Families & the Community Opinion

Here’s How Dads Can Engage in Their Children’s Education in the New School Year

By Starr Sackstein — August 10, 2017 4 min read
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Guest post by Dr. Joe Mazza

*Disclaimer: This article is not aimed to discount the work moms, grandmoms and other female role models have done and continue to do as it relates to parenting and family-community engagement, but to inspire dads to STEP UP and work to level the playing field in the best interest of kids. I am constantly in awe of what the mother of my children does to help our children grow each day. She is our wonder woman.

Historically speaking, PTA (aka Parent-Teachers Association) is a moms and strollers kind of thing. There are a few exceptions out there, but think about the last PTA/PTO/HSA Meeting you attended:

  • How many dads were in the room?
  • How many dads were on the board working partnership with other parents, teachers and school leadership on strategies to engage all families at the school?
  • How many dad PTA Presidents do you know?

Just like the word parents has a wide range of definitions in 2017, when I say dads, I mean dads, grand-dads and other male role models.

With four little monkeys at home, I’m reflecting upon how my views have changed/been shaped since entering the field as a 22-year-old 3rd grade teacher almost 20 years ago. I’m more conscious than ever of the low bar we’ve set for dads as it relates to school and most importantly, student learning (the area where research and day-to-day family-community engagement opportunities come together to increase student learning!).

According to a recent Pew Internet study, 48 percent of fathers say they spend too little time with their kids (25 percent of moms say the same). Only 39 percent of father says they are doing a good job of raising their children, compared to 51 percent of moms answering the same question. As a dad, the responses here are unexplainable, aside from the fact that maybe we need a kick in the ass.

Let’s be honest, when a baby is born, the dad’s role is to do everything he can to SUPPORT Mom, new baby, siblings, and any other responsibilities/balls in the air around the home. While in the hospital, we change diapers, feed babies, run errands and basically get mom whatever she needs as the pain can be a 10 out of 10 at times depending on the procedure. Oftentimes, one of my main jobs was to serve as the hospital room bouncer as it related to nurses, relatives, and other guests. Our role is usually one of support here, as male breast-feeders are not one of today’s societal norms.

So when should dads flip the switch from the SUPPORT role to the CO-PARENTING role? When do moms encourage, expect and support dads transitioning from support to co-parenting?

45 percent of Americans say that mothers and fathers do the job of caring for children equally well. 70 percent says it is just as important for dads to bond with their children as moms. At home, I am just as capable of changing a baby/toddler’s diaper than any female out there. There is literally nothing that dictates what my wife nor I can do for our children aside from the will, commitment and passion to provide opportunities for life and learning experiences. I share this from the lens of a father of a four year old, a two year old, and twins that are approaching 18 months of life but only nine outside mommy’s belly.

It’s time to step up.

All of us. Let’s move from our hopes and dreams around engaging more dads in student learning, to creating models for schools across the country that support a rewrite of the status quo while respecting past and present community cultures.

I say “cultures” because communities have seen huge transformations, and the neighborhoods of the past where everyone speaks the same language, has the same skin color, attends the same schools, and practices the same religion are a thing of the past. It’s not coming back, and in truth, my kids are better prepared for the world when immersed in different cultures through friends, neighbors, and families.

For us parents, outside of school, it’s on us to make the first move to creating a welcoming, honoring, respecting culture in our circles.

Here are three ways you can get not only involved, but ENGAGE in your child’s education as we start the school year:

  1. Seek out leadership opportunities: Check out this tweet by Toby Price (dad/principal/@jedipadmaster). He prompted me to get all the 2017-18 PTA Meeting Dates on my calendar. Some I won’t be able to make, but some I will—and if it’s not on my calendar, I won’t even realize the opportunity exists. I want to be an integral part of my kids’ education from the start. Don’t you?

  1. Talk to your kid(s): Ask them what they are excited about this year. Ask what they are hoping wasn’t happening, too. Find at-home ways to engage their favorite hobbies in non-curricular ways. Want help? @StrongFathers has been tweeting ideas all summer that I sometimes use with my own kids.

  1. Find your daddy tribe: Click these two hashtags to find a growing Dad movement: @makerdads and #makerdads as well as @dadsasprincipal and #dadsasprincipals. There, you will find dads, grand-dads and other male role models who are sharing their day-to-day work with kids—at home AND at school. Not on Twitter? The tags and handles are also being used on Facebook and Instagram. Rumor has it there’s even a new podcast airing next month called Dads on Deck (via @EdPodNet) that brings the two lenses together each Friday afternoon to help fathers get into DADDY MODE for the weekend through short stories, challenges and special guests.

Based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dr. Joe Mazza (@joe_mazza) serves as Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education; Founder/CEO of MakerDads (@makerdads), a traveling makerspace built on father engagement through innovation; and Head of Educational Innovation & School Leadership at Schoolze (@schoolze), a P-12 context-based family-community engagement platform.

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