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!