3 Secrets to Better Parent Involvement in Education
Parent involvement in a child’s education is an easy way to make sure your child is getting the education they need. But how can you be involved when you’re working or taking care of other children? It’s possible, and we’ll show you how.
A child’s education is happening all the time. Learning occurs every single day. And even though this school year is already partway through, there’s another one coming after that. So forget the idea that September and the general back-to-school season is the only time it’s important to talk about education and learning.
There’s no doubting that teachers play a large part in educating our children. We tend to believe that our children are in school receiving direct instruction most of their day. But that’s hardly the case. Children only spend about 13 percent of each year in the classroom.
The Math On Kids Time
Even with the extended schedule of high school, students only spend about 13% of their time at school.
The rest of the time, our children’s education falls on us, the parents. But the good news is we don’t have to quit our jobs to make sure our children get the education they need. We just need to be involved and supportive. And being an involved parent is easier to do than you may think.
Both parent involvement and the teacher play a role in the success of a student in the classroom. But how can you help support that learning when you aren’t physically a part of it? Become involved. You don’t need to be in the classroom, but you do need to be in contact with their teacher.
A positive relationship with your child’s teachers is beneficial for both you and your child. For your child, it can lead to higher academic achievement and an improved attitude with increased motivation to succeed. For you as a parent, you’ll feel better knowing you’re in regular contact with some of the most important influencers in your child’s young life.
The best way to do that is with a parent-teacher conference.
You may meet your child’s teachers at back-to-school night, but that one meeting isn’t enough. If you’re not going to those, by the way, definitely make it a priority next school year. Use them as an opportunity to find out how the teacher prefers to be reached and let them know you support them and intend to stay in contact over the following year.
It’s common now that parent-teacher conferences are only offered when there is a problem. However, you can absolutely request one even when there’s nothing “wrong.” Early conferences are a prime opportunity to share important information with teachers, like any health-related matters, issues in the family, or perhaps learning styles you’ve noticed over the years.
When my daughters were in elementary and junior high school, I used the start of term parent-teacher conferences to set the tone for my relationship with their teachers.
I wanted the teachers to know there were people at home paying attention and supporting them to not just do their homework but to develop a love of learning and a deep respect for their teachers.
I wanted their teachers to know that my husband and I were allies, that we could be counted on, and that we would be available to do more than the standard parent volunteer type of activities.
I never once regretted requesting these conferences. They were a joy for me to not only learn what and with whom my daughters would be learning but also to simply say thank you. I am so grateful to the people who made such a big difference in their lives.
Regardless of whether your children are learning in a classroom situation or receiving instruction remotely at home, parent-teacher conferences present prime opportunities to support your children. The conferences can also help to accelerate their success in school and set the tone for the year and into the future.
Whenever possible, I would request another conference toward the end of the school year to see how things were working out and if there were any suggestions for things we needed to work on over the summer holiday.
Email wasn’t available back then, but it’s certainly a viable option now. Just make sure there’s at least one face-to-face meetup each year. That personal connection is invaluable.
Questions to Ask So You Can Get the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences
A veteran teacher of 28 years, a mother of three, and the Curriculum Director at Raising Families, Tamie Neu told me that parents often share they don’t know what questions to ask in a parent-teacher conference. Some feel like they’re not allowed to ask questions. Some go in thinking they’re about to be reprimanded for their child’s sorry behavior.
Others go in believing they will be praised for their child’s grades but are surprised to find out there are perhaps behavioral issues that need to be addressed.
Tamie suggests the following questions you might consider asking the teacher about the instruction they will present to your child so that by being an involved parent you can help make sure your children have the greatest success.
They fall into three categories:
- Skills and Information Parents Should Have
- Do you talk with your students individually about their grades and efforts to encourage them?
- Will you use scores and student input to set new goals for the student’s targeted progress?
- Will you email the new goals you have set together so that I can support him/her in that effort?
- May I email to set up another conference before end-of-year testing begins?
From Tamie’s experience with her youngest son who is dyslexic, the teacher-student conferencing on his progress helped them to set goals and made a huge difference for him. This helped to set the foundation for his success. Tamie also knew what those goals were and could track his progress, and if things got off track, they could work together to take needed action.
- What subject or subjects will you be teaching?
- When or what time will this class take place each day?
- How will you provide the instruction? Will you use textbooks, e-books, or both?
- Where will I find instructional help when I work with my son/daughter at home?
Knowing the what, who, how, where, and when instruction will happen is really important in turning goals into reality.
If your child is learning at home, getting answers to questions like these is critical so that you can know what to watch for and fill in the gaps.
As Tamie’s sons got into their high school years and the content in their classes became more difficult, she relied on their teachers to suggest the best resources for her to use in order to support them in their accelerated classes. This was a huge help for her.
Skills and Information Parents Should Have
- Where will I find information on what I’ll need to support my child at home?
- What skills will I need to have to review and practice new concepts with my child at home to support their learning?
- How or where can I go to learn those skills?
Tamie’s experience is that teachers really want involved parents who help, but in some cases, parents may need to learn a few things themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be supportive and offer your own hopes for the rest of the year. Be clear that you want to work with them to support your child’s success in their class.
Try to be realistic when you set goals with your child. Think about small, attainable steps. You may have setbacks, but be consistent by continuing to set new goals and encourage progress. Change takes time, so be patient.
These steps will take bold plans and positive actions on your part. Remember that parents are the best advocate for their child.
Teachers will respect your efforts and appreciate your positive encouragement and support for their efforts with your student’s success as your first priority.
