the window of time we set for them.

It's too bad. My son's only in pre-school but he will be at his current school until 8th grade. Because it is a private school, we are not only encouraged but expected to be involved in all aspects of the school. It's a community and I can talk to the head of school at any time if I have a problem, question, issue. I have a voice in my son's education and knowing that it's there makes me want to be more involved.

Schools need to remember that they are communities and parents are members and each have their own strengths and weaknesses and we should be collaborating with them to created a well-rounded community.

Love your reading list. I am up to my eyeballs in my own reading list--but I'll have to check yours out. There can never be too much.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdawn

Missy and Dawn, let me just say UH HUH to what you've said. We have a narrow view of what fits in as an involved parent, and if they don't fit there then we label them as uncaring. That's why I want to define what "involvement" is from the parent's point of view and meet them in the middle.

Kathy, your comment makes me want to apologize on behalf of educators who forget to tell volunteers "thank you". Failure to use the library is sort of unacceptable, you know? There has to be a way to protest and still allow children to GET BOOKS. and p.s. You're allowed to rant here. I mean, I'm the one who opened up the topic for comments! I'm just sorry you're still smarting from the wound.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

I live in a college town with great schools. When my kids were in elementary school it was easy to get involved. I served as PTO president and volunteered in the classroom. Now that I have a middle schooler and a high schooler, it is much harder. During the day (when I am most available), it seems there aren't many opportunities to get into the school. I do volunteer for some PTO related things but my experience is that it is hard to "break in" sometimes and that I don't feel as needed.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

On a related tangent, spurred by your reading/researching What's Working: I recently finished reading Nurtureshock (" rel="nofollow">my review)which is a friendlyly-written overview of current research that puts a lot of common sense on its head when it comes to nurturing children. Many chapters dealt with infant/toddler/young'uns, but there was this one chapter that pointed towards better performance achieved when high schools started an hour or so later than usual -- because teens sleep differently than babies and adults, and benefit from getting to sleep in during this time of their lives! Seriously. Anyways, on one hand I would imagine you've heard of this already, but in the small chance you haven't, perhaps you'd like to pick this up from the library/bookstore :)

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter*lynne*

A parent of two children 16 mos apart, 6th and 7th grade. I have nurtured them since pre-k being involved in schooling except I admit PTA. Attending PTC is not enough so when the schools instituted edline (the grades being listed on line) I was estatic. One of my kids has been gifted since 3rd grade, the other is high honor roll. I am pro-active in keeping on top of the ovrall assesment scores of the school and ISAT scores. I also check the as my kids have to go to the high school in the area unlike the children in the city can pick any school in school. Some of the high schools in our area is on acedemic probation, therefore, I don't want them attending that school. So yes, I am an involved parent!

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

I'm struggling with this already, and my son is only four. He is in a preschool in which I hear teachers say that parents are never involved, don't care, etc. I've watched parents walk away and roll their eyes when a teacher tried to explain a situation that happened with their child that day. Some parents really don't care and don't want to be involved, especially from what I've seen at the preschool level - it's a place, as someone mentioned, to just get their kids out of their hair for the day.

So imagine my shock when I try to be involved and am met with resistance. My son has ADHD, gets in trouble in some form daily, etc. I emphasize to the teachers how important feedback about his day is, so that we can work on these 'issues' at home, I get nothing. I meet with them and put together THREE behavioral plans - they don't follow them. I make suggestions because I know what my son wants/needs/likes/responds to - little things that wouldn't be hard to implement, and would probably work/be good for the whole class!... I get eyes rolled at me. I get told about how they have more than one child to deal with.

I want to know everything about my kid. What he's good at, what he enjoys, what sets him off, what is working there and what isn't. This is PRESCHOOL - I fear for "real" school.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

Oh, I have so much to say about parental involvement and what it means, what it should mean, why parental involvement might be harder to see in some parents. Here are a few of my posts on the subject:

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I'm the mother of a 2 year old and a 6 year old. I volunteer in my son's first grade class once a week. I will do whatever the teacher tells me to, but I can also sometimes supply activities. I'm a professor in my "real job" so I do know something about teaching. This volunteering is the only way I keep from going crazy about not knowing what the heck is going on at school. We get a monthly newsletter from both the principal and the teacher but those are very general. My son is the kind of kid who says every day was "great" and he can't remember anything else. The wonderful side of volunteering is that I know my son's friends, I know what the class is up to, and I have some idea of the teacher's style.

