Your Kids’ School: How Involved Do You Need to Be?

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School Involvement Etiquette--How Involved Do You Need to Be?The school year is underway, and so is the annual request from schools for parents to get involved with the PTA and other school committees, or to help with duties in the classroom.

It’s hard to argue against parental involvement. As Sherri Wilson, senior manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA explains, “Decades of research show a direct link between parental involvement and student success, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or religion. A child notices when his parent makes an effort to go to his school, communicate with his teachers and check his homework. It increases the significance of education and shows that the parents care, which in turn makes the student take it more and more seriously.”

Having said that, we know how busy you are: All you want to do is add one more to-do to your list. Luckily, there are ways to get involved that won’t suck all your time—and will have an impact on your kids.

Here’s what you need to attend, and what you can afford to skip.

Are School Meetings Really That Important?

For parents who simply can’t make it to PTA meetings, many are left wondering,Will my children suffer if I don’t do more at their school?”

According to researchers at the Center for Public Education, the answer is no. The researchers studied a variety of ways parents are involved in their children’s education, from sitting on school committees to joining the PTA. What they found is that “it’s the support parents provide at home that has [the most] impact on student achievement,” says Patte Barth, director for the Center for Public Education.

That’s not to say the other kinds of parental involvement aren’t important, Barth added, but parents can take comfort in the fact that all those times you’re helping them with homework or talking to them about their day are actually more important than anything you could actually do at the school.

4 Ways to Stay Involved

Though it may seem that people who helm the annual fall fundraiser, or take on the title of Classroom Parent, are the only ones doing the heavy lifting, the Center’s survey data shows that parents across the board are overwhelmingly involved with their children’s education, if not directly with the schools.

“Schools [should] recognize that parents are involved, even if they don’t see them in the [classroom],” says Barth. Here are some other ways you can keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on even if you can’t make every last bake sale.

  • Make every effort to attend parent/teacher conferences.
  • Stay in touch with the school’s PTA president, who can be a great source of information. Ask if there are any smaller tasks you can take on, or emails you can help send out that fit with your schedule.
  • To build successful family-school partnerships, communicate with your child’s teacher via email or phone “frequently,” suggests Wilson, not just when your student is having problems. “This also demonstrates to students that families and teachers are on the same team.” (We have more tips about developing a close relationship with your child’s teacher here.)
  • Set aside at least one day or evening a year to volunteer, attend an evening or daytime event or chaperone a field trip.

“No one needs to help mothers feel guilty, we kind of own that,” says Barth. “PTA meetings are good, and they are important, but moms do what they can do, and it’s good to know what they do at home has the biggest [impact].”