2. Make Sure Your Child Gets the Education They Need
Depending on your child, ‘the education they need’ can have many different interpretations. Let’s consider the current situation.
Believe it or not, according to this article from Edutopia, some kids are actually thriving in this new world of distance learning.
- Some former class clowns can now focus without the distractions of the traditional classroom environment.
- Some kids are able to focus because they are no longer worried about bullying.
- Without the commute time to school, some kids are finally getting the sleep they so desperately need to help them get through the day.
- Without the ability (and therefore pressure) to participate in a large variety of extracurricular clubs or sports, some kids finally have time to just do their homework and relax.
That being said, the majority of students are not thriving. Rather, they are heroically braving day after day of a very difficult screen-heavy learning environment despite the equally heroic efforts of their teachers.
So how are you supposed to know what the education they need is?
Here’s what you need to know: unless you are actually following a homeschool program, your job is not to try and be a duplicate school teacher.
Apply Their Lessons to the Real World
To make sure your children do the best they possibly can, remember that your job as a parent is to give your children enough experiences and engagement (conversations) to apply the knowledge they acquire at school.
The education they need is your time and experience using what they know, so they can successfully navigate the real world.
That’s true whether or not a pandemic is going on.
Effective Parent Involvement at Home:
- Consistently let your child know that you’re paying attention to their whole education. You have a goal for them that isn’t about their GPA and potential college career. That goal centers on their ability to think critically and stay curious about the world around them, their willingness to ask questions, and develop a lifelong love of learning.
- Put more value on the journey of learning and trying new things. That’s most important when their efforts end in “failure.” They need to know you’re okay with that.
- Do not put your own academic hang-ups on them. Your lack of confidence in math should never cloud your support for their efforts to learn and potentially be great in it, or anything else.
- Show your immense respect for the professionals in your child’s portfolio of educators. That includes classroom teachers, sports coaches, music teachers, summer camp directors, and any other relevant guide. Anyone who dedicates their lives to teaching children deserves every bit of admiration we can give them.
- Make the effort to put their lessons into real-world context. Stay up to date on what they’re learning in school by staying in touch with teachers. Then, go to the museum with the exhibit on whatever they’re learning. Watch the documentary together. Build something the hard way instead of buying a premade kit. Get engaged and get your hands dirty as much as possible.
- Help them create realistic expectations and goals for themselves while also holding them to consequences for their choices.
- Spend time at home focusing on practical life skills, like shopping, budgeting, taxes, or taking care of your home, pets, or car. Build models. Plant something. Do all the things that aren’t a part of traditional school, and do them with enthusiasm.
- Learn about your child’s particular learning style and how you can best support their needs.
- Establish good habits for maintaining mental and emotional health through open communication and stress-management techniques.
- Model a life-long love of learning through reading, games, exploration, and conversation.
A parent’s role in their child’s education is to be a consistent guide and advocate from the time they are born to the time they go off to work.
Striving for strong parent involvement in your child’s education doesn’t mean you need to become another school teacher for your child. Think of yourself as a specialist in your child, their needs, their curiosities, their passions, and their foibles.
Nothing is more valuable than your attention and the sharing of your wisdom about the wonder and beauty of life.
3. Recognize That Parent Involvement Changes Over Time
If you have a younger child, your involvement in their education will certainly require more time and energy than for an older child. You may need to sit with your young child to help them get set up and signed in for online learning or to help with schoolwork/homework or just be near them so they can sit and get their work done. But instead of just helping your child with homework, focus on helping them figure out how they can find the answer on their own—do they need to go back to the lesson or reread a section?
By putting your energy toward teaching them how to find the answer themselves, you’ll be teaching them a valuable life skill and building their confidence at the same time.
But as your child gets older, the amount of parent involvement required from you will change. Soon they’ll be telling you they know what needs to be done or, more likely, just retreating to their room and closing the door. This is where staying in touch with their teacher will be helpful, so you can make sure assignments are being turned in and know what type of engagement to provide at home to support their school learning.
Regardless of the age of your child, the amount of time required from you will vary depending on the day and stage of your child. Some days will require more and others less. Over time, though, all parent involvement follows a certain path where you’ll move from just being a parent to being more of a coach and then to being a mentor, all while continuing your parenting role.
To understand more about these three phases, read Exploring the 3 Phases of Parenthood: Parent, Coach, Mentor. Whatever stage you’re in now, it shouldn’t be so unusual for parents to have a commitment to their child’s education—not just in terms of grades but in terms of real practical learning.
With our three secrets, being involved in your child’s education will be a piece of cake. Just remember, have at least one face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher in the form of a parent-teacher conference. These present a prime opportunity to support your child and accelerate their success in school while setting the tone for the year and into the future. It will also help you to know what your child is learning, which will help you with our second secret: Apply the knowledge they acquire at school through experiences and engagement.
By doing this, you’ll ensure your child is getting the education they need. And finally, keep in mind that your involvement will change as your child grows. More hands-on time will be needed when your kids are young, but as they get older, your involvement will change from a purely parenting role to one of coaching as well and then one as a mentor.
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Elane V. Scott
Elane is the co-founder of Raising Families. Her unique expertise in fields from marketing and media to community development and parent coaching is how she guides parents and grandparents to become more joyful and intentional family leaders. In her “free time” Elane enjoys reading metaphysical texts, talking to strangers on airplanes (pre-covid), and lovingly convincing her grandchildren they're meant for Olympic stardom. Read full bio >>