Here's the dark side. I'm a professor - I am white, well-paid, highly educated and I have a very flexible schedule. It is STILL hard to find time to come to the classroom and I still felt nervous about proposing the idea. I lose about 2 hours a week of very productive writing time in order to do this and it is my writing that will let me keep my job. How many parents can do that? To what extent is the idea of parent involvement, at least during the day, based on the assumption that at least one parent is not working full time?

Of course we also oversee our first grader's homework. I am thrilled to know what he is doing, but again, in a two parent family, where both parents work full time, here is what that means. We are "lucky" that both my husband and I can leave work at 5pm, nearly every day. By 5:30 all of the family is home. By 6pm dinner is on the table. By 6:30 we have eaten. Now we have about 60-75 minutes before we need to start bedtime. We use 15-20 minutes of that time, our absolutely most precious family-together time, to supervise his homework. Thank goodness our 2 year old has fallen in love with "homework time" and eagerly gets out markers and crayons for her own "homework".

My husband is also in education for his profession. You would be very hard pressed to find two parents who care more about education. We have a certain amount of flexibility in our jobs, we have time and money to manage parental involvement, but it has a very real cost, even to us. I wonder how exactly families with fewer resources are supposed to manage this? It makes me angry to hear that people think that parents don't care. Parents are under an amazing amount of stress, and yes, I think more stress than in the past. They probably know about the emotional and social problems - what are they supposed to do, keep their kids home from school until these problems are fixed? How are parents with less flexible employment, with possible transportation difficulties, with other children, supposed to manage parental involvement" I think it is possible that some parents don't care, bu I don't think parents end up not caring about their own children without a lot of pretty horrible experiences along the way.

I have no solution to this problem. I think many parents are just as bad about blaming the schools. I'll be looking back here in case anyone else has some good ideas. I do think parents and schools should cooperate but I think both parents and schools are being asked to manage problems that are beyond their limited resources and not of their own creation.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

well, you know i homeschooled our kiddos for all those years and even now they're all at skool/university i can't seem to keep my sticky beak out of their 'education'.
i think it's helped that they've watched hubby and me last year finishing off our own degrees and we're always 'on tap' for help with stuffs... hubby/daddy is director of curriculum at the two teenagers' skool and i've been substituting there, and trying to pop in and out of the other two kiddos little primary skool as much as poss. but yeah, i'm finding it way harder to be involved than when we home educated. cos all the lives are sprinting in different directions... X

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkatie

So my response is based on a head cold induced state. :)
I agree with replacing AI with Glee, not only do you have music, you have health too. No, you can't get pregnant in a hot tub if you DON'T have sex.
Biggest Loser - also health and accounting/finance (Suze Orman was on this week).
My principal got me a membership with ASCD finally! I say finally b/c she's been talking about it for 2 years...and it's funny b/c I've asked for a break from the literacy coach position next year, after 3 years (I need it!). Perhaps I will have time to read all those books! ;)
We also have a limited parent involvement at my school, an elementary school. We have some very committed parents for sure, but the bulk, not so much. I tend to take a slightly different approach to this, compared to my colleagues. I actually look at myself in the mirror and ask...if they're not getting it at home, what more do I need to do, how can I change what I am doing to give my students the support they need and the success they deserve. We are not a 90-90-90 school by any means but we are low performing. My board is actually in a position where the ministry could intervene if things don't change.
I do have a very open classroom and that helps me with the parent involvement. I tweet our happenings (although at this time of the year it's become a little less), I have a website, I'm in the process of starting a blog for our class and students and parents know they can email me any time I as long as it is before 10 pm I usually get back to them that night. It goes a long way to getting parents involved. As several have mentioned, getting in to the school isn't always easy, but getting involved can take different ways. I find that keeping the line of communication open goes along way to getting and keeping parent involvement.
Okay, enough rambling on for tonight. :)
I will say yet again, I enjoy coming feeds my education soul. Now I'm off to check out those sites you listed.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Parental involvement ends up being a lot of time. You are in the classroom helping with centers and what have you. You bring in eggs and an incubator. Go on every field trip. Raise money for the new playground, go to bloody dull school improvement meetings. . . .then you're all burnt out by the time the kid is in middle school. Can't someone else handle that? You think, and by High School, the kid is so busy referring to herself as a woman that you almost believe it yourself until you get an email from a teacher saying she hasn't turned in any work for 4 weeks. . . .

So, anyway, there's this expectation that the parents come to school to work for free like they did when the kid was in elementary school for 12 straight years. Meanwhile, the house is falling down, the younger, non-school aged children are getting ringworm or worse, and you think maybe you should sit down and let someone else handle it. Only, everyone thinks the same thing, until you have no parents helping. Not to mention that delicate balance for high schoolers to maintain that image of having hatched from an egg, rather than actually born to any parents. . .

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterangie

Wow! Tricky to comment because I feel horribly unqualified to do so. However I am the PTA President of my girls' elementary school and was surprised to find at the beginning of the year that teachers were not invited to join the PTA and many actually thanked me for doing just that. I write my weekly 'President's Notes' in the newsletter exactly as if I was blogging or chatting to my best friend, which teachers as well as parents read, and I make sure that I personally hand write a thank you card to any teacher who volunteers at a PTA event. My goal is not just to make the teachers feel loved, but to bridge the gap between teacher and parent and to promote the idea of a learning community not a learning institution. I believe it's working, our membership is up, events are better attended, we raised more money that we ever expected for technology that the teachers requested - we even have a teacher taking a position on our PTA board next year! More than one teacher has invited me to sit in on their classes - they don't feel threatened and that is, quite literally, opening doors.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterveryanniemary

I am a mom of 7th & 8th graders. Since they started preschool, I have volunteered in the classroom one day per week. Now that they are in middle school, that is not "cool," So I volunteer in the school, I just can't be in their classroom the same time they are.

In the past ten years I have done everything from bulletin boards to fund raising to PTA president to copies to grading to reading aide, to SPED aid.

I will split my time between the middle and high schools next year when my older son moves on. I chair advisory (no PTA at this level) and am on a first name basis with all my teachers and principal as well as the office staff.

I check grades online daily. I have been on 43,876 fieldtrips.

Is this a pain? Sometimes. Has it required professional sacrifices? You bet. Worth it? No question.

I can tell my kids all day that their education is important. If I show them, and make it a part of my day (more than "do your homework!") they are much more likely to believe me. This has been a tremendous success for both my boys.

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

I think there's a thin line where parental involvement is good and bad. Good=when they actually help. Bad=when they are in the school to totally control their kids' lives and interactions with others.

I learned early on (when my twins were in elementary school and I was working) that the kids of the involved moms got all the accolades. I mean, how many times can you actually be Artist of the Week? With my youngest in school and me not working, I tried to volunteer. I just found it frustrating in so many ways. The moms are snarky. Including the PTO president who stood up every year saying how much they needed volunteers. Yet when I signed up for every committee under the sun I was never called. Initially I thought I was being shunned, then I learned that this was happening to all the moms who weren't in the "cool moms club."

Now I consider my level of parental involvement to be there if there is a problem. I make sure homework is done. If there is a problem, I will back the teacher/school wholeheartedly in making sure my kid learns to work within the system (aka follow the rules).

Most of the time I find myself at school (I even subbed for a few years) seeing all the bullying going on, pointing it out and being ignored. That frustrates me beyond anything so I find it best if I just stay away.

Wow, I had no idea this subject was such a hot one for me!


April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusie Kline

My eldest graduated from high school in 2008, my youngest graduates this year.

When they were in elementary school I would go in the classroom to volunteer when I could. But I am a single parent working a full-time job so this wasn't too often. We would sit together to do homework in the evenings.

In middle school and high school I read every book they were required to read so we could talk about them. I sent my boy's teachers an email at the beginning of the year telling a little bit about my son(s) and if they were going through anything that may affect their schoolwork (ie) death in the family, illness, etc. and to volunteer my help in whatever way I could.

In high school - I rarely recieved a response from a teacher. Some were great and we would have good open communication - but most - nothing. My eldest was in an accident his junior year and really fell off track after that. I made appointments with his counselor to seek help and assistance and was told - email his teachers. Well, one way communication isn't a whole lot of help.

Even though I made the offer of help, in any way, not one teacher took my up on that offer.

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternec

[...] not the parents, not the community, not the students.  Kelly over at Mocha Momma wrote about parental involvement and this is key.  The education system doesn’t allow for parental involvement.  it [...]

Mocha Momma,

Thanks for the opportunity!

