As speech-language pathologists, we know that parent involvement helps students make better gains and quicker progress. ASHA has various articles discussing the importance of family-centered therapy (including the family in the therapeutic process) and inclusion of family input and support for those with stuttering, aphasia and autism. Recently, a friend of mine asked for my thoughts on parent involvement, and I have many. Let’s talk about what I think this question is really about. There are student populations that may not yield as much parent involvement. Specifically, I want to address our students from low socio-economic home environments and our English Language Learners (ELLs).
Positively Directing Your Energy
We need to be okay with having a variety of parent participation. First, it is vital to take judgment out of the scenarios. Instead, our energies need to be directed to out-of-the-box thinking. It is vital for us to find ways to bring in parents that may not have the time or the comfort of communicative in their native. We need to understand that parent involvement does not necessarily mean face time.
Here are a few tips to Increase Parent Involvement
- Have an honest conversation about the family’s priorities (find an interpreter—google organizations and services, find a team member who speaks the same language, ask the family to bring in a family member who can interpret): In some cultures, it is disrespectful to involve yourself in a teacher’s domain. You won’t know this until you communicate with the family.
- Communicate via text or email: For some individuals, communicating via a written system is easier than oral communication.
- Take the time to build rapport with the family: This means understanding customs and holidays. Get out of your comfort zone. This, folks, shows kindness. My parents raised my siblings and me in a very homogenous town. English was not their strong-suite, but they always had their favorite teachers. These teachers were the ones who demonstrated kindness. The language of kindness supersedes all oral languages. There were also teachers who did not make the effort. My mother never questioned a teacher’s teaching methods or intentions, until the day a teacher sent home a monogrammed bug catcher. All the students received one, and mine had my name spelled incorrectly. Mom went up to the school, and in her best English, asked the teacher to correct the spelling (I was so excited to have the craft). The teacher said there was nothing she could do about it. Please do not be this teacher. She discounted what was important to us, and made a choice to not make the time to do what was right.
- Prioritize visuals: For some of my parents, I will send pictures of what the child is doing well at school. A picture says so much. This is another form of communication, validates what the child is doing well and opens a door for future interactions that already have a communicative foundation.
- If possible, also do home visits: Taking the time to visit the family in their comfort zone speaks volumes. Typically, I am showered with food and gifts to show gratitude on behalf of the family. You leave making an important connection and with a tummy filled with delicious cuisine.
Taken from: Routines-Based Early Intervention Guidebook
Is Active Participation Always Feasible?
For our children in poverty, we need to understand that active participation may not be a feasible possibility. My father worked two full-time jobs and my mother worked at a factory. We always went to school—well or sick. Missing work was not really an option. Again, take the time to understand the perseverative challenges of maintaining a household with a low, hourly wage. Here are some effective ways to communicate:
- Use various forms of communication: email (with pictures), short videos of a strategy or successful moment in school via email or text. Use drop-off or pick-up as a chance to communicate a short (make it short!) message. And remember, being positive is important. Do not always just talk about the challenges. Parents want you to understand that you know the good along with the needed-changes.
- Build rapport: Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind talks about this, and it’s true. If a parent does not trust you, there is not much that will happen after that. Take the time to make the human connection. In the past, there was a family I called on a weekly basis. It took a great deal of time, and it was worth it.
- Build Educational Opportunities at Home: In some cases, not all, families are unsure of how to build education opportunities at home. Give information about local libraries. If there are comprehensive literacy needs at home, send home books that are wordless. There are awesome books for elementary and secondary students. Some of my faves are Mercer Meyer’s Frog books, June 29, 1999, The Middle Passage (about Trans-Atlantic slave trade) and The Arrival.
With all of the aforementioned things, it’s okay if a parent is unable or does not want to participate. Your efforts at school are surely important and will make an impact. Try to think of ways to build the bridge, and if the effort is not reciprocated, just use other methodologies. As speech-language pathologists, we are Macgyvers—we can make great things happen with the tools we have available.