A school leader once related the following story when talking about the changing attitudes regarding parents and their ties to their child’s educational experience:
When I was little I’d bring home a note from the teacher, hand it to my parent, and my parent would smack me and say, “What did you do?!”
Today, a child brings home a note from the teacher, hands it to a parent, the parent marches back up to the school, and the parent will smack the teacher and say, “What did you do?!”
Establishing a Parent Area in the School
While this story is not truly realistic, to teachers it sometimes feels that it is. Many fewer teachers feel parental support in schools today. However, it’s not too late to turn the tides. If you want to bring those parents back to a place where they are involved, supportive, and trusting of the school and its staff, try a few of these suggestions:
- Create a place in the school where parents can simply gather. With a ‘coffee shop’ atmosphere, parents will be willing to spend a few extra minutes before or after a carpool and chat with other parents who may soon become friends.
- When the parent space is established, or at the beginning of each year, ask parents to list what they might wish to see as a part of their space. Then work to answer those requests.
- Do your teachers need new bulletin boards? Provide a space in the parent center where parents can work on teacher-requested projects. Parents will feel they are fulfilling a need, and they will be correct! Plus, they’ll be strengthening parental relationships at the same time.
- Is there an academic challenge or program that’s new to one of the classes? Provide a sample of the classroom activity, along with an explanation, in which the parents can engage. And if there’s a more difficult level to challenge parents, provide that just so parents can see how challenging the activity can be.
- What are some strategies you would like the parents to strengthen? Social emotional life skills are not just for students, but for teachers and parents. Have the school counselor, principal, or other qualified staff teach sessions on mindfulness. Explain the benefits of decreasing stress and anxiety, and emotional reactivity and increasing empathy for self and others, improved relationships, focus and attention. Explain basic brain science of the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Let parents know how mindfulness will calm the reactive centers of the amygdala, or help students remember what’s been studied for a test, and that students can better access the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus by using mindfulness strategies during tests, just as parents can better access their information at work or in other situations. And explain how parents can use these same strategies when they are experiencing conflict at home within the family.
Having the more typical days dedicated to moms or dads in the school or classroom, such as Donuts with Dad or Muffins with Mom is always fun, but bringing parents into the school to excite and engage them will result in more benefits than one might imagine. And this will be a WIN WIN for all involved.