The events that took place in Oxford, Michigan, in early December 2021 were tragic and horrifying, much like all of the other school shootings that have taken place from Columbine to Oxford. The difference in the Oxford shooting is that the parents were arrested and held responsible for their child’s actions.
How many times do we as teachers contact parents only to hear that it is our problem to handle? Now, let’s be clear, not every parent avoids school contact, and not every parent plays the blame game. But, some do and oftentimes those are the ones we need support from the most because often they are parents of children with either behavioral or academic challenges.
How do we engage parents who long to be disengaged? Why should we care? Well, just like the administrators in Oxford, as educators we recognize that the parent plays a vital role in the overall success of the student, and without their support, the student has a very difficult road ahead.
Sometimes it is hard as an administrator to engage these kinds of parents in any school activity but there are some strategies schools can employ to bring around disconnected parents.
Call-out systems - Annoying for sure but these are effective in leaving messages on phones for parents to listen to and verifying that the message has been received. This is helpful in two ways: one, it ensures the communication took place; and two, it documents the communication.
Health programs for parents - Some districts are taking a unique approach to offering services in their buildings. This isn’t a new model, however, it is becoming a more popular one. Some districts have medical clinics, dental clinics, and counseling, all available at the school. Community schools -- as these are sometimes referred to -- invite the parents into the building for non-educational events in hopes that a relationship can be formed between school officials and parents. In July 2021, the Department of Education announced that $443 million of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan would invest in community schools and gave guidance on how to strategically use American Rescue Plan funds. This guidance was directly created from the NEA’s best practices and Community Schools Model.
Focus on equity by recognizing that parent engagement is actually an equity issue - Students who have less engaged parents have less support in school and may have less support at home. Parents may not realize the significance of their role in school or they may not feel comfortable participating in their child’s educational process. The Carnegie Foundation recently released a report on how to engage the disconnected parent. This resource is full of suggestions and research pointed to attending to the challenge of the disconnected parent. And during the recent #NYCSchools Tech Summit hosted by Tech & Learning, educators from around the country discussed how they’re building connections with families.
Every child deserves a parent excited about their educational journey, and as education professionals, we are tasked to figure out how to solve the challenge of a disconnected parent for each and every child we teach. No child chooses to have a parent who doesn’t care about their educational process, but we can choose to help these parents know the power of engagement!