Parent Involvement: The Missing Element of Keeping Great Teachers and Leaders

Most of Eklund Consulting's work is with educators and educational leaders.  However, in this week's blog, Nathan Eklund addresses an important group in the educational community - parents.

Eklund Consulting has been working with teachers and leaders in schools non-stop for seven years. We’ve surveyed tens of thousands of teachers and leaders. We’ve done strategic planning, led workshops, published articles, and lived and breathed educator job satisfaction in all we do.

In that time, not only have we been part of remarkable growth for our clients, but we’ve also come to know more about how to make schools awesome places to work than just about anyone else in the country.

Deeply satisfying work within schools is not based on any one contributing factor but is the sum of a host of elements that knit together to create the kinds of schools that are likely to attract and retain fantastic people. Peer-to-peer relationships, thoughtful and skilled leadership, and personal wellness are forefront in increasing the likelihood that good people stay engaged over time.

Over the past few years, however, I’ve noticed something else that is unbelievably critical, but often overlooked in how people enjoy their work in schools: parent involvement.

Parent involvement in schools is a classic Goldilocks story:

-       too little is problematic

-       too much is detrimental

-       the right amount is magic

In schools where overall parent involvement lags, educators are left feeling isolated, disjointed, and sometimes hopeless in meeting the needs of students and their personal/academic growth. Teachers and administrators become proxy parents, scrambling to take care of their students as best as possible. The lack of deep partnership with parents jeopardizes the potential of the schools and the students. In these environments, it’s hard for educators to feel they’re doing their best work and job satisfaction and staff retention can suffer.

But on the flip side…

Over the past few years I have noticed with alarm the toxic effect parental hyper-involvement can have on workplace culture and individual job satisfaction. This is the dark side of parent interactions. In environments where parents can apply undue pressure and demands on teachers and leaders, the net result is that these communities can cannibalize great staff. Unfettered hovering, criticism, and unwieldy expectations on staff erode not only the effectiveness of schools but can also suck the joy out of working in school.

We find stress and turnover in hyper-parenting districts to outpace that of less involved parenting systems. This is not to suggest that schools where parents aren’t involved are better places to work. But it does indicate that parents have to own their undeniable place in creating a safe, supportive, and pleasurable place for teachers and leaders to do the work for which they have studied, trained, and dedicated themselves.

If you want your children to be surrounded by awesome adults, you need to be a part of the ecosystem that makes that a reality.

Here are my “Top 5 Ways Parents Can Get and Keep Awesome Educators in Their Schools”:

1.     Don’t limit “Teacher Appreciation” to one week a year.

Donuts and well-decorated staff lounges are great. But teacher appreciation should exist all weeks of the year. Your student comes home fired up about something that happened in class? Write an email. Write a note. Stop by. Don’t lose opportunities to say out loud the good things you think about teachers and leaders.

2.     Phrase your inquiries as opportunities for partnership.

“Here’s what you need to do for my kid” is very different than “How can we work better together to meet the needs of my child?” It really does take a village. We’re all in this village together. And we’re trying real, real hard.

3.     Be aware.

Your own child is first and foremost in your thinking and concern. But that means that every child who walks into the classroom is the most important to someone. Think about the entirety of the demands placed on schools before logging your criticism. And please, please be nice.

4.     Celebrate that educators have lives outside of work.

Healthy, happy educators are better educators. Not just generally but specifically better for YOUR child! Whenever possible, avoid doing anything that will make a tough job tougher. You can send that angry email at 9:00 p.m. But it will get read. And it will keep that person up all night. And it will make her tired and stressed the next day. And your child doesn’t want or need that.

5.     Coach your child to handle his/her own questions and issues.

Reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic are important. But so is knowing how to be confident and comfortable dealing with people. When you swoop in to handle something your student could handle, you’re not only potentially negatively affecting your relationship with the teacher or leader, you’re also neutering your own child’s development. Teachers like kids. It’s in our DNA. Help us help them.

Parents – we need you. We really do. But we need you in the right times, places, and approaches. Figuring this out is paramount to whether or not any given educator is likely to stay in your school system. Done well, you might be the reason someone stays and does great work for your student. Done poorly, YOU might be the reason someone leaves. Own that and you’ll be part of something pretty special.