Getting Involved In Your Child's School

By Laura Pratt on July 26, 2010
Time Well Spent

It takes a lot of effort to get involved in your child's school, but experts say it's worth it.

The little boy, who was seven, couldn't read.  He couldn't recognize letter sounds.  And he couldn't do a thing to help himself.
  His academic salvation rested on the shoulders of his parents and his teacher.

Developing a relationship with your child’s teacher is important at every stage, but tailor your level of involvement with your child’s comfort level in mind. Some advice:


Most school boards provide students with a dayplanner agenda at the beginning of the year (sometimes at a cost). Check it every night to monitor homework or upcoming tests. If you have a question for the teacher, write it down here and you can see their response that evening.


If you know she gets to school early every day or stays late past dismissal, plan to drop in during those periods.


That way, you’re both on the same page and no one feels like he or she is inconveniencing the other.


You use it for everything else. Why not to talk with your kid’s teacher?

“His mom and dad were suspicious of me at first, and the relationship got off to a rocky start,” says the boy’s teacher, Suzanne Condlln, “but we muscled through, and were persistent.” Today, after a number of meetings, emails, phone calls, endless writing exercises, books he learned to decipher with a finger under each word, flash cards and photocopied curricula, the little boy, who couldn’t manage “dog” in September, is reading at a level beyond his peers. “It worked,” says Suzanne, a primary teacher in the Limestone District School Board, in Kingston, Ont. “His parents and I were able to come together and solve a problem for their son.”
"There’s evidence that shows parents think schools don’t want them to be as involved as they’d like to be. But there’s also evidence showing that educators think parents don’t really want to be that involved."

Being involved in your child’s school has long been linked to positive academic outcomes. But let’s face it – it’s hard to find the time. Unlike 30 years ago, most families today have two breadwinners. Many people have to commute long hours to get to work. And just as families are under financial strain, so too are schools, who have grown to depend on parents for volunteering and fundraising.


Time isn’t the only thing stopping parents from passing through those imposing double doors. Many parents feel neither comfortable nor welcome in their children’s school. Take Cheryl Tone, a London, Ont., mom whose 10-year-old came home for lunch recently and told her the teacher had hurt her feelings with a remark. But when Cheryl accompanied her daughter back to school to take it up with the teacher, she felt marginalized. “She basically brushed me off. She made it clear she didn’t have time to discuss my issue, and made me feel petty for even bringing it up,” Cheryl says. “There’s evidence that shows that parents think schools don’t want them to be as involved as parents would like to be,” says Ben Levin, a professor of education policy and leadership at the University of Toronto, and former deputy minister of education with the Ontario government. “But there’s also evidence that educators think parents don’t really want to be involved. So each party has a bit of a stereotypical view of the other party.” Your attitude toward your child’s school has a lot to do with your own school experience. “Some parents may have poor literacy skills, or undiagnosed learning disorders, and school for them had been a series of frustrations. But it’s not an insurmountable barrier,” says Suzanne. Talk to your child’s teacher and indicate your interest in getting involved. “Teachers are very busy and stressed, yes, so sometimes you might not get the response you’re hoping for, but remember: We’re all on the same team. We have the same goals.” “Teachers welcome parental involvement,” says Manon Gardner, superintendent of education with the Toronto District School Board. Parents need to meet with the teacher early on to establish the lines of communication, she says. “I know it’s not possible for everybody to volunteer. Some people work two jobs and don’t have time. For them, to be available by phone or email when it’s necessary is key. Just be open.”


Most schools and boards of education in Canada provide policies and guidelines around parental involvement. The Calgary Board of Education, for one, outlines details of a working partnership between participants, wherein expectations for each are described. “We expect parents to be engaged in their child’s education and for them to have a relationship with the school in some capacity,” says Katie Young, the Calgary board’s parents and school communications advisor. The Calgary board encourages parental involvement particularly in school council, which reaffirms the notion of the school as the heart of the community, says Katie. Monthly meetings include teachers with parents volunteering in a number of different roles. Some councils send out regular email notices, newsletters or run websites to let parents know about upcoming events and opportunities for involvement and feedback. Parents on school councils get to learn how the system works, from the trustee, area and administration levels, Katie says. “It’s a public institution, and when parents understand why decisions are being made, they can become advocates. It creates engaged and informed citizens, and the more people care about education, the better it will be.” Parents’ degrees of enthusiasm on attending meetings varies, depending on the school atmosphere and the demographic it serves. Parents sometimes simply can’t find the time to contribute at this level, an issue some boards are addressing with Webinar technology that requires merely “virtual” attendance at meetings. It’s worth it, according to Dr. Judith Wiener, a professor of school and clinical child psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Dr. Wiener notes evidence that parents’ in-person school involvement does more for both the school and the individual student. “Having parents engaged doesn’t necessarily have an impact on your own child’s achievement, but it keeps schools on their toes.” Other intangibles, says Katie Young, include the positive connection kids make with an institution with which their parents so clearly want to be associated. “Children often mimic the attitude of their parents. If their parents are at the school, their enthusiasm is infectious and that rubs off on the child.”

Teaching is a lot like parenting. When you become a parent, you realize, Oh, that’s why my parents did this! And you have new respect for them.
“I find that the parents who volunteer in the classroom are generally right on the money,” says Kyla Lightfoot, a grade 3/4 teacher in the Upper Grand District School Board near Guelph, Ont. What’s more, they’re enlightened. She feels too many parents perceive teachers from the kidcentric persecuted point of view rather than that of an adult. “Teaching is a lot like parenting. When you become a parent, you realize, Oh, that’s why my parents did this! And you have new respect for them. Same thing with teachers. A lot of what you felt was unfair as a kid was just because you were a kid and didn’t understand. Parents are sometimes unfair to teachers because they still see them the way they did as kids. When they get right in there with us, though, suddenly, they’re adults looking at the scene, and the revised viewpoint is meaningful.” More than that, says Suzanne, you may be surprised to realize the power of the role you have to play in your kids’ educational success stories. “I say to my parents all the time, ‘You are your child’s most important teacher. You may think it’s me, because I’m called ‘the teacher’ but it’s actually you.’ It’s an important message for parents, because they don’t always believe they bring any value.”


In a 2009 study, researchers examined 110 grade 5 students (47 boys, 63 girls) and 121 grade 6 students (63 boys, 58 girls), sampled from four elementary schools in a small Canadian city. The objective was to analyze parental involvement in their kids’ school life. Among other things, the research examined how Mom and Dad’s approach produces different results in their child’s academic achievement. In general, both parents tended to put more academic pressure on their sons, and to be more encouraging and supportive of their daughters.

When Mom helps manage her child’s learning environment, including offering homework help and being emotionally supportive of the idea of school, she has a positive impact on her child’s academic competence.

When Dad applies academic pressure or takes a role in his kid’s homework, it may have a negative impact on his child’s academic competence. Children whose fathers place demands on them to excel at school appear to get lower grades. Findings from “Parental Involvement and Children’sv School Achievement,” were published in the Canadian Journal of I handed it in, didn’t you get it? School Psychology.

Published in August 2010.

By Laura Pratt| July 26, 2010

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