The home-school connection has always been important. Now, more than ever, it’s critical.

If the COVID-19 effect on education has made anything abundantly clear it’s that, in addition to their teachers, most students need the support and guidance of their parents to succeed in school. 

I know this first-hand; my research for this article was conducted at my dining room table, next to my 9th grade son who is exceptionally bright, but the abject opposite of an independent learner. 

Since schools shut down last March, he has struggled to keep track of his assignments, submit the right files to the right places, study for tests, and find any motivation to start and finish his work on time.

We have given him the autonomy to sort it out on his own (he didn’t), asked him to update us weekly on his assignments to demonstrate he was on track (he did, but didn’t exactly give us the full picture), and communicated by phone and email with his teachers to understand what was being required of him (a lot) and what he wasn’t doing (sooo much). 

With the support of a special education specialist at his school, we have come to understand that our gifted kid, the one who effortlessly scored As and Bs and was on an internationally renowned robotics team in middle school, struggles with executive function.

That is, he can do the academic work but ask him to organize his work or his time and focus on a single task in front of him and you will be met with the blankest of stares. (Followed by a mildly hostile look that says, “What do I have to do and say to get out of this?”)

This unusual hybrid school year is far from over, but the one strategy we’ve discovered that yields a modicum of success is this: I sit beside him on his asynchronous learning days at home.

Armed with a laptop and my professional to-do list, I do my own work in between nudging him to open his computer, helping him identify what’s being asked of him, breaking down the list into chunks, and encouraging him to just. keep. going. Pleeeeaase. 

I’m not an educator, but in our house I’m as close as there is to one. And without my involvement in my son’s schooling right now, he would be academically drowning. 

These circumstances are unique, but our family’s experience puts a fine point on what educators already know: parental involvement means a lot when it comes to predicting student success. 

According to a Southwest Educational Development Laboratory research report, “Many studies found that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, were more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
  • Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.

What is Parental Involvement?

Parent involvement is more than just a signature on a report card or field trip form. True engagement is built when educators and parents come together to acknowledge their shared responsibility in the education of a child. 

This partnership is strengthened when parents are involved in school meetings and events, and volunteer in classrooms, but also when they demonstrate that their child’s educational goals are prioritized in the home. That may include reviewing their student’s work, understanding what is expected of their child, and supporting classroom learning at home. 

Educators can contribute to this partnership by being open to hearing from and collaborating with parents throughout the school year and looking to parents as important advisors for their child’s success. Two-way communication is essential for creating the conditions for strong home-school connections.

Why is Parental Involvement in School Important?

Imagine going through life with just one hand. It’s possible, but everything is infinitely more efficient with two hands. The same principle applies to teachers and parents. Teachers can—and do—educate their students single-handedly. But the results and the process are made easier when they work together with their students’ families.

Parents have unique information about their children that could take a teacher an entire school year to uncover. They know what their kids have struggled with, the challenges they’ve overcome, and the triggers that could unleash specific behaviors or sensitivities. The information parents have can help teachers reach their students in more effective ways. 

Beyond that, parents can help further the work done in the classroom by ensuring students have a quiet place to do their homework, helping as needed, encouraging them to do their best and ask for clarity when they don’t understand a concept, and talking to their children about their day at school. When a family values education, it’s more likely that a child will, too.  

Students are better equipped to understand and execute their own responsibilities when parents and educators form a unified team. And this extends to the entire classroom, not just the students whose parents are especially involved.

“When parents are involved at school, the performance of all the children at school, not just their own, tends to improve. The more comprehensive and well planned the partnership between school and home, the higher the student achievement,” reads A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement, a research report by A.T. Henderson and Nancy Berla. 

How to Cultivate Parental Engagement in Your School

At a time when the home-school connection is especially frayed by virtual or hybrid learning models, it’s more important than ever to collaborate with parents. 

  • Reach out to parents early and often. Provide your email address and respond to inquiries as swiftly as you can.
  • Be open about your classroom goals and expectations so parents can support them—and possibly contribute to them.
  • Write a weekly email or e-newsletter that shares what was covered in class and what’s upcoming. This will help parents ask their kids the right questions and help them stay on track.
  • Invite parents to participate in the classroom. Even virtually! Parents may have a wealth of skills and information that would be appropriate for the curriculum you’re covering. Ask them if they’d be willing to tell students about the work they do, a special hobby, or how they got to where they are today.
  • Reach out to parents or guardians who aren’t connecting in the usual ways. Address the challenges some parents may have in collaborating. For example, if a parent works long hours or has no childcare for younger children, offer to meet with them virtually or over the phone early in the morning or later in the evening. If the parents don’t speak English fluently, see if your district could help with a translator.

These suggestions may represent what feels like extra work in an already overwhelming vocation, but they have the potential to yield results that could help you do your job in the long run.

I’m personally grateful to the collaboration I’ve established with my son’s teachers over the last few months. And they have expressed gratitude that I’m “on the team” when it comes to educating students in an unprecedented and challenging way this year. 

Now more than ever, we’re all in this together. 

ABOUT HEATHER

Heather Hudson is a Toronto-based freelance writer and journalist. She specializes in content marketing, corporate storytelling and good old-fashioned journalism. You can read some of her work in The Toronto Star and learn more about her at heatherhudson.ca.