Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are Schools Meeting the Needs of Parents?

By Peter DeWitt — June 18, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Parental involvement is something administrators, parents and teachers talk about a great deal. Typically, those conversations are done in isolation. Principals talk with teachers and parents talk to one another and some of those conversations are not always positive. Educators fear that parents will try to be involved so much that they will somehow intrude on their creative license and disrupt the educational practice. However, do schools send mixed messages by holding up one hand inviting them in at the same time they hold up the other one preventing them from entering?

We know that research shows that students who have involved parents do better in school. But what does parental involvement mean? Teachers are professionals who are experts in education and most of them know a great deal about how to work with children. However, parents know a great deal about their child and can offer great insight into how their children learn.
In addition, as public schools deal with budget cuts, parental involvement is more important than ever. Without parental support, schools will only spiral down further than they have already gone. These tough economic times when people cannot often afford higher taxes, schools and parents can work together to get a better understanding of each other’s needs.

Communication Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel
“Communication is a Two-Way Street”.

Often, one of the biggest complaints is that schools do not communicate well. Communication is one of those issues that will never be fully corrected. As much as schools may communicate there will be parents who do not think they communicate enough. Other times there are people in the community who do not read the very ways that schools try to communicate, and then complain when they aren’t aware of something.

In this quick fix, 21st century social networking world we live in, communication is both easier and harder at the same time. It’s easy because schools have a plethora of ways to communicate. They can post messages on Facebook and Twitter, do e-mail blasts or post messages on their websites. However, it’s harder to communicate at times because schools cannot communicate fast enough. In addition, due to budget cuts, there are less people doing the job of communicating and the messages do not go out as quickly as the community may want.

Schools need to communicate with parents about events, curriculum, student progress, and budgetary issues, but is that communication one sided? There are principals who do not return phone calls to parents or teachers that take a long time to call parents back. On the other side there are parents who have disconnected phones or do not return phone calls.

The first step for schools is to reflect on the methods they use to communicate. They need to be able to put messages out there and be open to parents who will tell them when they do not. For full disclosure, I do not always communicate well. As hard as I may try, I do not put out messages as quickly as some would like. I often ask myself the following questions.

  • Do we only communicate when they need something?
  • Do principals and teachers know what parents really want out of their schools?
  • Do they care what parents want?
  • Do we come off as the experts who only tell and never listen?
  • Do parents know what they want out of their public school system?

What Parents Want
Schools have a small population of helicopter parents who want to know about every grade, every curriculum decision and every moment of their child’s school day. There are others who find it hard to follow through on making it to parent conferences. In the middle of those two extremes are great parents who want to be involved. They attend conferences, PTA meetings, special events and communicate with the teachers. I just often wonder if we are providing their children with the education they want.

The needs of public school parents are as diverse as the needs of their children. Some parents seem to want an individualized private education for their children while others may view school as a babysitting service. There are also parents who don’t say what they want, but are ready to be engaged at any moment. Many parents are very happy to the education their child is receiving.

The reality is that the school community is nothing without parents. Schools need to make sure they are doing what they can to involve parents, which is a never ending goal. At the same time schools need to understand that parents may not always agree with what the school system is providing. As long as those differences are communicated in a proper way, the conversation that is often done in isolation, instead can be done in collaboration.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.