You may be thinking, parent engagement in high school? Does this mean I’m supposed to go to PTA meetings? We don’t have time for that anymore! Shouldn’t my children be learning how to be more self-sufficient, after all?
Yes, but that’s because you might be thinking of parent engagement too narrowly. Sure, going to PTA meetings is one way to do it. But look a little deeper.
Aren’t you going to sporting events or band concerts? And what about those conversations around the kitchen table where you urge your child to think about what college they want to go to? These are also types of parent engagement, and studies show they can have a measurable positive effect on your child’s academic achievement.
The parent/child relationship gets complicated in high school. As adolescents push and pull toward autonomy, there can be a lot of friction. Especially around school, friends, and time management. Don’t even get me started about the phone.
As parents, sometimes we can misinterpret this as a reason NOT to be involved, to let our children figure things out on their own. But, in fact, research has shown that parent involvement at every level of school is important and will positively impact student achievement.
So what can you do to support your high schooler?
- Consider asking your school to form a parent committee or other decision-making body. The simple fact is some of these suggestions won’t work without the school’s support. And you can give suggestions until you’re blue in the face, but unless schools are interested in actually giving parents a voice, it may be an exercise in frustration. Start with the principal and work your way up.
- Set aside a structured time to check in, face-to-face, with your teenager about school. Life is busy for teenagers. Between after-school activities, jobs, mounting homework, and social time, you may feel like you hardly see each other. Work together as a family to find a time to talk about school routinely. Too often we only check in to put out the fires of missed assignments and truancy. In those moments tensions are high and conversations can quickly sour. Instead, check in every week and ask non-loaded questions like, “What are you working on in _____class? What are you learning? What do you find challenging? How do you think this might help you in the future?” If you are genuinely interested in what your child is learning and doing in school, then you can naturally ask, “So how did that presentation on ______ go?” without it feeling like an inquisition.
- You probably have high hopes and high expectations for your child. But do they know it? Lots of research shows that having an adult at home who communicates high expectations helps students perform better in school. But don’t stop with the expectation. Put the expectation into real action. Ask the school to host career nights (volunteer to be a speaker), college fairs, take-your-student-to-work-days, resumé writing workshops, financial aid nights, college application writing parties, research nights, etc. Go to local colleges for events, even if your child isn’t interested in going to that particular school. Seek out and use resources that will help your student have a vision of life beyond high school.
- Invest in personal relationships with school staff. Regularly check in, personally, with teachers and counselors. Ask, multiple times, if you child is taking the classes they need to be successful in their post-high school plans. In short, be the squeaky wheel (and the polite and gracious wheel, of course). Consider asking your school to implement a homeroom or advisory period that is the same throughout high school. This way each student and family will have at least one adult at the school that can be their “point person.” Also, if your school hosts back-to-school nights, or coffee talks or any other informal gatherings, go. Your attendance means more than you think.
- High school is a time when those “soft skills” such as time management, project management, goal setting, personal responsibility, researching skills, and working in a group can make a big difference to academic success. While you may not be able to help with chemistry homework, you can help with these life skills. Not exactly sure what guidance to give? Ask the school to run a family workshop on these skills.
- Help your high schooler use their out-of-school time effectively. The truth is there are a lot of hours in the day, and while teenagers are busy, they still manage to squeeze in, on average, 7 hours a day on screens. So have conversations about using that time effectively, the dangers of multitasking their way through homework, and the need for some digital quiet time.
- Help your child use technology wisely. Research has shown that technology, such as a smartphone, can actually positively affect your relationship with your child. But you can’t just text or “like” your way to a good relationship. You have to do some research to understand the social media your child is using. In the article “The Relationship between use of Technology and Parent-Adolescents Social Relationship” experts suggest: “Parents need to educate themselves about social media and the ways their teens may use it, as well as the common risks, to help them understand and navigate the technologies. Moreover, family discussions are positive for teens and can result in less risky online behaviors.” Yep, sign up for an Instagram account and use that weekly meeting to talk about technology use. Also, ask the school to host a roundtable discussion for all parents to share ideas for helping teens navigate the online world.
- High school students are at a stage where they are proving to themselves and the adults around them that they are growing into capable and successful adults. So high schools should give them an opportunity to showcase real skills. If your school doesn’t currently have a capstone project and other academic showcases, ask for one. This is a natural way for you to be involved as an audience member, judge, or project mentor. It’s also a great way for seniors to show they are ready to transition into the world of adults.
Don’t let high school be a time to pull back from school involvement. Continue to support your child’s academic success through parent advocacy, conversations with your child about school and about the future, and relationships with teachers and school administrators.
Find more help forming a home/school partnership or to ask more specific questions about working with your child’s school visit www.BuildingtheBridge.org.
QUESTION: How can you get more involved in your child’s school or the experiences surrounding school?
CHALLENGE: If you have a child in school, do one of the following this week: set up a regular meeting time to discuss your child’s progress, communicate with his or her teachers, or attend a school function.
Edited by Lisa Hoelzer and Nollie Haws.
Image from Photo by Antenna on Unsplash. Graphics by Anna Jenkins.