Some parents are upset that schools expect too much of them, while others wish that they could have a greater role in the life of the school. Sometimes schools blame parents for not contributing enough or for their lack of involvement in school activities. At other times, teachers and administrators feel that parents have over-stepped a boundary. In healthy schools, teachers and administrators have a realistic view of what parents can and should contribute, and parents understand what is expected of them. There are concrete ways that parents and schools can insure that expectations on both sides are realistic.
Teachers and administrators might spend part of a faculty meeting creating an image of an "ideal" parent. The resulting list of qualities and contributions might then be presented to parents (in a newsletter or at an open house). This would give parents a better idea about what teachers regard as helpful parent behavior.
In the same way, parents (at a PTA meeting, perhaps) could generate a list of teacher behaviors and school policies that allow and encourage the level of involvement they would like to have in the school. These might include inviting parents into the classroom to provide services or materials, or contributing to the delivery of instruction by sharing photos, travel stories, etc. This type of exercise could be carried further by asking teachers and parents (perhaps in a small focus group) to identify the things that get in the way of "good" parent participation.
Schools need to understand that you may want to contribute or be involved, but you may find it almost impossible to do what the school expects (like finding a baby sitter who has the stamina to stay with the hyperactive twins, so you or your spouse can attend an open house). Schools need to ask you what and how you can contribute, and then value even the smallest contribution (for example: cutting out seasonal objects for school bulletin boards at home.)
The goal of a school should be to involve all parents in some way. This might require giving up activities that have always been done, even though they involve only a few parents in a few ways (like the obligatory parents' night). For starters, parents should decide at least one way they can comfortably contribute time, resources, services or energy to the school. Teachers should do their part to welcome parents into the school, and they should reinforce any parent behaviors that help the teacher help the students.
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