Parental Involvement in Our Schools

Practical ways for principals to encourage parental involvement

Eileen Rygus

 

In the current climate of achievement testing and school accountability, many schools have failed to tap into a readily available resource—parents.

 

Parents are an effective resource for improving student achievement; furthermore, parent involvement has a positive effect on students, teachers and schools (Banda, Coleman and Matuszny 2007). The benefits of parental involvement are well documented in educational literature. Many researchers maintain that the more parents are involved in their children’s education, the greater the effect on achievement. This spike in achievement is especially true in the early years (Cooper and Crosnoe 2007; Cotton and Wikelund 1989; Darch, Miao and Shippen 2004; Littky 2004; and McWayne et al 2004). Jeynes (2007) suggests that parents who monitor their children’s homework and school attendance into junior and senior high school continue to influence achievement.

  

Sirvani (2007) corroborated Graham-Clay’s (1999) research and noted that once parents became involved, the greatest improvement in student achievement was realized with low-achieving students. Barton, Drake, Perez, St. Louis and George (2004) discovered that parents who spent time in the school developed relationships with school staff and felt more comfortable addressing teachers when their children were experiencing difficulties. Amador, Falbo and Lein (2001) reported similar findings in their study of high schools and further elaborated by equating very involved parents with very successful students.

 

My experiences as both a parent and an educator have deepened my interest in the benefits of home/school cooperation. Therefore, as part of the master of educational studies at the University of Alberta, I completed a research project involving elementary school principals from middle-class neighbourhoods in urban Alberta. I explored the experiences of four school principals who had success engaging parents. I interviewed principals, and recorded, transcribed and analyzed their comments. I discovered specific strategies that these successful principals implemented to involve parents in their schools.

 

I asked principals to outline their strategies to increase parental involvement, to involve parents in policy making at school and to encourage parents to work with their children at home. I also asked them what future ideas they were considering. For the purpose of this study, I defined parental involvement as creating a home environment conducive to learning; aiding communications between home and school; volunteering in the school; attending school functions; assisting with homework and decision-making at school; and/or collaborating with the community.

                                                                                                                                                                                        

Five strategies to build better relationships                                                                                                                                                    

Building relationships and communicating clearly emerged as two highly successful themes from this study. Because principals realized relationship building is time-consuming and their teachers were busy, the principals I interviewed made it their responsibility to build relationships with parents. These successful principals employed the following five strategies:

 

Strategy One—Create an open and friendly school in which parents feel comfortable. The school will become a meeting place if parents are allowed to congregate and visit in the hallways as they wait for their children. Strategically placed chairs in the hallways create a welcoming atmosphere in which parents feel encouraged to be in the school.

 

Strategy Two—Establish an open-door policy and be available to hear concerns. Hearing what is being said builds trust with parents, as does honouring differing viewpoints during disagreements.

Strategy Three—Be visible in the hallways. Talk to parents when they pick up their children both before and after school. Although it seems obvious and sometime difficult at the end of a long day, smiling at parents creates warmth and invites conversation. Visibility increases the perception of openness, thereby increasing parents’ comfort level to address issues.

 

Strategy Four—Ensure that parents feel valued. Undertaking the following five steps will enhance parental involvement: 

a)      Learn parents’ and children’s names—this tells parents that you value and care about their family.

b)      Send cards to thank parents for volunteering for specific events. Repeat the gesture at holidays and year-end. Hand-written notes of thanks are appreciated and worth the time they take to write. 

c)      Tell parents that they are appreciated and their presence is supported. 

d)     Nominate parents for district awards and ensure that the nominations and any awards are featured in the school newsletter.   

e)      Hold volunteer appreciation celebrations. Volunteer celebrations enjoy greater success when the majority of volunteers can attend and students are involved in presenting and running the program. Some schools alternate volunteer appreciation events between school time and evening in order to accommodate all volunteers. 

 

Strategy Five—Schedule regular special events at the school and involve students. Parental involvement increases when schools undertake the following:

a)      Involve children in assemblies, both as hosts and as performers. Parental attendance increases when their children are involved and take leadership roles. Although teaching students to lead assemblies requires a time commitment from the principal, the participating principals I interviewed noted that students benefited by developing public speaking and leadership roles. 

b)      Encourage students to create invitations to school functions. Child-created invitations encourage greater parent participation than do office-written invitations. 

