As the end of the semester approaches, mid-year parent-teacher conferences are in full swing! This is a perfect time for parents and guardians to get involved at school. Parent engagement in a child’s education is multi-faceted and means different things to different people. In general, it can be categorized into four main areas (Van Voorhis, Maier, Epstein, & Lloyd, 2013):
- Promoting learning at home;
- Being involved at the school building through activities like committee participation, volunteering, or fundraising;
- The school’s attempts to reach out to parents; and
- Supportive parent-child interactions outside of school.
There are good reasons to get involved, too. Research has consistently shown that parent or guardian engagement in a child’s education through the categories listed above not only improves academic achievement, but also social and emotional skills (Adelman & Taylor, 2007; Hoover-Dempsey, Walker, Sandler, Whetsel, Wilkins, & Closson, 2005; Murray, 2009).
When people think of parent engagement in schools, they usually think of the parent-teacher associations or organizations (PTA/PTO), volunteering at fundraising events, and school newsletters. These examples of engagement are widespread. Noel, Stark, & Redford (2015) reported that majority of parents in the 2012 Parent and Family Involvement in Education survey received some sort of communication from their schools. Similarly, many parents reported participating in PTA/PTO meetings. However, the parents who are not engaged often have students who are most at-risk (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2005) report that many parents choose to stay disengaged from their child’s school because of what they think their role should be based on experiences with their own schooling. Other factors include how much they think they can help their child succeed in school and how invited and welcome they feel at the school from teachers and their children.
Parent engagement is much more than participating in a fundraiser. The highest impacts come through things like schools encouraging parent voice in decision-making committees and parents supporting learning at home. Studies have shown that encouraging parents to set goals for their children increases parent involvement (Bettler & Burns, 2003). Some schools are already doing this by rethinking what parent-teacher conferences look like. These conferences have typically been one-sided, with the teacher leading and the parent listening. Educators are now trying to engage parents by asking them to set academic goals for their children, and by providing them with skills and resources to help their children reach these goals (Sparks, 2015). Then, teachers and families meet to review progress each quarter and adjust as needed. Participants say this model increases the likelihood that parents and students follow-through with their goals. It also builds a collaborative relationship between parents and teachers, which may help parents feel more comfortable asking for assistance when they do not know how to help their children (Sparks, 2015).
No matter how it is done, one thing is for certain: parent engagement is impactful! Thoughtful efforts to increase parent involvement can help improve schools and academic achievement.