Parental Involvement Does Not Mean Baking Cookies

Ever get tired of hearing about "parental involvement" in the context of our school system? Here is a way to get to the heart of what this phrase really means to you!

I am so tired of hearing the term “parental involvement” thrown around the school system we have here in DeKalb County. Does anyone even know what this term means? Or has it just become an easy to spout-out catch phrase that can mean many different things depending upon who is saying it? 

Try this quiz:

When a teacher says, “I am a firm believer in parental involvement,” what do you think he/she is saying?

 A.) I expect the parents to get their kids here on time, fed and ready to learn. If I send home a note about a discipline problem, I expect the parents will handle it.

B.) I expect the parents to make sure their kids are doing their homework and keeping up on assignments. If the kids are not prepared, that’s the fault of the parents.

C.) I would like parents to volunteer their time and make donations of supplies for our classroom as often as possible. I want them to critique me and provide as much feedback as possible so that I might understand their child better.

D.) I would like to see all the parents show up for PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences and volunteer to help with our festivals and field trips.

When a principal says, “We are working toward an environment that fosters more parental involvement,” what expectations do you have?

A.) They will finally stop holding meetings at times that are impossible for working parents to attend.

B.) They will be expecting to see my name on at least one volunteer form this year or expecting me to participate in another fundraiser.

C.) Same old thing as always. Blame the parents. They know we don’t have time to get involved, so they are just saying this stuff to make us feel guilty so we don’t complain about what our kids are not learning in the classroom.

D.) More??? I am already volunteering several times a week and I am on every committee and board possible. How can they expect more?? 

When a school board member says that the success of a charter school is based, in part, on the parental involvement, how do feel about your child’s school?

A.) Oh, great, so it’s our fault the kids are not learning anything.

B.) Maybe we should try to get into a charter school next year.

C.) What kind of jobs do those parents have that allow them to take so much time off of work?

D.) Okay, I get it, I will bake even more cookies for the festival than I did last year. That ought to help!

As you can probably see, any of the answers to the above questions could be correct depending on the circumstances, the school or the people involved. But, to get at the heart of what parental involvement means to you, try this simple exercise:

for a moment to a time when there was no school in the middle of this equation. It is just you and your child. Think back to the time when your child was too young for school and your parental instincts were not complicated with all these different possibilities. It was just you and your child. If the baby cried, you knew what to do. You might not have known immediately, but you trusted your instincts. You knew your child.  

First you would check the obvious… does the baby need to be fed? Diaper changed? Burped? Is he or she sleepy? Uncomfortable?  Is he or she sick? Is there something in the immediate surroundings that is troubling my baby? Light too bright? Noises too loud? 

And, after going through the obvious, there was always the “other” logic to fall back on? Does the baby just need a little love?  Sometimes, all your baby needed to stop crying was just YOU. Remember that? Simply picking up your child and holding him close or rocking him in a certain way would be all that was needed. It was something so easy, but still something that no one else could do quite right. Kisses and hugs can work magic. They heal boo-boos and chase away monsters. They make children feel safe and loved. It is this intangible quality that is inside of you, that is the cornerstone of parental involvement. 

NOW, FAST FORWARD TO TODAY: Don’t let other people tell you what your child needs. You know the answer better than anyone because you know your child better than anyone else does. If the teachers say there is a problem, don’t wait for the teachers to tell you how to handle it. The child they are talking about is still your child, your baby.  

There are a lot of people out there who may believe they know what is best. They may even like to suggest to you what they think you are doing wrong. But, just like you politely smiled when your mother-in-law suggested you try giving your child an ice cube to help with their teething and you knew that warm milk was going to work much better, you are still the parent.  

THINK ABOUT YOUR CHILD: What does your child need from you to succeed in school? What does your child need right now from you? Trust your instinct. Don’t hand over the reins to someone who knows how to teach children because they do not know exactly how to teach YOUR child. Only YOU are the expert in this area. Remember the look on your child’s face when you would arrive to “save the day” by chasing away a scary monster that lived under the bed? Your child may be older, but you can still be their hero. You are the one who will decide how to put the “parental” into “parental involvement.” 

Do not let anyone else try to do this for you. Let the rest of them use that phrase however they want. It does not matter what they think. What matters is that YOU understand how important it is for you to stay involved in your child’s life. Only YOU can tell when he / she is struggling in school and does not know how to ask for help. You were your child’s first line of support way back when he was learning to crawl or walk. Why should it be any different now that he is learning to read or write?

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS: You still have your instincts that will tell you when it might just be a little love that is needed to get through the tough spots. Listening and understanding may be the best gifts you can ever give your child. And these things do not cost money. They cannot be plotted on a chart or summarized on a spreadsheet. They do not confine themselves to certain districts and are not part of any curriculum. 

