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obstacles to parent engagement

Obstacles to Parent Engagement: Identifying and Overcoming 4 Challenges

Parent engagement: So vital to student success, yet so difficult to get right.

At a recent forum in Decatur, Ill., administrators, teachers, and parent activists discussed the need for a stronger parent voice in their schools.

As Justin Hampton, a local teacher who attended the forum, told the Herald & Review:

“Students want parents to be more involved. When they do well on a test, they want mom or dad to say ‘good job.’ If mom and dad don’t say it, their teachers have to say it. They need that validation.”

For school leaders, parent feedback is equally critical to success. Decatur certainly isn’t alone in its push to get more parents involved in school. Across the country, school leaders are looking to turn parents, especially those living in poverty, into active participants in their district’s success.

Before kicking off any parent engagement strategy, school leaders need to understand the real reasons parents fail to get involved in the first place. Here’s four common obstacles to parent engagement, and a few ideas to overcome them.

1. School leaders and parents don’t speak the same language

In many districts, this is both a literal and a figurative problem.

Parents whose first language is not English might purposely distance themselves from school activities, simply because they can’t speak fluently with teachers and administrators.

School are quickly discovering the need to to communicate with parents in their native language.

Do you have team members who also speak other languages? Are your websites and messages translated? If not, you’re likely excluding a large number of parents.

2. School leaders need to speak to be understood

It’s great that your teachers and leaders have a comprehensive understanding of education theory. But, parents need straight talk, not jargon. And many feel intimidated when education leaders seemingly talk over them.

Decatur community leader Jacob Jenkins put it this way to the Herald & Review: “We’re using words like ‘systemic.’ How can we make this inclusive as opposed to exclusive?”

When engaging parents, make sure you’re talking to the direct needs of parents and students and that you demonstrate how their participation can make a difference.

3. Large-scale initiatives often confuse and overwhelm

Start small. If a large swath of parents haven’t participated in any of your events, why would they voluntarily sign-up for weeks-long training sessions?

Many in the Decatur forum said it would be a victory to simply get more parents in the door. That should be your first goal.

Here’s a few ideas:

  • Take advantage of student-oriented activities by interacting with parents during sporting events or performances.
  • Offer community-related services that help the most vulnerable parents (think health consults or adult learning opportunities).
  • Provide one-off volunteer opportunities, such as chaperoning events, coaching sports, or helping with fundraisers.

For some other great ideas, check out this list from Great Schools and Edutopia.

4. Parents need to have time be involved

It’s a common excuse, but for many parents time management is a real concern. Especially those working more than one job, or jobs with long hours.

But busy parents is not an excuse for schools.

Remember, parents don’t have to physically enter your building to be involved. The internet and mobile technologies allow you to invite parent feedback through social media, online forums, even video chat, for example.

Look to engage parents whenever and wherever is convenient for them.

How do you prioritize parent engagement in your schools? Tell us in the comments. Want more on how to get parents involved in your schools? Read When it comes to parent communication, perspective matters.