Building Connections with Parents & Communities: Misperceptions about Students' Families Could Be Contributing to a Lack of Parent Participation at Your Schools
Gonzalez, Jose V., Thomas, Christopher N., Leadership
One of the most difficult challenges we face as school leaders is building meaningful reciprocal connections with students, their families and the surrounding community. Each of us faces a different challenge based on the make-up of our own school community. Some leaders are inundated with "helicopter parents," while others of us wish we could have a helicopter to go find some parents. Regardless of the context of your community, there are important questions that you must ask yourself in order to build family and community involvement.
By first critically examining our own personal beliefs we can begin to move forward in the work that we do as leaders. When we find ourselves blaming the parents for not attending meetings, it is going to make it difficult to lead school-wide change if we think the parents are at fault to begin with. We as leaders have to believe in what family and community and involvement can be, so we must ensure that we are checking our own bias at the door.
Before prescribing a method to "fix" the lack of parent participation at your school, we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. How do you characterize reluctant parents who refuse to attend your school meetings? Why are parents not coming to your school meetings? The answers to these questions will allow you to see if your perceptions of your parents match the reality. Your perceptions may actually be preventing you from having success in this area because you may not have reluctant parents at all.
School principals can potentially increase parent participation in order to improve student achievement by exploring and addressing cultural needs and sharing responsibility.
Address cultural needs
Start by asking yourself the following question: Do I know my clients? Are your parents generally young (elementary schools) or older? Are they working class or professionals? What ethnicities comprise your school community? Can the parents relate to you or can you relate to them? Do they find your meetings boring or unproductive? This information can help you tailor and market your meetings to your specific parent population.
The needs of elementary, middle and high school parents are different. Find out what their needs are and address them specifically in your meetings. What you think is important may not be to them. Your meetings may be geared strictly to student achievement, but their biggest concerns may be underage drinking, gangs or bullies. Listen to them and address their concerns before you share your needs.
If your community is largely unaware of the educational system, it is essential to increase parent understanding of how your school functions. Do not make assumptions about which parents should receive or will use certain types of school information. The focus should be on figuring out how to best distribute information so that all families have access.
Know your community's ethnicity and ask parents who are members of these groups to help you with cultural representations (symbols, foods, greetings, etc. …