Steve Constantino, author, speaker, and school administrator, has written several books on the importance of family engagement in school communities. We asked him how parent involvement has been affected by the economy and social media, and what parent groups should be doing now.

How much do you think parent engagement has changed in the past five years? Do you see overall improvements?
I wouldn’t attach the word “improve” to it. I don’t think the economic downturn was particularly kind to family engagement. In numerous schools across the country, anything deemed “extra” didn’t make it though the budget process, and I heard lots of things about reductions in family engagement types of programs.

But then, of late, there’s been a bit of a renaissance and an interest in engaging families. This is in part because of some federal interest, and part of this is the new normal, meaning schools are going back and looking at families as a resource that doesn’t cost them money.

What do you think PTOs and PTAs can do to help more families get involved?
Well, everything we do, as support organizations, should be linked to learning. People get engaged if something is meaningful to them or to their children. So the more parent organizations see the link between themselves and academics, the stronger the organization will be.

Social media wasn’t much of a factor in family engagement five years ago. What’s the impact today?
I have mixed emotions about it. I understand the power of it, but I am increasingly concerned that it is becoming a replacement to involvement. I hope we use it appropriately and keep it in perspective that it is one of several tools.