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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Larson

What Do Parents Want?

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Once a month we write a blog for school leaders on the topic of family engagement. The purpose is to share current trends, tips and best practices to help school leaders more effectively partner with parents so they can better support their kids at home.

This month our topic was Parent Behavior (feel free to chuckle at that idea!). We know some parents have been quite vocal about their expectations (and frustrations) with school policies during the pandemic, and we wanted to take the opportunity to analyze the most recent research.

We recognize most school leaders would probably like to avoid this topic altogether, but as a mom to four children, I find the research quite interesting!

Our findings are summarized below. We’d love to know if you agree with the latest research!

What Does the Research Say?

As parents took a more active role in their child’s education (admittedly some more able and willing than others), several organizations began to take a closer look at parent behavior and how this is impacting a student’s learning experience.

70% of parents say they will have greater expectations for the quality of education their child receives (2021 Tyton Partners: School Disrupted Part 2)

Before the pandemic most parents didn’t know what their child’s daily routine consisted of at school. Headlines about national test score trends didn’t feel relevant to any one school. College opportunities felt like a distant goal. And mental health services were unlikely to be on the radar for many parents.

The pandemic has likely accelerated an awareness around many issues that have been brewing for quite some time. Research from Tyton Partners specifically highlights these top three areas of most importance to parents:

  • More focus on social and emotional learning

  • More individualized support

  • More small group learning experiences

Nearly 80% of parents expect to be more active in shaping their child’s education in the future (2021 Tyton Partners: School Disrupted Part 2)

The pandemic forced parents to find a way to support their child’s learning journey at home. As the line between work and home life blurred (or perhaps completely disappeared in some instances) parents found creative ways to juggle their daily priorities.

A renewed appreciation for teachers and the critical role they play in educating our children has been a highlight of the pandemic. And perhaps a silver lining in all of this is a willingness for parents to remain actively involved in their child’s education.

Additional research from Tyton Partners highlights these top five areas of focus for parents:

  • Helping them with homework

  • Tutoring my child

  • Working with my child's teacher to form an education plan

  • Purchasing additional educational products

  • Staying up to date on the latest education trends

Parents seek more non-academic services from their child’s school

A recent EdWeek article summed up what parents look for when choosing a school. On one end of the spectrum, our society seems to have an obsession with grades and assessments. However as Rick Hess points out, “...for all the attention devoted, for better or worse, to test scores, class size, and diversity in the popular media and in school materials, these just aren’t the things that most parents say they’re focused on.”

So what are parents most focused on today? Non-academic services have risen to the top of the list.

According to this recent RAND Corporation report, “...parents have "strongly demanded" social and emotional learning, more teacher-parent communication, or a fully remote schooling option."

Parent engagement opportunities are not equal

Creating an intentional parent engagement strategy is not usually at the top of a school leader’s list of priorities. However without an overall plan, school leaders may be unintentionally excluding some parents from the opportunity to participate fully in their child’s education.

Consider the following:

  • How often does your school give in to the demands of your most vocal parents? And yet this group does not necessarily reflect the needs of the broader parent community. Parent engagement is not about “engaging the already engaged.”

  • Finding ways to quantify parent engagement success can be challenging. Oftentimes attendance at parent teacher conferences is a key metric, yet this doesn’t account for highly engaged parents that are unable to be physically present at your school.

  • When was the last time you assessed how many tools are required for parents to know what’s happening at your school? It is highly likely in order to be an “involved parent” they need Internet (strong enough for video), email, multiple messaging apps and a decent level of tech savviness to navigate a myriad of websites. Not to mention the challenge parents face who are not native English speakers.

We’ve heard numerous times from families that they believe their teachers don’t think they care about their child’s education. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. As summarized in this Tyton Partners report, “...key challenges, such as awareness, financial resources, and access, remain significant barriers for many across the country, hindering parent agency and limiting participation in alternative and emerging learning models."

A Step in the Right Direction

One of the most significant takeaways from these findings is the fact that organizations are

taking the time to do research on parent behavior and its impact on school culture and student achievement.

You might find this surprising, but prior to the pandemic most of the research around parent involvement refers to studies published in the 90’s! It simply hasn’t been a priority in our education system over the last 25 years.

Join the Discussion

The last few years haven’t been easy for anyone. But perhaps a silver lining in all of this is a renewed focus on the important role parents play in their child’s education.

We want to thank all of you for getting involved and advocating for a better learning experience for your child.

We’d love to hear from you! What are some of the unique ways your school is supporting parents this year?

About the Author

Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.

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