How Educators Can Employ Motivational Interviewing Techniques With Reluctant Parents

Brief Description

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centered, directive method designed to enhance client motivation for behavior change. It focuses on exploring and resolving ambivalence by increasing intrinsic motivation to change. MI can be used by itself, as well as in combination with other treatments. It has been utilized in pretreatment work to engage and motivate clients for other treatment modalities.

The goals of Motivational Interviewing (MI) are:

  • Enhance internal motivation to change
  • Reinforce this motivation
  • Develop a plan to achieve change

The essential components of Motivational Interviewing (MI) include:

  • Emphasis of two essential dimensions related to an individual’s ambivalence to change:
    • the importance of the change
    • the confidence that the change can be accomplished
  • Inclusion of open-ended questions encouraging the client to talk about circumstances surrounding his or her referral, as opposed to the standard evaluation that includes administering a number of structured interviews asking closed-ended questions.

Examples of the types of open-ended questions that might be used are as follows(questions amended for families in the school context-fill in blanks):

  • What worries you about your….?
  • (How) has ….. presented problems for you in the past?
  • What kinds of things would need to happen to make you consider changing ….?
  • What are the things that would prevent you from changing your[level of engagement] ….?
  • What are your concerns about… this time?

Utilization of reflecting listening statements  focus on the client’s language around change. The goal is to evoke from client(parents/adult caregivers) their own reasons, needs, desire, and abilities to change.

Through this approach, you will develop a shared understanding of what it means to engage families while obtaining a shared vocabulary you will need to work effectively within your learning setting and the classroom. You will be able to learn from one another by sharing questions, successes and challenges related to family engagement. As collaboration deepens and you continue to learn about and enhance engagement practices, families will grow stronger and children will be better prepared for school success. You will benefit, too, as you develop new skills and your work becomes even more rewarding.

Tips on How Teachers Can “Draw and Attract” Parent Participation

Provide a short biography about yourself and your interests. Parents seldom have opportunities to get to know their child’s teacher, and conversations during  brief encounters often focus on the events of the day. Sharing some particular details about your special talents and interests can lessen any “stranger” anxiety and make parents feel more at ease.

Invite parents to complete a brief questionnaire. Not only can parents be an invaluable source of information about their own children, but they can bring special interests and talents to share with the entire school community. You may want to ask parents to fill out a questionnaire on the first day of school[periodically throughout the school year], during home visits or invite them to take it home and return it at a later date. Some questions to ask might include:

  • Would you be interested in being a “guest” in our classroom? Could you be a story reader? Teach a song? Help with an art project?
  • Is there a special topic that you would like to see incorporated into the curriculum? (e.g., adoption, new siblings, moving to a new home)*****
  • Is there a special interest or talent you would like to share with the children? The staff?
  • What is the best way to reach you during the day?
  • What is your availability during the day?

Once you have identified parent concerns, addressed needs, established a working relationship, you will want to build upon this foundation and sustain developing partnerships. Here are some ideas for supporting ongoing parental interest and involvement that many educators have found to be successful:

Make the most of drop-off and pick-up activities. Even though these times can be tumultuous, don’t miss out on opportunities to engage parents. Greet with enthusiasm and when possible, acknowledge their arrival in some special way. For example, prompt the class by saying “look who’s here – let’s say hello to Sarah and Mr. Henry.” This serves several purposes: it makes Sarah feel welcomed, makes her dad feel more at ease about being there, and teaches (and models) the importance of greeting and acknowledging others.

Share a detail or two. When speaking with parents, be sure to add some specific information about their child’s progress. “She’s doing fine” is not nearly as satisfying to a parent as “You wouldn’t believe how much fun she had creating clay animals the other day!”

Host a variety of special events. Try to plan activities such as informal breakfasts, picnics, class trips and fairs featuring educational books and toys throughout the school year. Eliciting ideas for these events from parents may encourage them to be more involved in developing and planning. Be sure to consider whether parents have preferences about when during the day or evening these activities should take place.

Communicate frequently. Whether in person (parent-teacher conferences,), through printed materials (flyers, newsletters, school bulletin boards) or online (school Web sites, group or individual e-mails) , try to make frequent contact with parents. And be sure to ask parents whether the information being shared is useful and how it can be improved, both in terms of content (e.g. about school activities, upcoming events) and format.

High expectations count. Help make parents aware of the school’s high standards for achievement, learning goals, curriculum and strategies for helping every child succeed. Don’t be reluctant to invite parents to become involved in decision-making and planning ways to help the school community meet these goals.

Celebrate achievements though work sampling. Create portfolios, scrap books, and/or other collections of children’s experiences in the classroom for parents to look at whenever they visit the classroom.

Encourage peer networking among parents. A good way to start building parent networks is by creating a parent contact list .Be sure to include teachers, aides and other relevant school personnel. Eliciting help from a few parent volunteers may be especially helpful as this will encourage them to take ownership of this activity.

Identify and make useful resources available to parents. Some parents will need reassurance and guidance about behavior management. Some will have concerns about motor skills or language development. A few will have questions about signs of risk for learning disabilities, and others will want guidance about how to cultivate special skills and talents in their children. Try to be prepared to lead parents to these and other types of resources, either through a lending library in the school, through local agencies or via helpful resources on the Web.

Invite parents into the classroom. Extend frequent invitations for parents to visit their child’s school and spend time in the classroom. Whether parents are invited to be silent observers or to help with activities, these visits can be most helpful and enjoyable. (And think about how special a parent will feel receiving a note from the class thanking them for their visit!)

Motivating change is not a one-way street, and does not exclude or exempt educators from engaging in capacity building of their own, and altering any immaculate perceptions they may possess regarding parents and students’ families. Expanding diversity in school dictates expanding cultural responsiveness and proficiency on the behalf of educators! The one constant in life is change and MI techniques encourages self-reflection, listening, questioning, and motivation for making the changes we wish to see. Be the agent of change and BE the change first!



2 thoughts on “How Educators Can Employ Motivational Interviewing Techniques With Reluctant Parents

  1. Understanding the stages of change can be a powerful tool and motivating students. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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