Remember that look in your child’s eyes that said, “Just come and play with me.” You could drop everything you were doing for that look. Don’t forget that instant connection you once had. It is still there, but maybe it has been a while since you looked in your child’s eyes. I bet that look is still there. You may have just been too busy to see it. 

It might not be as easy as sitting on the floor and playing blocks. Today it might require that you sit down at a desk and learn math all over again in order to help your child finish his homework. It might mean effort, work or frustration. But isn’t your child worth all of that? Success does not come easily, but it is worth every effort. And while you are putting your effort into helping your child, you are also showing your child the exact dedication that you expect to see from him or her. 

ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES: Sit down and work together. Or stand back and give praise when your child is able to accomplish great things on his own. All of this is right. And no one can tell you the formula because every child is different; every relationship is different; every person is a work in progress. 

Do not look back at what could have been or should have been. Look forward to what is still possible and then dedicate yourself to what needs to happen today. Your child will not expect anything more from you than exactly what they need. And you will know whether what you are giving is the right amount. You will both have less stress and more success. 

And, the good news is that with THIS kind of parental involvement … there’s no baking required!  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

bobby jo September 08, 2011 at 04:43 PM
I'm curious what public DeKalb County school Cheryl's kids go to?
Cheryl Miller September 08, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Why? I have been helping with a lot of children in a variety of educational settings and talking with a lot of parents, teachers and administrators. It is not specific to my child ... it is more relative to how I raised. And, I have spoken with a lot of parents who feel very overwhelmed and defeated these days because they work full time and simply do not have the time to partake in every single party or bake sale. These things are important on some level, yes, but the most important way to be involved is really someting that should be between you and your child. Don't you agree?
TheTuckeRight September 09, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Of course I know my children better than their teachers. Of course I need to spend quality time with them. For most parents, these facts are undebatable. The problem is your venomous indictment of the entire Dekalb County School system. I interpret a teacher's request for "parental involvement" as "I cannot ensure your child's success in this class by myself. I need your involvement to help your kids achieve everything they are capable of during this school year." Common sense. Your leading Pop Quiz details, with increasing fervor, your frustrations with the school system. Here's the thing: If You don't make time for after school meetings, if YOU allow yourself to be over-burdened, if YOU CAN'T BAKE, guess what? Those are not school issues. They are YOUR issues which YOU are projecting onto the schools. My children go to Brockett Elementary. It's a good school, and they have fine teachers who work very hard. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it's not the tragedy you've inferred, either.
bobby jo September 09, 2011 at 12:57 AM
Oh I do agree Cheryl but I am curious because I get so tired of people knocking DeKalb County, especially those that leave the system and move their children to private school. I believe that you fall into this category so please correct me if I'm wrong. In my experience there are many parents that work full time and manage to help when they can and it's fine with them. I know many parents that work full time and manage to help out an incredible amount at school. On the other hand, I know several parents that don't work and do nothing to help support their school. I think it's a very personal decision and everyone is different. But it does take hard work and dedication from the majority to make it work successfully. Your article makes some very valid points but I don't think it's fair to imply, as your byline does, that you are a DeKalb County parent if your child is not in a DeKalb County public school.
Cheryl Miller September 09, 2011 at 02:52 AM
I am a DeKalb County parent. I have been a DeKalb County parent for as long as my child has been alive. And, I have been a DeKalb County property tax payer since 2001, which means I have 10 years of invested income into the success of our public school system. My quiz was not intended to give my personal reactions or responses to the fictional questions. I intended to give a variety of ways the statements could be interpreted in an effort to speak to the many different types of families out there who are trying to figure out the right thing to do when we are being bombarded by so many negative stories about the school system these days. It was an attempt to inspire parents to not worry so much about what others might be saying, and look to themselves for the answers. I wasn't knocking DeKalb County in any way, so you must have misinterpreted something. It was a simple message of encouragement that we all have doubts and we all want to do the best we can for our kids. And, whatever choice a parent makes, public, private, charter, magnet, etc. ... as long as you are doing what you know is right in your heart, then you do not need to look back with regret. I have met many people who have felt tremendous pressure to transfer their children under the AYP program, only to find out that their child was happier and perfoming better at their OLD school.
Cheryl Miller September 09, 2011 at 02:52 AM
DeKalb has the highest transfer rate in the state... I suggest you read "Do AYP transfers create solutions for kids or new problems for schools?" http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2011/07/21/do-ayp-transfers-create-solutions-for-kids-or-new-problems-for-schools/ by Maureen Downey.
Katy September 09, 2011 at 04:05 AM
