It's the time of year when parents who have school-age children are in back-to-school mode. But not only should we be thinking about preparing our children for a new school year, we should also think how we can best plan our own schedule.
As a fervent supporter of parent engagement in education, it's very easy for me to say that all parents should be actively involved in their children's schools, become active members of PTA, and attend board of education meetings regularly. We know that doesn't happen. In fact, I have attended meetings where fewer than 10 parents were present -- out of a potential 20,000!
Today's parents are stressed and scheduled to the limit. Parents who work long hours are not available during the day, and may not be inclined to leave home in the evening. So what's a concerned parent to do?
Cindy Krischer Goodman, a columnist for the Miami Herald, recently interviewed teachers to get advice about how working parents can remain engaged in their children's education. Here are some of their suggestions for the overburdened parent:
• Communicating with your child's teacher via email or phone.
• Making every effort to attend parent/teacher conferences.
• Setting aside one day or evening to be present, such as chaperoning a field trip or attending an evening program.
• Checking your child's work folder on a regular basis.
• Reading with your child.
• Reviewing your child's homework every night.
• Monitoring middle school students' agendas and teachers' websites.
• Checking high school students' electronic grade books regularly, and communicating with teachers if there's a problem.
Additionally, Goodman offers tips that have worked for her on her Work/Life Balancing Act blog. Here are some of them:
• Merge the school calendar into your work calendar so you can plan ahead for days off and half-days.
• Take your vacations during school holidays and use personal days for special events at school.
• Stock up on extra school supplies at the start of the school year so you won't have to make emergency shopping visits after a hard day on the job.
• Get rid of the clutter as soon as it comes into the house.
• Establish a simple system by the door to assist you in remembering what is needed for each day, e.g., musical instrument for lessons, sneakers for gym. Have a receptacle there so you can leave the items you need in plain sight.
To be engaged, working parents also need to know what's going on in the school and in the district. Here is my list:
• Become intimately familiar with your school, school district and PTA websites.
• PTA websites should give you the names of the PTA officers, meeting and event information, and issues for which the PTA is advocating.
• PTA presidents are a great source of information, so keep in touch with them if you can't attend meetings.
• School and district websites should give you the names and contact information of all the important players from teachers to board members. You should be able to find important dates, time schedules, meeting information and minutes, policies, procedures and news.
• If you want to find out about the burning issues and controversies in your district with all sides represented, learn whether there are local weekly newspapers or online media outlets such as the Patch that cover your schools. They generally send a reporter to every board meeting and write about it.