Challenging Negative Assumptions About the Uninvolved Parent

By Rebecca Bauer
The Myth of the Uninvolved Parent: illustration of wife and son stopping father going to work.

Research shows that parents’ decisions about how they engage in their child’s education are not “one size fits all.” With competing priorities and responsibilities, that may mean we don’t go to PTA meetings or attend some school events. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about our child’s success. That’s the myth of the uninvolved parent.

During a recent episode of Notes from the Backpack, Kwesi Rollins of the Institute for Educational Leadership gave us a realistic view of the barriers families face when trying to engage with their child’s school. He also shared how school districts across the country are making family engagement more meaningful and inclusive for families who aren’t involved in the traditional ways.

Busting the Myths of the “Uninvolved Parent”

Rollins said that we first must acknowledge that there is inequity in the school system.

For busy parents, it is impossible to do it all: attend and volunteer at school events, check the backpack and help with homework, drive to after school activities. And also plan meals and maintain your home.

So, how can we make family engagement more equitable? It starts by changing the narrative.

When it seems like families aren’t involved, it’s important to find out why. What are the barriers that are keeping families from engaging? If we’re not asking those questions, we may instead begin to believe some potentially dangerous stereotypes.

Rollins advised that educators and school leaders should first question their own ideas of what’s normal or ideal. Rather than assuming that a child is struggling because they have a different family structure, ask the right questions to help families share their reality.

Investigating to Determine the Source of the Issue

“One principal had a whole set of students who were chronically absent,” said Rollins. “They were Latino and he was really curious about why they were chronically-absent. He investigated and found out that all of their parents were migrant workers left very early in the morning to go to the fields to work and that a lot of those kids were unsupervised.”

Rollins said this discovery helped the principal address the issue.

In order to transform our schools to be more inclusive places where every student can thrive, we need to challenge assumptions, exercise curiosity and create opportunities for open dialogue.

Learn more from Kwesi Rollins by listening to the full interview, available wherever you listen to podcasts.

Rebecca Bauer is the family engagement specialist with the Center for Family Engagement at National PTA.

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