|Is that even a serious question?|
When it comes to limits on parental involvement, I believe honestly that there is NO LIMIT at all! In fact, give me all you got! Where things seem to go wrong comes from the focus we sometimes place on some types of involvement to the exclusion of others. I don’t think we do this on purpose, but the effects are deleterious. This is where that sense of hopelessness first begins with parents that are so desperate to help their children, yet feel lost in regards to how and where to begin. This may not make me popular, but teachers often do make this situation worse without even meaning to. Let me break it down the how and why.
Who is looking out for you: How parental involvement is flawed
The school will always do what works best for the school. It's apples and oranges. Just trying to make parents experts at the curriculum is a losing battle. It's an approach that works at first, but it is ALWAYS followed by a steep decline in effectiveness. Sure, k-2...I was an expert. I totally rocked my ABC's and 123's. Yes...my kids were in absolute awe of me! But as they advance, we are asking parents to exhibit mastery in areas they just can't. We need parents to be experts in areas educators cannot ever dream to be...be experts in your children! Sure, instruct and reinforce when you can, but focus on modeling and encouragement above all else.
Why bother with parental involvement...we need immediate results!
Standardized testing and measurements dot the horizon. The irony is that if ALL parents ever did was model and encourage, research suggest that students would experience a great deal of academic success. Yet, many teachers do not view that as a viable option. We are laser focused on academic knowledge and skills. This is what the test will measure and we can't seem to wrap our minds around HOW modeling and encouragement would reflect positively on test scores. We instead desperately desire the tangible forms of involvement from our parents. We want instruction and reinforcement at home, please and thank you. Everything else is "okay" but stick to the formula. What we get instead is many parents struggling, losing heart, and then giving up. Teachers react with surprise and bewilderment. Really? Is it fair to judge a fish on climbing a tree?
The four types of involvement: Instruction, Reinforcement, Modeling, and Encouragement
Can there ever be a limit to parental involvement? That will get you some interesting answers depending on who you ask and their perception of what parental involvement looks. I prefer to leapfrog the collaborative and traditional forms and get into the trenches of the parent/teacher/home dynamic. By looking at it this way, there really are just four basic forms of parental involvement: instruction, reinforcement, modeling, and encouragement (as defined in the Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler Model of the Parental Involvement Process...which is awesome IMHO).
#1 and #2: Instruction and Reinforcement...the traditional expectations
The first two are the ones most easily recognized and most often sought. The last two are the ones so easily overlooked, yet they truly carry the same weight and impact and this is how we first start to screw things up. Building parental efficacy is the key. It is not the ability to help your children succeed, but instead the belief that what you do WILL have a positive impact and bring about the desired results. I sincerely believe (and have dedicated my life to this) that parents are far more capable than we all think they are in regards to the academic impact they can have on their children. Anywhere from 13-18% of a child's WAKING HOURS are spent at school! That blows me away and it should blow parents away too. They must be empowered, but in ways that work FOR THEM, not just the school.
#3 and #4: Modeling and Encouragement...what parents SHOULD focus on
I've worked with thousands of parents and I've seen every type of approach imaginable. Building parental efficacy and getting them to believe that what they do matters (as opposed to filling a role they just can't) is the key. Nothing can accomplish this like modeling and encouragement. Instead of asking parents to fill an unfamiliar role, you are allowing them to work with their greatest strength...the understanding they have of their children.
For all my educational experience, I still remember my son asking me about the types of clouds when he was in 4th grade. I blankly stared at the sky and thought...well, that one looks like a bunny, and that other one sort of looks like Abraham Lincoln. Here I am with a wall full of degrees and I went blank. If this can happen to me, no wonder the average parent can feel overwhelmed.
When this scenario is repeated over and over, many parents end up surrendering if they think their own mastery of the curriculum is the recipe for success. But that does not have to be so. Big deal if you don’t know the curriculum, use that as an opportunity to model problem solving. “Where is your science book? How about we look this up online? Next time you need to be better prepared with your notes son. Don’t let that hard work you’ve done in class go to waste. Let’s try this again and see what clouds we can find now! I wonder what Abraham looks like now?”
Don't make it harder than it has to be
When our attempts at instruction and reinforcement fail, the strategies of modeling and encouragement are still available. If anything, they shouldn’t be #3 and #4, but rather share the spotlight with the others equally. The research by Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler state unequivocally that these four components ALL lead to increased student achievement. They ALL work so what is our hangup with focusing on the ones that are hardest to pull off as parents?
Why set ourselves up to fail. Do you REALLY want to stem the tide of apathy among parents? Do you want to get the most out of this critical partnership between the school and home? Why am I the only one to figure this out? The answer is so easy (except for that last question...it still puzzles me). Build their parental efficacy and watch them soar!