Are you arguing against parental involvement at schools? From reading your blog post and comments, it sounds like parents should disregard any requests the school has for parental involvement and just focus on their own child, at home. I agree that our number one priority should be our own children and their needs, but you can't deny the fact that schools with high parental involvement are some of the most successful schools, and that one parent's involvement usually benefits many children, not just those of the parents who have the time to be there.
Cheryl Miller September 09, 2011 at 04:32 AM
I'm not arguing anything here. I guess my opeing line about "I'm so sick..." may have given the impression that I was blaming one group or another for something. I'm not. I just get tired of catch phrases that people say over and over to the point that no one even knows what they mean by it anymore. Please note that I included a link in the graphic to an actual website that will advise people on the "core" elements of parental involvement if they want to hear from the experts. If we do not define what it is we are asking parents to do, then we will never be satisfied with the results. I took a stab at the definition by saying that it starts as a simple bond between you and your child. Everyone else may add in their own comments as well. My parents were not very involved in my school at all when I was growing up. I don't think I would have wanted them to be. They showed up for things when I wanted them there, but that was it. But, they were very involved in my personal achievements, keeping up with my school work, making sure I did my homework, etc. If all parents could do just that and nothing else, it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Cheryl Miller September 09, 2011 at 04:35 AM
Oh yes, and I hate bake sales because I cannot bake from scratch and I'm terribly jealous of everyone who has that talent. I always feel like an inferior Mom when we have to send baked goods to school, so it was a little joke mixed in there about the baking not being an actual reflection of your parenting. At least I hope it's not, or I really am in trouble!
Cheryl Miller September 09, 2011 at 04:48 AM
To TheTuckeRight, I am sure that your school is great as are the teachers. I meant no disrespect to either. I was not knocking the school system, I was poking fun at a phrase that I think is overused and underdefined. Even in your definition you said "I need your involvement to ensure..." What does that mean? I need you to do what? You need me involved to show up, get my child there on time, ask a bunch of questions, volunteer in the classroom? You will have to admit that different teachers have different definitions of what kind of involvement they want. Some would like the parents to come in and help out. Others would just be happy if you read the memos and showed up for carpool on time. If you are already a very active parent, then obvioulsy this article wasn't aimed at you. It was for people who are not able to spend a lot of time at the school, but shouldn't consider that to mean that they are just counted out when it comes to being involved in education. I want to encourage every parent to get involved, but they should start by figuring out what their child needs so they get involved in the way that is "right" for them.
bobby jo September 09, 2011 at 10:43 AM
bobby jo September 09, 2011 at 10:56 AM
I will continue to believe it's misleading for you to have "DeKalb County Parent" as your byline. By not answering the question, you answered it. You are part of the problem. Moving your child out of public school to private will never help our schools improve.
FC September 10, 2011 at 02:11 AM
I am in shock that anyone who has a child would find fault with the original article. I think there are some bitter feelings being thrust in the wrong direction. Are you actually suggesting that a parent who puts their child into private school is part of the education problem in Dekalb County? Open your eyes! If you have children in the public system and are not freaking out right about now, then you are part of the problem. I'm baffled that anyone could possibly say the system is good. In fact I would love to hear something that is good. Otherwise, here is how the rest of us see it. Georgia is ranked 48th in the U.S. (that doesn't mean 50th is best). The school system is run by criminals. (You would be better off skipping school and watching "Scared Straight.") Our children are almost the dumbest people on the planet currently. Whose fault is that? Is it because the parents are uneducated and think that by simply by attending any school at all their child will be better educated than they are? Or are you going to go a step further and blame the children? Are they just not teachable? Oh, that's right, you blame the parents of the kids who don't even attend your school. Yeah, that ought to help. The fact that you would take the side of the school system over the voice of a concerned parent makes me wonder if you actually have children. If you do, have missed the fact that the administration is lining their pockets while the schools are falling apart? Wake up!
Cerebration September 10, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Even if you pulled your child from public to private, your article still makes sense. We all wonder what it means to be "involved". I've learned that it means raise money, organize meetings, organize events, meet with teachers, lobby the legislators and make sure the 'work' is getting done at home. To that end, in my experience, and the experience of many parents I know, "involvement" means paying a tutor to teach the material after school, as there isn't time to cover it all in class, and most of it is too complicated for parents to help with (especially math). Truly, your child will do well, if you focus all of your time and attention and resources on your child - and you do not consider 'helping' out at the school.
FC September 12, 2011 at 06:19 PM
and it is misleading for you to expect us to believe your name is bobby jo.
Cheryl Miller September 30, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Longerthanu February 18, 2013 at 04:31 AM
Yes, people who do nothing but bitch but send their children to private school are art of the problem, Cheryl. Just as people who have ever been journalists but pretend to be are phony.


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