Forget the Field Trips


We are sharing what we and our partners have been learning through reflection in our Looking Back, Moving Forward blog series. This series is part of our Reflection, Analysis, and Planning (RAP) Process, which the Foundation is engaging in as our Moving the Needle (MTN) 2.0 strategic plan draws to a close and we prepare for what comes next.

The smell of burning brownies, the costume glued together for the school play, the tears over missed field trips. This is what it often means to be a working parent involved in your child’s education.

But there is a better way to spend our precious, limited time. If you don’t have the time or energy to attend field trips or bake brownies, that doesn’t mean you can’t play a critical role in your child’s educational future.

Being involved at school is different from being engaged.

To many parents, involvement often means being physically present–showing up at meetings, chaperoning field trips, emceeing the talent show. All of these are important, but often hard to do.

Engagement shifts attention to achievement: things we can do to help our children grow, learn, and thrive and, even better, help their classmates and our school achieve better learning outcomes.

Below are five steps I’ve committed to taking to be more engaged in my child’s school:

1. Get talking

The first step toward being an engaged parent is finding out how to share what’s happening at home and hear what my child’s learning at school. So I ask:  

  • Can the school send text messages to update and inform me?

  • Will teachers provide parent-teacher conference calls rather than requiring me to be at the school for meetings every time?

  • Does my child’s teacher have a blog or Facebook page?

2. Get informed

Once the lines of communication are open, the next step is to get informed. So I ask:

  • What is the school’s budget and how is it used?

  • How are my child’s outcomes and school performance tracked?  

  • How does my child and her school compare to others in literacy, math, attendance, and additional areas?

  • What research is available about how schools and parents have addressed any weaknesses in my child’s or her school’s performance?

  • What is my child's teacher trying to achieve and how is he using the curriculum?

  • What can I do at home with my child to help her succeed in school?   

3. Provide feedback

I must work with my child’s school to develop a way for me and other parents to provide feedback on what is and isn’t working to make our interactions with educators easy and accessible.

  • If I don’t have time to come to a meeting in the evening, I can encourage the school to create a parent survey to find times that work for us

  • If I know some parents in my child’s class don’t speak English, I can advocate for the school to translate materials and provide a translator for parent-teacher conversations

  • If transportation to school meetings is an issue, I can collaborate with the school to organize a carpool 

4. Become a decision maker

In order to help my child and her classmates succeed in school, I need to help the school empower parents to provide input on decisions that are made at the school. In partnership with other parents, we can:

  • Create and elect representatives to a parent council that informs development of the school budget, chooses direction, and brings on new leadership

  • Create a group that regularly talks with the school principal so he can report to us as parents  

  • Come together with our principal to approach the superintendent or the state legislature to advocate for policy changes that will provide us and our children with the support we need to guarantee our children succeed

5. Be an ally

Undoubtedly my child’s school has areas in need of improvement, but I’m not an engaged parent because I want to point out flaws or point fingers. I’m an engaged parent because I’m determined to come together with other parents and our children’s educators to solve problems and, ultimately, provide our children with the exceptional education they deserve.

I’m no different from other parents. We all care about our kids, and we all play a big role in their future and the future of our community.   

Read Partners in Education: A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships to learn more about what you can do to provide our students the exceptional education they deserve.