 

Eight ideas to improve communication

The school principals highlighted eight ideas to increase communication between home and school.

 

Idea One: Principals designed school newsletters which, in addition to announcements, included practical information for parents about how to better support their children’s learning. Newsletters that featured draws for return slips signed by the parents were read more frequently than those without draws. Draw prizes need not be expensive.     

Idea Two: Principals used classroom newsletters as a way to invite parents to volunteer for upcoming activities.

 

Idea Three: Principals surveyed parents online about schoolwide decisions (Survey Monkey).  Surveys were most effective when kept to a maximum of three questions.

 

Idea Four: Principals used Internet sites to post classroom information. Ease of use and navigation is paramount to ensuring readership by parents.

 

Idea Five: Principals used e-mail to communicate concerns with parents. Sirvani (2007) and Tobolka (2006) linked consistent reporting of homework completion through weekly e-mails to parents with increased student achievement. Schools found e-mail to be most effective when used regularly.

  

Idea Six: Principals used e-mail to send parents agendas for upcoming parent council meetings and followed up with minutes of subsequent meetings.

 

Ideas Seven: Principals asked their teachers to phone parents when students had lengthy projects to complete at home.   

 

Idea Eight:  Principals enlisted volunteers from English-language centres to conduct home visits to non-English speaking parents and to accompany parents to the school to translate conversations with teachers. Translators were also available for parent–teacher conferences. Some principals advocated having translators at all school functions.

 

Conclusion

Research demonstrates overwhelmingly that the involvement of parents in their children’s education provides significant benefits. Nevertheless, despite current research, parental involvement is not very effective in many schools. Sirvani (2007) and Abrams and Gibbs (2000) both found that the administration’s role is vital in ensuring appropriate parental involvement. Current research, including my small Edmonton-based study, continues to demonstrate the positive and far-reaching benefits of parental involvement. The practical steps by successful principals outlined in this study can help administrators increase the involvement of parents in their schools. Certainly, they are worth a try. 

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Eileen Rygus is assistant principal of Rundle School, in Edmonton.

 

References

Abrams, L., and J. Gibbs. 2000. “Planning for school change: School–community collaboration in a full-service elementary school.” Urban Education 35, no. 1: 79–103.

 

Amador, N., T. Falbo and L. Lein. 2001. “Parental involvement during the transition to high school.” Journal of Adolescent Research 16, no. 5: 511–29.

 

Banda, D., T. Coleman and R. Matuszny. 2007. “A progressive plan for building collaborative relationships with parents.” Teaching Exceptional Children 39, no. 4: 24–31.

 

Barton, A., C. Drake, J. G. Perez, K. St. Louis and M. George. 2004. “Ecologies of parental engagement in urban education.” Educational Researcher 33, no. 4: 3–12.

 

Cooper, C., and R. Crosnoe. 2007. “The engagement in schooling of economically disadvantaged parents and children.” Youth & Society 38, no. 3: 372–391.

 

Cotton, K., and K. R. Wikelund. 1989. “Parent involvement in education.” School Improvement Research Series, Close-Up 6. Available online at www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/3/cu6.html.

(accessed August 24, 2009).

 

Darch, D., Y. Miao and P. Shippen. 2004. “A model for involving parents of children with learning and behavior problems in the schools.” Preventing School Failure 48, no. 3: 24–34.

 

Graham-Clay, S. 1999. “Enhancing home-school partnerships: How school psychologists can help.” Canadian Journal of School Psychology 15, no. 1: 31.

 

Jeynes, W. 2007. “The relationship between parental involvement and urban secondary school student academic achievement.” Urban Education 42, no. 1: 82–104.

 

Littky, D. 2004. The Big Picture. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

McWayne, C., V. Hampton, J. Fantuzzo, H. Cohen and Y. Sekino. 2004. “A multivariate examination of parent involvement and the social and academic competencies of urban kindergarten children.” Psychology in the Schools 41, no. 3: 363–77.   

 

Sirvani, H. 2007. “The effect of teacher communication with parents on students’ mathematics achievement.” American Secondary Education 36, no. 1: 3146.

 

Tobolka, D. 2006. “Connecting teachers and parents through the Internet.” Tech Directions 66, no. 5: 24–26.