Middle school and high school years have become times in a child’s development when parents are less ‘involved’ in their education at school. It doesn’t have to be that way, though! It is not that parents stop their involvement completely; they just step back from the formerly close monitoring of school work. During adolescence, as children distance themselves from their parents, they also demand more autonomy, independence and less ‘hovering’ by parents.
As adolescent teens separate themselves from parents, they dramatic physiological and hormonal changes, as well as the continued brain development are experienced during adolescence. These years are about self-discovery. Teens expect the parent to appreciate who they have become, even before they know. Therefore, teens clarify and demand recognition for the new person they see themselves to be – or on the way to being. Teens wish to know who they are, and to establish their own separate unique identities. Where parents were once invited to be a part of their lives at school, teens now push parents away.
Professional educators have to be knowledgeable of the stages of childhood development, the implications and the impact at school, and at home, too. If teachers feel constantly challenged by students’ behaviors, outbursts and ‘attitudes’ in the classroom, imagine what parents go through at home. No, really-imagine!
Adolescents now feel embarrassed when their parents show up at school. Just driving them to school, don’t expect them to get out of the car in front of the building. It is now embarrassing, when it used to be embraced. God forbid, any one of their peers see them. Parents are now to drop their teen off a block away to avoid being seen. A short time before, children were proud, and dared to kiss parents goodbye. They want to go shopping alone, and would rather walk to school, in the dead of winter-hard-driven snow or pouring rain- than be escorted by a parent. Teens are fighting to change their relationship with a parent, to make a parent see that they are not the child the parent thinks he/she knows. They want to shake a parent into an awareness of the new and exciting person they hope to become.
Nonetheless, parents still want to be involved and engaged with schools. Schools should not refrain from seeking ways to reach out and partner with families, in light of their insight into human development. Schools simply must be more creative in their approach.
High performing schools tend to do a better job at communicating with parents. Almost twice as many parents in high performing schools said their schools did a very good job communicating with them about their child’s academic performance as parents with children in lower performing schools, according to a recent survey.
The bottom line is that teachers should assume the responsibility to closely monitor the academic progress of each student, and become the eyes and ears for parents. Teachers should consider introducing the use of agreements or contracts, optimally prepared before school starts, between parents and themselves. Student-teacher contracts can encourage students to take responsibility for their learning and ensure increased levels of academic achievement. Outlined expectations, responsibilities[of all parties], contact information- preferred times and methods of communication- and standard school policy components should be incorporated into the document, as well.
Building upon a solid foundation, and an established collaborative, when/if difficulties arise, a positive working relationship has already been cultivated. What other things are schools to do differently? ‘Next-level’ effective strategies to involve parents recommend that:
- Teachers incorporate homework assignments that involve families in every course
- Parents, students and school contact person[advisor, counselor, parent liaison] meet during the first years of both middle and high school to set the tone, establish goals, and parameters of parent involvement
- Schools make strong efforts to accommodate the varying schedules, needs and address concerns of parents whether homework translation, bus service or incorporating home visits
- In reference to parent coordinators’ efforts, parents should be recruited as liaisons between the schools and other parents
- Schools offer stipends or other incentives/benefits to teachers who spend tine after hours working with parents
- Teachers recruit parent volunteers as classroom volunteers or Academic Parent Teacher Teams. Besides administrative tasks, distributing materials, reading with students, proctoring exams and monitoring small groups, parents can build their own capacity to help their child without ‘hovering’ at school. We know that adolescents squirm whenever their parents arrive on the scene at school. If they are seen helping a whole class, or in a class other than their child’s, their proximity is perceived as being less intrusive.
- Schools partner with community-based organizations to offer classes for parents about ways to get involved in their child’s education. Classes should be offered at times most convenient for parents, with childcare provided so single parents can attend.
For the most part, schools don’t need to embark upon elaborate campaigns to persuade parents that their child’s education is important or convince them about the importance of their role, either. Trust me! Parents are as aware as schools in that regard. Schools simply need to find new, practical and systematic ways to encourage parental involvement and create new types of opportunities so that parents can act more effectively on the knowledge and concerns they already have.
Most critical to effective partnering with families, at all grade levels, is that schools should avoid waiting until there is a discipinary problem to contact parents. Give parents opportunities for involvement early in the middle and high school process so that the first call they receive is not one telling them that their child is in trouble. That is a deal-breaker and counterproductive to engagement, and especially deadly for parents with negative past experiences at school. Keep your students close, and your parents even closer! They won’t ‘hover’ at all; they will engage!