Daring Dads to Get Involved

September 16, 2008

The PTA is the domain of the mothers.  Based on my own experience and observations, fathers have a much easier time getting involved with their kids’ extracurricular activites — coaching is the most common, and other activities like scouting coming in a distant second.  This summer, I did some informal research, asking our friends how they get involved.  Nearly all — at least 90% — of the moms I asked (most of whom do not work full time outside the home) are active members of their schools’ PTAs or volunteer regularly in the classroom as room parents, event organizers, and field trip chaperones.  I could not find a single dad who claimed membership in his local PTA.

Last week, I gave a presentation on SchoolPulse to an auditorium full of room parents.  Of the 50 parents present, only 1 was male.  I know the fathers care about their kids just as much as the mothers, and I know the fathers care deeply about the schools their kids attends, and yet they aren’t involved in school-based activities.  Why not?

  • Perception.  There is a broad perception that moms and PTAs go together.  Can you name a single PTA where fathers make up more than 5% of the active parents?  I’d like to hear about it.
  • Company.  The dads like to be involved in activities with other dads.  I think that’s one reason that coaching is such an easy choice for dads.  Even in girls sports, dads are heavily represented as coaches.
  • Time.  I think that a lot of PTA-related work happens during the work day, giving a lot of us dads an easy out.  “We have to earn a buck — how can we possibly get involved?”

I’d like to find a way to get more dads involved.  Can you imagine how cool it would be if more of us played a part in our local PTAs?  I think the moms would welcome the help, both because it would relieve some of the burden (we know that recruiting volunteers is always a challenge) and it would create more opportunities to do things together, as a couple and as families  I also think the kids would welcome it, and it would provide a good opportunity to show our children that dads can be involved, too.

Let’s break down the barriers that inhibit the involvement of dads.  It’s going to take a few daring dads in each school community to get the ball rolling — some real trailblazers — and I really think it can be done.  Here are a few ideas to help you get the ball rolling; ideas that I am going to pursue in my kids’ elementary school.

  • Recruit 3-5 other dads who would like to be involved but don’t know where to start.  I’m going to call mine a “support group” that will meet monthly, providing dads the chance to get to know other dads over a few beers.  We might even play poker or go to baseball games together.  Women have book groups — why shouldn’t men have support groups?
  • Schedule a kickoff meeting at a local watering hole.  Make it social, invite a bunch of fathers, and spend a few minutes (and only a few minutes!) at the beginning explaining the concept without being too heavy handed about it.
  • Work with the PTA moms to find ways to put this new “support group” to work.  I hope the dads will respond to the opportunity to provide the “man”ual labor before and after PTA-sponsored social events, carnivals, science nights, and holiday celebrations

My hope is that by offering an opportunity to socialize with other dads under the banner of providing a resource for their kids, other dads like me will respond.  Who knows… we may be able to start a revolution!

Collaboration is a Two-Way Street

April 1, 2008

Conventional wisdom says that schools with high levels of parental involvement perform better. I believe this to be true, but I have also found (as the parent of three elementary school students) that teachers don’t necessarily relish the idea of heavy parental involvement. And I think I know why.

Today I read an article in Education Week that describes this tension. It suggests that a lot of parents only come forward when they have concerns or criticism, which creates a difficult dynamic, and it provides some examples of steps successful schools have taken to ensure a healthy level of parental involvement.

“In affluent areas, parents know they should be involved, but absent good guidance and a plan [from the school], they try to do too much,” said Joyce L. Epstein, who heads the Center on School, Fmaily, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “It’s important for people to know they can take charge of this topic with research-based approaches … that work.”

Click here to read the full article.

My read is that a lot of the interactions between parents and teachers happen when the parents are already upset about something, which makes the conversations less productive than they might otherwise be. This rings true to me. I recently heard about the parent of one of my kid’s classmates who felt that the school should be providing more “gifted and talented” resources for her daughter. She raised the issue at a PTO meeting which immediately created a contentious dynamic with the school.

The successful schools cited in the article provide guidelines to ensure that parents and teachers are working together, collaboratively, rather than in a confrontational manner. It makes perfect sense.

I am interested in using the internet to improve communications between parent and teachers and I’d love to hear examples of ways that this is happening today. Have you heard of any?