As to being involved in the educational aspect, I am divided about this. I do not want to step on toes, because I know teachers work very, very hard to come up with lesson plans that are engaging and meet curricular requirements.

That being said, I was more than happy to help out in my daughter's classrooms, playing math games and aiding in group work as well as teaching about art history every few weeks, but I am not an educator. I also find children exhausting and sometimes my patience wears thin, so I tend to avoid them whenever possible [ha!].

As long as my daughter is engaged, I'm happy. When I have questions, I can email her teachers or speak to them at conferences, and they have been, with only one exception [due more to her youth and inexperience - she was teaching 5th and 6th grade gifted students having only ever taught kindergartners for one year before; but my kid loved her and she learned a ton, so I let it go], very prompt and open in their communication with me. I've not been disappointed with any subject matter she has studied, but I hope that if/when that situation occurs, I'll be able to be involved and deal respectfully with her teachers.

Wow. It's like I have not shut off switch. Except now I have to go chair a PTSA committee meeting. Thanks for the forum.

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuniverse

I only just discovered this site today, and I must say that your blog entries are enlightening and funny. You. Are. So. Cool. :)

I think you're absolutely right with the remark on parents not being as involved when the kids reach middle/high school. I think this because I'm a 13 year old girl, and my mom has just suddenly gone from being completely in-the-know to completely out of it. No idea why.

My mom used to know everything that went on in primary school, but when I got to seventh grade, she just had no clue what was going on. She goes to all the Mothers' Committee meetings, but she still doesn't seem to know what's happening. My brother (he's 15) never has a clue what's going on, so I'm stuck with all the responsibility. "When do we go back after Christmas?" "Ask Zoe." "When is the talent show?" "Ask Zoe." Hello? YOU'RE the parent here. YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Sorry, rambling.

So anyways, I have no idea why this is. But it is not true that we try to keep her out. It's just that when we spill TOO many details, she nags and nags and nags and fusses and it's annoying. Yeah.

Oh, and by the way, I'm writing a book :) I dunno why but I just wanted to add that random fact. I've got about 5,000 words right now. :D I'm really hoping to get it done by this time next year and then get it published before I'm 18. My dad's best friend is an attorney and he said he'll be my agent. Yeah, I'm random. I know.


April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZoe

I'm a stay-at-home mom who is happy to be involved in my daughter's school.

Well, I could do without Lunch Lady duty after four years, but she still wants me to do it and so I shall. As a bonus, I now know every child in the school (there's only 35 so it's pretty easy), and I can understand BabyGirl's comments about the different children. When the monthly theme was something I'm passionate about, the teacher ( asked me for ideas and specific assistance, and she was encouraging of any ideas I came up with.

At home, I helped my daughter develop her Spelling Plan, a spelling review plan she could follow to get 100% on all her spelling tests. We review her math every day--BabyGirl wanted to be done with her 3rd grade math book and start the 4th grade book before ending 3rd grade, so we figured out how many pages she had to do each week to make that goal.

My schedule gives me the flexibility to join in on most field trips, which I'm happy to do. If there are other things I can help with, she knows she can call anytime. While I constantly monitor my daughter's progress, I know that she's in good hands. It'll be interesting to see how things go when she's in middle school and high school. I don't remember seeing any parents at my middle and upper schools so I don't have any role models to follow, but I'm sure to be there.

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMommela

Yeah, and Pedro Noguera is very easy on the eye.

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMommela

I have a tough time with "parental involvement" because of my own personal situation. I am a single mother of a preschooler and a second grader. My second grader is high needs and has a 504 plan. I work 45 miles away from my house and since I am the only breadwinner I don't have a choice about that. I leave my house at 6:30 in the morning and get home at 6:00 at night. On Wednesdays I work from home, but that is also the day that I have therapy and psychiatry appointments scheduled, or horseshoer or vet appointments for my horses. I am also expected to actually work, as I am a manager and my department is one of the highest budgets in the company.

I email with my daughter's teacher, I attend parent teacher conferences, I emphasize with my child the importance of learning and school. But I don't go to parent days at school. I don't do anything beyond parent orientation, conferences and the occasional school program. Because? I get home at 6 pm. My kids have an 8:30 bedtime. By the time I've made dinner, fed farm animals, put dishes int he dishwasher, given baths and done some laundry or paid some bills, its time to go to bed so I can get up at 4:30 AM to do it all over again.

