What You Can Do as a Parent

Get Involved at Home, at School and in the Community

A crucial element in any successful educational leadership initiative is parental involvement at home, at school and in the community. If you're looking for ways to become a more active partner in your child's learning experience, you can take advantage of the many online resources that offer participation tips and suggestions. Additionally, reading about what has worked for other parents and teachers can serve as an inspiration and a starting point in structuring your own initiatives.

Learn How Your Child Learns

The PBS Parents website offers advice to parents who want to help their children be more successful in school. According to Dalton Miller-Jones, Ph.D, understanding how your child learns can be instrumental when it comes to enhancing and extending the educational environment in the home. "One of the most important things a parent can do is notice her child," says Miller-Jones. "Is he a talker or is he shy? Find out what interests him and help him explore it. Let your child show you the way he likes to learn." The site also recommends that parents incorporate learning into a child's everyday life, particularly when it comes from a child's natural questions. In addition, since parents are role models for children, another site recommendation advises parents to try and learn something new themselves, whether it's a new language or a new skill set. By demonstrating how you learn and how you overcome your struggles, you will be able to better understand what your child is going through, and you may even be able to schedule joint study sessions.

Get Involved at School
Students gather around a teacher reading in a scene from The Principal Story A scene from The Principal Story. Credit: Nomadic Pictures

Once your child is at school, being in touch with your child's teachers early and often is critical. But that doesn't mean the feedback should only occur when something negative happens. "At our school, we are very purposeful about communicating with parents about positive things as well as about any concerns we have," says Rachel Taylor, a 5th grade history teacher at Kings Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, New York. "Another teacher calls it 'putting money in the bank' -- building a reserve of positive communication with the families so that when something negative arises, as it no doubt will at some point, you already have a strong feeling of being in it together. In the first two weeks of school I have already seen how important this is. I have had parents tell me that they have never received a call from a teacher before just to tell them their child had a great day. It makes them very happy, it makes me feel good, and it makes us much more able to handle any problems their child faces in school." Parents can develop these inroads as well, telling teachers when they're pleased with their child's progress, and not just when they're disappointed. Establishing a dialogue early on allows parents and teachers to get to know each other before problems arise.

Meet Other Parents

Talking to other parents at your child's school can also be instrumental in identifying educational and environmental issues and discovering ways to solve problems. This kind of communication led Caryn Rogoff and a like-minded group of parents in Jersey City, New Jersey, to open their own charter school. "We're sort of an anomaly in terms of parent participation," says Rogoff, who currently serves as the facility development advisor at the Learning Community Charter School, the school they opened. "In the mid-'90s, a group of parents who had preschool-aged kids talked about where they'd send their kids to school. At the time, the public schools had been taken over by the state, and weren't in good shape. So we said, why can't we have a small community-oriented school? These conversations went on informally, and then finally someone had a meeting and said, can we actually do something like this? That was in February 1995. So the group divided into committees and began looking into facilities and curriculums and that sort of thing. Over the next two years we developed what we wanted. Simultaneously, charter school legislature was winding its way through the state government, and then it ultimately passed and we applied to be a charter school. We got the charter in 1996, and we opened in the fall of 1997. We were one of the first charter schools in New Jersey. The school was really started by parents."

Currently, the Learning Community Charter School has the highest test scores in the district, and while admission, as with all charter schools, is lottery-based, it's a public school.

For more ideas and resources to help you get involved in your child's education, check out the following useful sites.

  • GreatSchools is a free online resource for parents that provides information on more than 90,000 public elementary, middle and high schools throughout the United States, including charter schools, magnet schools and year-round schools, as well as over 30,000 private schools. Additionally, the website provides parents with an advice section and allows them to connect with other parents online.
  • Project Appleseed is a national nonprofit campaign designed to help parents become more involved in improving America's public schools. They have designated November 19, 2009 as National Parental Involvement Day.
  • The National Parent Teacher Association is the largest nonprofit volunteer child advocacy group in the nation. Their website offers information on how to start and run a PTA, resources for local and national advocacy, a guide to programs for parents and children and information on everything related to helping your child succeed in school.

Lara Ewen is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY.