Q. This year I was placed on my school’s Parental Involvement Committee. Hopefully I can use this opportunity to promote an appetite among parents to create nurturing, productive, engaging environments at home for their children. Can you offer some suggestions of how to tackle this tremendously tall task?
Sadly, getting parents involved in their child’s education shouldn’t have to be promoted. It should be considered an essential part of being a parent, like putting clothes on their children’s backs, food on the table, and a roof over their heads.
That said, there are many parents who have not taken on this responsibility. There may be good reasons for not doing so. Many times, however, the parents are just too wrapped up in their own significant problems to worry about it. The answer to getting them engaged may lie in helping solve their own issues. But since this is beyond a school’s mandate and ability, you’ll have to try something else.
The most important thing you can do is communicate to parents that being involved in their children’s education doesn’t mean volunteering at school. It doesn’t even mean necessarily coming to school at all. At its most essential level, it only involves three things. And any parent, no matter how overworked, impoverished, or uneducated they are, can accomplish them with just a modicum of sacrifice.
1. Make your children do their homework.
I’ve heard many people say, “But I’m not smart enough to help my kids with their homework.” So what? You don’t have to help them with it. You just have to make them do it. You’re probably doing them a favor by making them figure out things on their own anyway.
All you have to do is put them at the kitchen table every night with nothing but books, paper, and pencils. Set a timer, 10 minutes per grade level: 20 minutes for second grade, 70 minutes for seventh grade, etc. Don’t let your child quit until the timer runs out. If they dawdle or get up to go to the bathroom, pause the timer. If they insist they don’t have homework, make them use the time to read or study. If your work schedule doesn’t allow for such supervision, find a relative who will do it for you.
I think most teachers would agree that if every student would be held accountable for just this daily simple act, student grades would skyrocket. Plus it would help kids learn to focus, complete tasks, and prioritize.
2. Make your children obey.
Too often kids don’t learn because they spend their school time playing, talking, or goofing off. This not only limits their own achievement, it also hinders the learning of their classmates. If a parent gets a call or note from the school saying the child is misbehaving, the parent should issue the child the strongest consequences he or she can think of, because by the time most teachers call parents about a problem, the problem is usually worse than the parent thinks.
The biggest mistake some parents make is to blame the school for mismanaging their misbehaving child. This might make parents feel less guilty about their own shortcomings, but it does the child absolutely no favors. Obedience to school rules, respect for teachers and school personnel, and kindness toward peers are hallmarks of a successful student. Parents can easily give their children this edge simply by holding them accountable for behaving in school.
3. Love your children.
I don’t mean “try to make them happy.” That’s not love. I mean “give yourself to them.” I mean “sacrifice whatever it takes to make sure they grow up to be productive adults of high character.”
Far from bringing them short-term happiness, this might entail making them angry with you because you’ve unplugged the video game, locked up the cell phone, or yanked them off the basketball team. It might even involve taking a trip to the woodshed as needed (for a good talking-to, of course). It definitely entails seeing to it that they have positive influences in their lives (including you). And it absolutely requires reminding them all the time that you love them and believe in them. Above all, whatever it requires, it will require sacrifice.
A child with a parent who will do those three things for them almost can’t fail. And not one of those things necessitates direct parent-to-school involvement. It simply requires adults being willing to put aside their own issues to give their children the attention that being a good parent demands.