I don't have the luxury of going to read books in my daughter's class or volunteering to chaperone a field trip. I would LOVE to, but I can't. And my own parental guilt over that often leaves me feeling very defensive when educators complain that I'm not involved enough. I am already pushed to my limit in my life. If I try to carve out any more time something is going to collapse, and my children can't afford to have the thing that collapses be ME.

I wonder, from your perspective as an educator, what the answer is for parents like me? What level of involvement are you expecting?

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary P (Barnmaven)

I wish you had been a little more specific about what "parent support" really means to you. Reason: I decided some years ago to follow the philosophy of Dr. Haim Ginott, who wrote a wonderful parenting classic called Between Parent and Child. Here's what he says about parents and homework, direct quotes: "From the first grade on, parents' attitudes should convey that homework is strictly the responsibility of the child and the teacher. Parents should not supervise or check the homework, except at the invitation of the children. (This policy may be contrary to the teacher's wishes.) When parents take over the responsibility for homework, children let them, and parents are never again free of this bondage." In other words, it's an autonomy issue. I want my children to know that it's THEIR job, not mine, to put in effort to do what they're asked to do.
On the other hand, were you talking about parental involvement in the sense of doing fundraisers and volunteering for certain activities? If so, that's a different issue.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

By the way, in the European country where I live, there is no such thing as parental volunteering inside the school: it's against school policy and I don't know why. It just isn't done.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Involvement looks different depending on the age.

With my elementary boys I volunteer in class once a week, and for parties, etc. I sit with them during homework, go to every conference with my husband, read with them (or ask about their reading, if it's on their own.), etc. I think I would classify myself as "very involved." (Looking over a comment a little above mine I noticed that someone said for parents not to be involved in homework. Clarification: I sit with them to make sure it gets done. I typically don't check it. I have boys that are easily distracted-they are 8 and 10!)

With our daughter, who is now 19, that changed in middle school somewhat. The teachers don't need/want us in the class. I did, however, look at her homework, help her when I could, look at the syllabus, etc. Then, in HS, (which is what you asked about, right?) it was even less. BUT I'm the mean mom who knew what was going on in her classes, would email the teachers, talk with the counselors, that kind of thing. I'm also the mom that would say no talking on the phone/texting after 9pm or so, lights out around 10, family dinners, and I went to "Back to School" nights and conferences. (At her HS participation in that kind of thing looked to be around the 25-30% mark. Not scientific, just observation clouded by time.) Interestingly enough, there were things that I would make her do on her own....question that I couldn't answer? She had to make an appointment with her teacher to figure it out. You have to do that in college on your own, right? So she needed to learn how to make it happen in HS, too.

You didn't mention any PTA involvement/issues, and can I just say that that is not where I, personally, would spend my time. I would, however, love to be more involved as a parent of a HS/Middle Schooler, if they would let us. What kind of suggestions do you have for a parent, who doesn't want to do the PTA thing, to get involved in upper-grade schools?

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeadless Mom

I agree with Molly on the homework issue; I will ask them if they have homework and usually will follow up by asking if they finished, but not every day, and I do not ask more than once, if at all. That is their "job" right now, and I do check the parent portal and make sure they are doing their job and actually handing it in. If not, we have consequences.

I was very involved at my sons' schools when they were younger; PTA, class mom, class parties, making copies and laminating, making food for teacher appreciation meals. Whatever they needed, I did. In my experience, most teachers didn't want me in the classroom, but I was welcome to plan and oversee parties where the teachers were out of the room.

I have backed off now that they are in junior high, mainly because I do not have time to volunteer anymore. But I still consider myself to be an involved parent. When I attend parent teacher conferences in the fall, I make sure all my son's teachers know that I want to be notified if they ever have any problems or concerns with him, and I am proactive in emailing them if I have questions or concerns. I was very honest with his teachers about problems we were having and issues we were trying to deal with, and I swear it made the difference between most of his teachers hating him at first glance based on his appearance; instead most of them now have taken the time to get to know him and they like him. I have one teacher in particular that emails me at least twice a week to keep me updated, and I email her. I know she would not do this is she didn't want to - and if she wasn't concerned about my son.

We participate in all the fundraisers and help out whenever asked, but at this age, I feel like if they want parents in the classroom, they will ask, and they don't. My parental involvement extends mostly to taking care of my own children's issues, and letting the teachers know I want to hear from them. My younger son's teacher called me today to let me know about an "incident" at school, and I could hear the shock in her voice when I thanked her profusely for calling me, and asked her to always call me for things like this. I got the feeling that phone calls from teachers aren't always welcomed by parents, and to me, that is where parents need to change their tune. Kids have to learn to respect authority, and that means teachers. So we as parents also have to respect their teachers. My kids know that at school, teachers have the final word, and I will back them up. I know that there can be extreme cases where the teacher is in the wrong, but in the majority of cases that I have seen, the child is wrong, and the parents just don't want to accept it, so they battle the school.

Whew! Sorry for that novel, but parents as enablers are a pet peeve of mine.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSheri

i forgot what you wanted from me. i was too busy drooling over my new boyfriend, pedro. now, i haven't read all of the comments yet. i just want to get my thoughts out there first.

as a former teacher & a current parent, i may define parental involvement differently than some. i wanted my kids' parents to follow through on items we discussed, whether it was homework or behavior. too many times, i had parents who said they would take care of something and nothing. ever. changed. and my administration was no good in getting things done since they deferred to the parents in all things involved at school, which, DUH! YOU run the school. YOU set the rules. if the kids & parents can't follow them, GIVE THEM CONSEQUENCES!

the lack of parental involvement, whether it is checking in with your kid to see how school went at the end of the day, emailing the teacher regularly, making a phone call here & there, stopping by if you have the time, looking over their homework, asking them what their project schedule looks like, etc. is the bane of many teachers. if students aren't held accountable for their actions, why are we there? i thought we were supposed to teach them, but when they are taught that they can get away with anything, it perpetuates what i've dubbed the entitlement generation. kids think they should have what ever they want just because of their very being being awesome enough to deserve it when they usually don't deserve a warm bucket of spit. (i don't mean that they shouldn't get an excellent education, i just mean that they think it should be handed to them on a silver platter with no work done on their part.)

since we've moved to arizona, where the public schools seem to be in worse shape than st. louis, we've decided that we, as parents have to ramp up our involvement with the kids at home and at school. g even came home one day & asked me to do a little homeschooling with them because they were so bored at school. (heart broken.) we don't have the option to send our kids to private school. homeschooling wouldn't work for us. we have to put our efforts into the public school that we chose and try our damnedest to produce happy healthy kids when they graduate.

in short (too late!) if more parents would be more involved with their kids' lives and school, in even the smallest manner, the schools wouldn't be failing our kids.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermommymae

It is my opinion that parents would have a bigger impact on schools if they just participated more in their kid’s lives, at home.

Even though my parents were divorced by the time I started high school, knowing that my father would hold me accountable for bad grades and bad behavior got me through school just fine.

He didn’t help with many projects, but the ones that he did help me with kicked butt. You could say his involvement was minimal, as well as huge. And that could be said about most of his involvement in my life.

My mom was great, but it was dad that kept me on the straight and narrow.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Such an interesting post. I look forward to reading more. My 2 kids are in middle school and my son is about to head to high school next year. I quite honestly have no idea how to be an involved parent at this stage. Right now I consider myself there #1 cheerleader, their education coach and their therapist. I try to balance my desire to be by their side with their need to learn to do it on their own. That is a tough balance.

In elementary school their were lots of opportunities to help the school but in middle school, not so much. I am the Treasuer of the PTO but I still don't feel like I'm involved. They don't have parent chaperones (and my kids are happy about that), the teachers would not want a parent in the room. I do find nearly all teachers open to communication and working with me as needed.

As a high school administrator how would you have parents involved?

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJayne

I guess I'm a middling involved parent, but Henry's only in PreK 3 hours a day and what would I do with Quinn if I volunteered in his classroom. I talk and e-mail with his teachers. I go to programs/conferences/orientations. I follow up at home on any behavior problems I hear about. I spent his birthday in the classroom and provided $30 worth of fresh fruit, cheese, and milk. Why did I bring that instead of cheaper cupcakes or cake? Because I asked the head teacher for her preference, not Henry's preference.

For my time as a student involved parenting looked like this. We (the twins) were enrolled in preschool at 2. Mom handled elementary school. She was working as an aide in the building, every day. She also drove us to and from the better university laboratory school across town instead of sending us to the neighborhood school where my brother had problems with boredom. Mom went back to college to get her 2d bachelors degree in late elementary school, so we observed her studying and earning a 4.0.

