Opinions vary about how much parent involvement in schools is the right amount.
On one hand, you have what’s often referred to as “helicopter” parents characterized as hovering outside the classroom door or overloading educators’ inboxes with copious email. This image represents the vocal few and can overshadow the positive influence parents can have in the classroom and to the long-term success of their child’s learning.
The question is, are these over-protective parents the biggest issue with parent involvement? While “helicopter” parents have eroded the patience of many an educator and been at the forefront in mainstream discussions, an arguably larger barrier to student development goes under-noticed. That barrier is the “absentee” parent. You know those too, right? That parent that doesn’t show up for parent-teacher interviews, whose seat at the Spring concert sits empty, and is never cheering at the sideline of the sports field.
What we do know from countless research studies, is that some is better than none. Matthew A. Kraft and Shaun M. Dougherty, researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found that “frequent teacher-family communication immediately increased student engagement as measured by homework completion rates, on-task behavior and class participation. On average, teacher-family communication increased the odds that students completed their homework by 40%, decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%.”
Compelling evidence to be sure, but it’s not new news.
The Harvard study was published in 2012, but academics in education have been espousing similar findings for decades. In a study published in 1987 by the National Committee for Citizens in Education, one of their many findings concluded that parent involvement “significantly improved language skills, test performance, and school behaviour…” Yet, here we are 28 years later, talking about similar benefits.
Clearly, we know parent involvement is beneficial, so why hasn’t the conversation evolved? Partly this has to do with changing social norms, which have made earlier implementation strategies irrelevant — parents today (helicopter, absentee or those in-between) have different expectations, pressures and schedules than those from 28 years ago.
Another potential barrier is the fear amongst educators of what opening a window into the classroom for parents will result in — the negative impact of the branding of “helicopter” parents. Lastly, implementation of parent engagement attempts have fallen short, likely due to many educators struggling to find balance between their already burdened workloads with how and what to share with parents to engage them productively.
Forward thinking educators are turning to technology to help bridge the gap between parents and the classroom. Perhaps by using technology to bring visibility to the classroom, schools don’t need to fear helicopter parents. At the same time, if schools share those classroom moments that are at their fingertips, it will be the tipping point that engages those parents that have been tuned-out to date. Access not just to information, but the right information, is what matters.
Change is happening — it will just take some time and some trust to take the first leap into these waters. At the end of the day, parents want what is best for their kids. Give them a virtual window — whether they are on a business trip or doing laundry at home — they will be able to better support your learning plan, and ultimately, the long-term success of their child.
Terra Cochrane is a behavior change strategist and mother of two. She also is the director of Marketing & Communications at FreshGrade.