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How to engage the uninvolved parent

Do you see parents and families as a resource in your school? To increase family engagement, help parents maintain a sense of power, dignity and authority in rearing their children.

Empowerment is an intentional, ongoing process centered in the local community. It involves mutual respect, critical reflection, caring and group participation. Through this process, people lacking an equal share of valued resources gain greater access to, and control over, resources. Critical elements include inclusion and a sense of power in decision making.

Have you negotiated and affirmed parents' roles and responsibilities?

To do this:

  • Explain the importance of family influences for children’s learning.
  • Expect parents to be involved.
  • Clarify how parents can help (e.g., give them options).
  • Encourage parents to be assertive. Do not mandate how parents should help; let parents select.

Have you reduced home-school barriers?

Consider some ways to reduce barriers such as:

  • Have contact with parents before children begin school.
  • Have contact with parents early in the school year.
  • Establish ongoing communication systems. The should include good news as well as sharing of concerns. Have a way to communicate and share resources to address concerns.
  • Use two-way communication formats.
  • Telephone.
  • Home visits.
  • Email.
  • Assignment/communication notebook or portals.
  • Community liaison.

Focus on the knowledge and interests of individual families. Explain the importance of their involvement. Ask them how they want to contribute to the school or classroom and their child’s learning.

Have you created a spirit of cooperation with the purpose of meeting children’s needs?

Follow these five essentials of parent involvement. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to engage ethnically and culturally diverse families:

  • Explore with families what they want schools to accomplish.
  • Devise opportunities for involvement that parents see as practical and meaningful.
  • Reach out to parents with warmth and sensitivity over and over.
  • Develop an ongoing training program in which parents and staff are both teachers and learners.
  • Acknowledge that sharing power with parents is not losing one’s professional leadership role. Rather it provides an opportunity to understand the interests and goals of parents, and to learn ways to achieve them.

Have you considered these strategies?

You could also try to:

  • Identify why parents are not involved.
  • Multiple efforts, eliminating stereotypes, and changing school practices.
  • Use welcoming strategies (e.g., personal invitations in native language, translators, etc.).
  • Plan for logistical barriers (e.g., daycare, transportation, etc.).
  • Invite parent assistance and input for addressing school-based concern, keeping focus of interaction solution-oriented (i.e., what can we do to foster child’s progress?).
  • Make events fun (e.g., raffles, contests, etc.) and meet a family need (e.g., meals, etc.).
  • Use community outreach (e.g., meet in neutral sites, home visits, etc.).
  • Identify a powerful parent who will spread good messages about the school.
  • Examine procedures for recruiting.
  • Develop meaningful roles for families (e.g., build on home experiences in classrooms, utilize parent expertise such as co-leader for a workshop, etc.).
  • Explain to parents that if they choose not to be involved, the teachers will continue to work hard to teach their children. However, the children may make less progress because they are not practicing outside of school. They have fewer opportunities to learn.

Have school communication practices been examined?

Ask yourself:

  • Is communication presented as a two-way, reciprocal, shared responsibility?
  • Can families start contact if they have an idea, question or concern (without being perceived as a problem parent)?
  • Under what circumstances do individuals feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas?
  • Do our interactions with parents currently elicit and openly value their input (i.e., use their input)?
  • Think of times that have fostered the development of a positive, working relationship. How often do interactions happen between educators and families? Under what circumstances do they occur? When are we unsuccessful? What factors characterize our positive and negative contacts?

Author: Sandra L. Christenson, Professor in the College of Education and Human Development

Reviewer: Kathleen A. Olson, former program director in partnering for school success

Reviewed in 2018

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