Thursday, March 24, 2011

Helping Kids by Supporting Their Parents

Patrick J. O'Connor, Ph.D.

School counselors everywhere will appreciate the strong, data-driven reminder delivered in a February editorial in The Christian Science Monitor. “Want better students? Teach their parents” is aimed at classroom instructors, reminding them that many parents don’t know how to help their children build good study habits—but they are willing to learn.  This article stands apart from others like it because is offers some research suggesting the coaching of parents makes a difference with children, further evidence that much of what goes on in the classroom is impacted by what goes on outside the classroom.

If parent support of classroom teachers is important, imagine how vital it is for the teachers outside the classroom—like school counselors.  Our work with students focuses on some of life’s biggest lessons; exploring careers, recovering from loss, preparing for college, and dealing with conflict are only some of the issues in our curriculum, so it’s only logical that parent support of our “teaching” would improve student learning in a number of ways.

There is no single best way to win over parent support—approaches are probably as different as each student and parent we work with.  But if you’re looking for somewhere to start, consider these approaches as you review your work with parents:
  • Communication.  The days of relying on parent conferences and a monthly printed newsletter as the only ways to reach parents are long over.  A strong counseling Web site that’s frequently updated, a short weekly newsletter delivered weekly by e-mail, flyers posted on the community bulletin board at the coffee shop and places of worship, and even Facebook accounts can spread the word about the quality services and programs counselors offer.  No one approach will get to everyone, but every approach will reach someone.
  •  Location.  Gone too are the days of sitting in our offices, waiting for parents to drop by to see if you’re busy (and since you’re always busy, aren’t you glad parents don’t do this anyway?)  A Johns Hopkins researcher once said many parents don’t come to school because it’s the school where they failed as a student; still other parents are just too busy.  It’s time to take your programs and seminars to the coffee shop, the bowling alley, the PTA meeting, the Laundromat—or maybe the school parking lot, where the 5th grade moms meet to gossip.  Think about where parents naturally gather—that’s where you want to be.
  • Collaboration.  You might not draw much of a crowd at the roller rink by setting up a table with pamphlets about your services, but if you get the owner of the roller rink to sponsor a family night with reduced rates and giveaways, your chances of success just got bigger.  Pass out low-cost ink jet business cards, get the DJ to make some brief announcements of your services, and see what your mingling can bring—especially if you lace up the skates and take a turn on the track.
  • Abbreviation.  There’s a good chance you won’t be able to do much in-depth counseling at the bowling alley, and Pastor Mike probably won’t let you take over his entire sermon to talk about every part of your career counseling program.  Make sure your message maintains the right focus and length for the audience and the communication vehicle, and respect, awareness, and involvement in your counseling program will soar.
More good student counseling will occur with good guidance for parents—once they’re on your side, nothing can stop you.

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