Why is parent involvement such a big deal?

Two major studies from the 1990s and 2000s showed the positive effect parent involvement has on student achievement and other success factors. They were so influential that researchers today still reference them frequently. A more recent study—published in 2012 by researchers at North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and the University of California, Irvine—reinforced these earlier studies and found that family involvement has a greater effect on positive academic performance than does the quality of the school building. And it’s not just students who are positively affected; parents, teachers, and schools as a whole also experience benefits.

When parents are involved in their children’s education, those children are more likely to:

  • Earn better grades.

  • Score higher on tests.

  • Attend school regularly.

  • Have better social skills.

  • Show improved behavior.

  • Be more positive in their attitude toward school.

  • Complete homework assignments.

  • Graduate and continue their education.

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Parents are more likely to:

  • Be more confident at school.

  • Be more confident in themselves as parents and in their abilities to help their children learn.

  • Be held in higher esteem by teachers.

  • Continue their own education.

Schools are more likely to have:

  • Better morale among teachers.

  • Higher ratings of teachers by parents.

  • More support from families.

  • A better reputation in the community.

How can my parent group encourage more involvement?

Ease parents into it, one step at a time.

Move people from “not involved” to “some involvement” to “volunteer” rather than kicking off the conversation by asking them to volunteer for a four-hour block at a major event. To get started, hold free events where parents, students, and teachers are encouraged to just have fun. Save the fundraising information for another time.

  • Plan a potluck family picnic before school starts in fall (or even another time of year if the weather is nice).

  • Have a family night at school where everyone can play board games, make crafts, or watch a movie.

  • Offer occasional breakfast events during morning drop-off with doughnuts, muffins, or other baked goods. (Don’t forget the coffee!)

Roll out the welcome wagon.

You and the other officers are your group’s best ambassadors.

  • Welcome people one-on-one at every opportunity.

  • Introduce yourself to people you don’t know, and ask their names and their children’s names in return.

  • Make introductions at meetings. First-time attendees may not know officers’ names or roles.

Talk up your group.

Don’t assume that everyone knows what your parent group does (or even what a parent group is).

  • Start the school year by distributing a welcome packet that explains all about your group and the activities that support students, parents, teachers, and the school.

  • Continue throughout the year with a variety of communications, including email, website, social media, bulletin board displays, and even local television.

  • Clearly articulate your message, explain why parents should care, and repeat as needed.

Ask for help.

Possibly the single most effective way to increase parent involvement is to ask people personally to get involved. Personal contact, either a face-to-face chat or a telephone conversation, is hard to beat—you can immediately address any concerns or objections, and you send the message that this person is important enough for the extra effort beyond sending a mass email.

  • Provide lots of different ways parents can get involved.

  • If there’s a buffet of choices, it’s more likely that something will appeal to each person. For each job, it helps to describe the time commitment, skills needed, and other relevant factors.

  • Break big jobs into smaller ones so tasks aren’t overwhelming. (Bonus for making them into increments of an hour or two at a time.)

  • Identify jobs that are one-time projects versus continuing throughout the year, those that are committee-based versus handled by just one person—even jobs that can be done with kids underfoot.

  • Give parents opportunities to help from home (or anywhere else that is not the school). Some work-from-home tasks include counting box tops, stuffing treat bags, editing a newsletter, sorting fundraiser order forms, updating the website, and managing the social media accounts.

Be open to new ideas.

If you want new members to join your team, let them contribute their talents and their ideas, not just their time. People like to feel that their opinions count. Don’t say “We tried that; it didn’t work” or “That’s not the way we do it.” Instead:

  • Write down suggestions, thank parents for sharing their ideas, and reassure them that all ideas will be considered.

  • Invite them to join a committee or present an idea at a meeting.

  • Brainstorm new ideas with other parents, not just your fellow officers.

How do we keep our volunteers happy—and willing to help out again?

Protect people from the Black Hole of volunteering.

If someone agrees to a task that is billed as a set amount of time, give her a guilt-free opportunity to step away if it ends up taking longer.

  • Regularly rotate the volunteers manning stations at a large event like a field day or carnival so they can spend part of the event with their family.

  • Institute a volunteer pledge program to confront Fear of the Black Hole directly. Ask parents to give a certain amount of time each semester—and promise them that you won’t ask them for more once they’ve met their commitment.

Make volunteering convenient (and fun).

Ask parents what would make it easier for them to participate, then work to put those solutions in place.

  • Let families volunteer together. Parents (with kids alongside) can take a shift running the concession stand, selling tickets, or manning a booth at the carnival, for example, then explore the rest of the event together afterward.

  • Offer child care at meetings. Scout troops and high school honor society members are good sources of help, and older kids can do double duty as tutors or homework helpers.

  • Serve dinner. Simple fare like pizza works, or ask a local restaurant to discount its delivery menu so parents can eat without draining their cash reserves.

Provide perks for volunteers.

The chance to win a prize or get a special freebie is one way to encourage repeat participation. If you’re having trouble recruiting volunteers in the first place, this is an especially good way to break the ice!

  • Give a free book to parents who assist with the book fair or a number of free game tickets for those helping with the carnival.

  • Offer small prizes like $5 gift cards or bakery treats as door prizes for attendance at key events or meetings.

  • Put parents in the running for larger rewards, like a prime parking spot for a month or membership at a local recreation facility, for higher levels of participation (such as attending several different events or volunteering for five hours during the school year).

  • Invite students to a special lunch with the principal or a popular teacher if their parents volunteer.

Say thank-you to each person who volunteers, even if you think she’ll brush it off.

Thanking volunteers assures everyone that their time is valued and their contribution is appreciated. Keep track of participation so you don’t forget who to thank—and if in doubt, thank someone anyway.

  • Express appreciation in a timely manner and in a personal way. Send an individual email or note or stop someone at school and offer your thanks in person.

  • Make sending proper thank-yous to all volunteers part of the job description for all officers and committee chairpeople.

  • Organize a formal volunteer appreciation event. Celebrating the work of your volunteers builds pride, which leads to a stronger and more effective organization in the long run.