As a working parent, I know quite well the challenge of finding the time and place to get involved in my children’s school. But from my vantage point as an educator, I can’t emphasize enough just how important such involvement is. Every parent has a responsibility to know what is going on for his child at school. A parent’s participation – or lack of participation – sends a message not only to your child, but also to teachers and the school’s administration.
Meaningful involvement goes beyond helping with homework and attendance at parent-teacher conferences or the occasional parent-teacher association meetings — as important as these things are. For your child’s sake, your relationship with the school and the teachers should go beyond the parent-teacher conferences held twice a year. Doing so keeps communication lines open between home and school.
What is most important is not how much time you spend or when, but that you have found a way to connect that is meaningful to your child’s life. In fact, parents who are involved at school have children who are much more successful in school than families where the parents are not involved.
Demonstration of an active interest in your child, her class and the school can take many forms. Involvement enables you to establish a relationship with your daughter’s teachers. It lets them know that you are involved and that you care. Once you have established a positive relationship, typically you will be informed if something negative is happening.
When or how you volunteer will depend on how flexible your schedule is. The options are many if you can be available during the day. Consider becoming active with the parent-teacher association. PTAs typically seek volunteers for a host of projects to benefit the school. Offer to chair a school-wide event such as a book sale or other fundraiser.
Whether you work outside the home or not, if you’re like most people with school-aged children, you’re exhausted at the end of the day. If you’re also a working parent, you’ll need to be more creative with what shape involvement takes.
Working Parents’ Niche
Discuss with the PTA leadership how you might help outside school hours. Not all parents can work the midday bake sales. Perhaps you can buy materials for an event. Become an advocate for working parents: Volunteer to chair a committee to find roles for working parents.
Elana Berle, a working mom who heads the parent association at Westchester Fairfield Hebrew Academy, suggests reviewing the school and PTA calendar as early as possible. She gives her boss advance notice of days she needs to come in late or take as vacation.
Commit to dedicate five to six hours during the year. Select one or two projects so you can make an impact. Pick one daytime activity, preferably toward the beginning of the school year. Chaperone a class trip, for instance. Or volunteer to read to the class one morning. Even if this costs you a vacation day, it will be meaningful and offer its own reward.
Talk to the teachers or the principal about the time you can offer. I believe that the responsibility to carve out roles for working parents lies with schools as well as with working parents. My experience in both public and private schools are that teachers are quite understanding of working parents’ needs. Also, if, in your job, you supervise or manage others, make an effort to fulfill requests of working parents. Workplaces that accommodate people’s lives outside of work tend to have a more loyal workforce, which benefits the bottom line.
Make yourself available on the first day to take your child to school. Arrange for teacher conferences or guidance counseling appointments early or late in the day — 7:30am or 8pm. Use phone or email to touch base with your child’s teachers. They are generally eager to share what is going in their classrooms.
Volunteer to make phone calls or send emails about a class project or a school-wide PTA event. Let the teachers and the PTA officers know at the beginning of the year that this is the time you can offer. Ask explicitly what tasks are available that don’t require being present during your working hours. Perhaps you coordinate who brings snack if your child is in an early grade, or you can recruit volunteers on the teacher or PTA’s behalf.
Consider sharing or using your expertise. For instance, if you know graphic design, offer to design a flyer or newsletter. Have computer knowledge? Find a place to lend it. Offer to create the PTA parents’ directory on your own time, rather than within school hours.
Divorced parents need to make a special effort, particularly those who do not have custody. If you’re not living with your child, call your child’s teachers for information or with comments to show that you are interested.
Attending Special Events
At the risk of stating the obvious: Make a point to attend your child’s activities that call for an audience. Whether this takes the form of the school play, soccer or basketball games, chess match or band performance, consider your attendance required. I can’t emphasize enough how important the message your presence — or lack of it — sends to your child, as well as to teachers and administrators.
Knowing about what goes on at school for your child is important on so many levels. Creating relationships with teachers or the administration will pay great dividends. Should any issue arise that affects your child, you’ll be working within an existing relationship. A little presence goes a long way.
NORA ANDERSON, head of school, Westchester Fairfield Hebrew Academy, looks forward to the new school year, especially since WFHA will be in its permanent home on a historic campus. She would love to hear about your family’s solutions for staying involved with school. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.