Although it has been unintentional, I realize that my actions have led to families feeling disengaged from the school environment. This statement may cause some to be shocked, angry, or defensive — however, I believe it to be the truth (at least with regards to what I have experienced during my time as an educator).
Beginning as early as pre-school we start inviting families to come to school-based “meetings” to discuss behavior and academics. Instead of this experience being about working together for the student, I have noticed that these meetings often feel more like a lecture for the parent, as the school team members have typically met and dialogued before this meeting and appear very confident and clear on what it is they are about to tell this parent. If a student is considered “a behavior issue” or “low performing”, these meetings will likely take place with greater frequency, longer duration, more intensity, include more unknown acronyms, and quite possibly leave the parent feeling worse than they did pre-meeting. Unfortunately what began as a well-intentioned series of meetings from the school-team and a hopeful family needing assistance, over time, can result in a tired, frustrated and disengaged family.
It is now time for the student to enter high school, where he or she possibly requires a higher level of social, emotional, and academic support than his or her same-aged peers. The English teacher has concerns, attempts to call home, and the school team is shocked and can’t understand how those parents can be so unavailable to come in to a meeting with the school team?! I know that I have had those thoughts and even said those words more than once.
It is no longer acceptable for educators to say:
“The parents won’t come to a meeting.”
“I called three times, they clearly don’t care about supporting their child’s educational needs.”
“I would try and call, but it doesn’t matter. They won’t come anyway, and even if they do, nothing will change.”
I have realized that it is essential that as professionals, we stay at the table with our families and never stop trying to engage. It needs to be an unconditional process.
School, family, and community partnerships are critical to students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes. These partnerships need to be nurtured. When we start working with a family, we don’t know what their own educational experiences have been. They could have been very negative, causing them to be hesitant to partner with educational entities. We also may not know their past experiences with their own children in school up to this point. If there is any information that we do have regarding this family, it is likely that it has been passed down by other school professionals, causing us to make assumptions without ever having personally listened to the parent’s story.
All parents want to see their students be socially competent, academically successful, and able to positively contribute to our society. If you see resistance from families in the engagement process with school entities, try and give them the benefit of the doubt that they ultimately do want what is best for their child. We have to actively work to engage our families and nurture strong partnerships for the benefit of our youth. This partnership is critical. Stay at the table and continue to engage.
Ideas to consider:
- Offer school materials in multiple languages to meet the demographic of your student/family population.
- Send home positive communication regularly — don’t wait for something bad to happen to chat with parents
- Offer to meet a family at a neutral site (i.e. coffee shop or library) to talk with them about school matters. This approach can take away negative feelings associated with the school, and may ultimately get them into the school building at a later point in time.
- Never stop trying to meet with a parent/family. Consider having meetings at times the family chooses, rather than the school team.
- Start a parent/family/community resource center. Allow there to be a safe place for these key stakeholders to come to school and receive information.
- Offer meetings quarterly for parents/families to learn about important school items/topics. Think of multiple opportunities/ways to invite parents/families to these events. Consider having dinner and childcare available to make it more likely that they can attend.
- Have a parent/family member on leadership teams throughout the building/district. Their voice is critical to our work.
Would love to hear your ideas for keeping parents engaged!