No mystery here -- parent engagement with schools and the learning process plays a huge role in student achievement. But knowing how to create a sustainable, systemic and comprehensive parent engagement program proves elusive for many school leaders.
One reason for that, say Harvard's Karen Mapp and Johns Hopkins' Steven Sheldon, is that school leaders too seldom view parental involvement as part of the solution to academic problems. Instead, actively engaged parents are often perceived as a bother or, worse, as a hindrance to what principals and teachers are trying to accomplish.
The scholars, leading an Education Week webinar, suggested that schools create "partnership teams" to work in tandem with school leadership teams on specific goals such as improved math or reading scores, behavior or attendance.
Why enlist a team and not a single but capable and already active parent? Teams ensure a diversity of input as well as a better chance of a sustainable effort. How many times have you had a dynamic program end when a parent reached the burning-out point or followed her (sometimes his) child to another school?
The responsibility for parental involvement shouldn't stop at the school building, either. District leadership has a vital role in creating strong parent and community engagement that is equally vibrant in all of the district's schools.
Mapp and Sheldon list these six components as necessary for a comprehensive, ongoing and successful parent engagement program:
1. Creating awareness of the need for engagement (don't forget to get buy-in from staff, too)
2. Aligning programs and policies to support and encourage parental engagement
3. Develop (with parent input) guidelines for engagement programs
4. Share knowledge and training
5. Celebrate milestones and successes
6. Document progress and evaluate outcomes to plan program improvements