“Parent Involvement”…these are two amazing words for parents who truly want to be involved in their child’s education. The unfortunate reality is that some schools limit their interaction with parents to informing and stop short of involving. Research supports the positive outcomes of engaging parents, yet this aspect of education remains significantly limited across our nation.
For the past few years, I have been part of various assessment projects related to family and community engagement, or as I like to call it, “the school-home-community partnership.” Bullying is a common topic raised by parents and educators, so I did some research on bullying-prevention programs that schools are using to address this issue. Not surprisingly, each of the prevention programs has a strong component of parent involvement.
One popular program, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program offers the following as examples of the roles parents should play:
- Reinforcing the same anti-bullying messages and social rules about caring for others at home, providing a consistent message for students in all areas of their lives
- Talking with administrators, teachers, and staff about bullying problems
- Teaching your children to tell you or another adult if they or someone else is being bullied
- Understanding how the program will work in your school and in the classroom
- Learning how to intervene when you witness a bullying situation
- Accessing program resources and strategies to help prevent and reduce possible bullying problems
- Helping to refine and implement the bullying prevention program in your children’s school by serving on the Bullying Prevention Coordination Committee and/or helping in individual classrooms, or community events
- Attending school wide and class meetings
Clearly, the “bold” words above are “action” words, not passive terms related to being on the receiving end of information. As the parent of a child with learning disabilities and other special needs, I have been amazed at how little interaction actually occurs between school and home. Here in our own district, several families have requested that a community council be formed. I learned last week that there is a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee! It includes two parents and two community leaders who were trained along with the school staff. Unfortunately, not enough people know about it. I have asked twenty parents if they know who those Committee parents and community partners are, and not one of those twenty parents had a clue. Almost all of the twenty communicated freely that they have concerns about bullying, but had no idea about how parents can become proactively involved in support of the programming! Sadly, within the past year, there have been two school-age suicides in our community and the neighboring district. Both families mentioned “bullying at school” as a factor in these tragic deaths.
After polling some parents, I had a positive conversation with two of our principals. I shared my concerns that parents have no idea who represents them on the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee, and also that many parents would like to be better informed about how they can support the programming. The principals suggested the possibility of hosting a parent meeting about the bullying prevention program, and I enthusiastically agreed with their idea. Parent volunteers are also being invited to plan and implement a “Step Up Kindness” program for the 750 students in our high school. Hopefully, best practice guidelines for parent involvement will become more than just a “good idea” in our district.
Personally, I believe that a lack of parent and community involvement greatly diminishes the long-term benefit of bullying prevention programs. If parents don’t have opportunities to shape activities, reinforce a shared commitment with school personnel, and develop a “shared vocabulary,” they will not be able to reinforce the anti-bullying messages that students are learning in school.
It is my hope that schools will implement all aspects of bullying prevention programs, including authentically and meaningfully integrating and involving parents, school personnel and community partners in this important work.