This school year started off very differently for me. For the first time in 15 years my vocation is not linked to a specific school or district. The flexible hours of the entrepreneurial and consulting worlds has allowed me to see a different perspective on the start of the school year.
It is a really busy time of year for parents too!
I have a 5th grader, a 2nd grader, and a pre-schooler. In the first 7 days of the school year I received:
- 31 emails, 8 of which required at least one link to read additional information
- I had to create 3 new “accounts”
- received 4 text messages from the school district
- listened to 2 voice messages
- attended 3 hours of “back to school” celebrations
- spent additional money for spirit wear, school supplies, and membership dues
On top of that, the papers…lots of colored papers to read, sign, fill-out, and ensure the correct ones get back to the school or teacher or PTA in the right bin.
It’s hard…it’s really hard.
Please don’t get me wrong here – we love our schools, our kids are very happy to have such great teachers, community building is important, and the food at the events has been great.
It’s just hard to be actively involved and let’s face it, we haven’t even talked about academics yet – arguably the more important part of involvement.
Research will point to meaningful parent engagement as the single biggest factor to student success. (Of all external factors that is – teachers still have the most significant impact on student learning within schools.) With the significance of this piece of the puzzle, I wonder: “Have we really thought about what we mean by parent engagement?”
Volunteering, community building, involvement in parent/educator organizations, and donating resources to schools are certainly important components of parent involvement. I would propose some additional pieces to this definition:
- Parent Education – helping them gain a deeper understanding of k12 & parenting topics.
- Active 2-way Communication – encouraging all parents to share ownership of meaningful back-and-forth communication about their student
- Student Advocacy – empowering parents with the opportunity to have a voice in their child’s educational decision making
- An active and open, continual dialog where schools and parents (and students) have equal voice.
My experiences as an educator have shown me that some schools across the country already have great parent engagement programs and are successfully partnering with communities. Often times, the success and implementation is tied to the passion of an individual or two who take on this role as long as they can sustain it – essentially a personal passion rather than an organizational priority.
I believe we can get better; we can make this easier for parents. We must.
One final thought
Schools are crazy busy – lots of plates spinning at once. This is true for all educators who are often being asked to do more with fewer resources. The question is not “Should we make parent engagement a higher priority?” – research tells us that answer. But rather “How can we leverage technology to make meaningful parent engagement more effective and efficient?
I have an answer…