Misconception #1: Parents Who Don’t Visit School Don’t Care About Their Child’s Education
School administrators and educators often see physical presence as “the” sign of parental concern. However, there are many reasons why parents might not visit their child’s school. Parents may feel intimidated by teachers, whom they often view as authority figures. Parents may be working several jobs or may be reluctant to visit the school just to hear—yet again—that their child is troubled or failing. Many parents demonstrate their caring by working hard to provide their children with the basic necessities; for many parents, providing an adequate home life for their child is equivalent to caring about their child’s educational success. When educators assume that a lack of caring is the reason parents are absent, they only reveal the absence of their own caring and effectively shut down all communication channels. If school faculty are unable to meet with a parent in person, there are alternative ways of getting input and having dialogue with the parent, such as e-mail, phone calls, and letters. Again, dialogue—in whatever form—between parents and teaching faculty is critical. Teachers must be willing to engage parents regardless of parents’ past behaviors. The next time a teacher reaches out to a parent may be the time a parent reaches back.
Misconception #2: Good Parental Involvement “Looks” a Certain Way
Pervasive definitions of appropriate parenting behaviors, such as reading to children every night, often have their roots in middle-class norms. Parents who do not conform to these implicit rules become easy targets for parent-bashing. Schools too quickly blame such parents for their children’s failures instead of examining their own images of good parenting in order to ensure that certain ways of rearing children are not condemned when compared to others.
Misconception #3: All Parents Respond to the Same Strategies
Like students, parents will evidence different needs, experiences, questions, learning, and styles of interacting with others. A strategy that draws one group of parents to school may completely alienate another group. Universal strategies such as parent-teacher conferences, open houses, and active involvement in the PTA cannot be expected to work for everyone and invariably will exclude some parents from becoming involved.
Misconception #4: Parents Who Are Struggling Financially Cannot Support the School
If teachers and administrators think of support from parents in monetary terms only, parents who are struggling financially will be deemed unable to contribute to their child’s school. However, inviting parents to contribute in ways that are creative, do not necessarily involve money or a great deal of time, and expand notions of assistance or expertise will help parents to feel empowered and relevant to the school’s mission.
Misconception #5: All Parents Have the Same Goals for Their Children
Teachers and administrators should not assume they know what goals and aspirations parents have for their children. Teacher-parent dialogue is critical to ensure that meaningful, relevant conversations occur about each student’s goals. This is also why incorporating diverse teaching styles and educational content into a classroom is so important.
(Adapted from "Culturally Responsive Parent Involvement" by Sabrina Hope King and A. Lin Goodwin)