By junior high Mom was working as a sub and Dad took on more involvement. He helped with science and math homework and when I had problems with teachers, ALWAYS male math teachers, he went in for meetings to protect me from further classroom humiliation tactics. One math teacher didn't know I had a twin in the classroom as there were 3 Jones girls in the room and basically said I was lying, but Leah corroborated what was going on in the classroom. Was that an education thing for awhile? Humiliate kids so they hate your subject? ANYWAY, I'd love to go back and do math again because the ONE time I had a respectful math teacher, I learned a lot.

In high school, parent involvement was basically extracurricular involvement and let me tell you Leah and I did A LOT of extracurricular activities. Swimming, marching band, theater, speech & debate, science olympiad, math counts (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA), academic superbowl, jazz band, concert band, private instrument lessons, basketball, summer art, and probably more I have forgotten about. On top of drivers ed, boys, friends, movies, parties. God, I'm tired just thinking about it. Mom and or Dad came to every performance, event, competition, conference, sectional, regional, state. Dad and I built an organ together out of pvc pipe. When I went away to nerd boarding school in Muncie, dad drove THREE HOURS EACH WAY to watch my JV basketball practice. I earned every freaking letter my high schools offered. You should see my letter jacket, it is COVERED in letters and chevrons.

Thanks Linda & Larry for doing all that.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRayne of Terror

I even lettered at a high school I DIDN'T attend, no joke.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRayne of Terror

I have tears in my eyes, Raynie, cause I have been thinking of the ways I failed as a participating parent and I see you have a different point of view that opens my eyes and I thank you.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlindajones

I haven't volunteered at my son's school because I'm busy during the school day. Busy teaching somewhere else. :)

I teach upper elementary, and by that age many of us don't actually want or need parent involvement IN the classroom on a day-to-day basis. I find that many of the kids need to learn to be more independent--to learn to work without Mommy holding their hand every minute of the day. Some kids simply won't do that if they don't have to. I do love it when parents come in for special activities and field trips.

Here's the kind of parent involvement I NEED, and what I give my very academically successful son:
Parents need to teach kids basic manners and respect, and if their child disrespects teachers or other children at school, their child should be in big trouble at home.
Parents need to expect their children to fulfill their responsibilities and to do their best in school. If they do, they should be rewarded. If they don't, they should be in big trouble at home.
Parents should attempt to give their children some life experience by actually getting them out from in front of the computer/videogame/cellphone once in a while. They should take the kids to museums, beaches, forests, hiking trails, whatever's close to them. Because that life experience helps them understand vocabulary (better reading), science, and social studies.

If parents can't come in to school, that shouldn't be a big deal. I was a successful student. My parents NEVER came to school. I don't remember seeing a parent in any classroom in K-12 during the day, and there were no parent-teacher conferences back in that day in my town. But the quality of education was EXCELLENT. Most parents did the three things I listed above. That makes all the difference in the world.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

I should have added above that all parents need to advocate for their children. If your child is being mistreated (as in Rayne's story above) or is not getting what he or she needs educationally, parents need to get involved and push for their children to get what they need. For example, if your child is doing his or her best and not succeeding, you should be in constant contact with the teacher/administration to figure out what everyone can do together to help. Unfortunately, I've found that parents of failing kids are often hard to get in touch with--don't return calls, etc.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

Throughout my kids' preschool and elementary years I was very involved in the school - PTO, chaperoning, fundraising, work projects, attending school board meetings and writing letters to the editor etc. I found it extremely helpful in getting to know the teachers and administrators and keep tabs on my children's progress. I reached a burnout point, though, and have not actively sought out involvement at the junior high aside from chaperoning a field trip and begging my son to let me chaperone a dance (he said NO WAY). I have attended every school event to which I was invited and have been in touch with teachers when I had concerns. My husband monitors the online grade book, I read the daily school announcements online and we both try to keep tabs on assignments and tests. We tried the hands-off approach initially but when the grades slipped we stepped in. With high school looming I agree with Jayne Said in that I have little idea how to be involved - likely it will be with fundraising/boosters for sports and community service activities, getting to know as many of my kids' friends' parents as possible, keeping tabs on assignments and tests and communicating with teachers when there are problems. I would love to hear what high school teachers/admins want from parents.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMoonbeam

[...] number of people working in a school who are trying to extract excellent teaching. Recently, when I asked parents what the words “parent involvement” meant to them I was astounded at the different experiences people had with either their own schooling as a child [...]

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