Parent involvement at Schools: two unconventional strategies that work.

Grade R learners

This post is the third installment in the Parent Involvement at Schools series that I am exploring.

Generally, parents love to attend sport or cultural functions because their children are in the spotlight and there is no pressure other than to enjoy themselves. Teresa Muller, principal of St Mary's R.C. Primary School in Retreat, shared her challenges to accommodate parents at the annual school concert.

"We had such a battle at our school concert the other night," said Teresa. "There was absolutely no room for an ant, yet the parents kept on streaming in. They begged to be allowed to sit on the floor or to stand against the walls on the sides of the hall. We could have held the concert over two nights, but parents don't confirm their attendance, although we have given them regular reminders. Then there are the grannies and the aunties who also want to come. The night was good, noisy and fun because the parents lose their inhibitions when they see their children on stage. In fact, the teachers looked a bit uneasy with this community spontaneity," laughed Teresa. "It is such a pity we don't have this same turnout when we have our regular parent meetings."

Teresa's experience is a common one. So, how do we get parents to the school to discuss how they need to be active in their children's learning? What can we do to help parents understand that their active participation in their children's academic performance is equally important?

Here are two strategies that schools use to great effect.

Strategy 1: Take the meeting to the parents.

If most of your children commute to your school that is not located in the children's community, then hold the meeting in their community. Use school halls, classrooms, churches or community centres as the venue. This is what Jean Human, the principal of Simonstown school, in Simonstown, did. Many of Jean's children come from Masiphumelele, an informal settlement in the Fish Hoek valley area, about 12 kilometers from Simonstown.

Before this meeting was held, teachers complained again about the poor attendance of parents at important meetings and were ready to throw in the towel. Jean told her teachers to convene the meeting in Masiphumelele at the high school so that parents could walk to the venue at night. Needless to say, the parents arrived in droves and the meeting was a success.

Moral of the story: parents want to come to the parents' meetings, but there may be stumbling blocks other than the perceived apathy.

Strategy 2: Involve employers of working parents or ask community organisations to assist.

Tersia Willson-Haussamer, a colleague at Cape Winelands Education District, taught at a farm school in Agter Paarl, a rural town in the Western Cape. Tersia's story about her experiences and life lessons learned while teaching at this farm school deserve its own post. The one aspect I want to highlight here is how Tertia managed to get her parents to a meeting. Tersia used the farmers, the employers of her parents, to help her have a successful and rewarding parent meeting.

"You know", said Tersia, "everybody told me I won't get the farmworkers to attend a meeting. Everybody was so negative and skeptical. Throughout the history of the school, the naysayers said, the school has never ever had a meeting because the parents are seasonal workers on different farms and the parents are often drunk and too busy with their own stuff. Besides these challenges, the farms are also scattered and the parents have no transport.

I refused to accept this. I phoned all the farmers and told them about the meeting. I explained to them why I needed the parents there and asked if they could assist with transport." Let me tell you, on the night of the meeting, our venue was packed. The farmers brought their farmworkers by truck and tractor. The parents who did not attend, had no transport because the farmer was overseas at the time. Even the farmers' wives in their 4x4s chauffered their workers."

Moral of the story: Regardless of social status, parents do care about their children but they may need physical support and encouragement to navigate foreign spaces like schools and formal meetings.


The road less travelled.
Following the path less travelled opens more possibilities

Jean and Tersia have been willing to think outside the box. If the parent meetings are deemed important by schools, then perhaps we need to find creative ways to make it easier and more convenient for parents to attend. If we do consider both parties, the school and the parents are enriched and the relationship is strengthened. New perspectives are required to break old habits.

Have you tried other creative ways to attract parents to those key meetings where attendance is usually poor? And, do you think you can try the two strategies that Jean and Tertia have used as part of their parent Involvement plan?

Jean Human (right), School principal of Simonstown school.

Tersia Willson-Haussamer, ex teacher and now a Foundation Phase Curriculum Advisor, in picture below:
Tersia Willson-Haussamer


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