|Big man on campus
Author: Jennifer Van Buren
Men make up 10 percent of national PTA membership, but this is only one indicator of school involvement. The numbers may actually surprise you.
The Institute of Education Science completed a study entitled “Fathers’ Involvement in their Children’s Schools” asking, “How do fathers compare with mothers in their level of involvement in their children’s schools”, and “How is student success affected by their father’s involvement?”
School success can be measured a number of different ways, but this study used five indicators: getting mostly As, enjoying school, participating in extracurricular activities, not repeating a grade and not being expelled from school. It should not be a surprise that there is a positive correlation between parent involvement and student success in schools. However, it is notable that children with two parents who are highly involved in school have the highest chance of success. Yes Dad, even if your wife was crowned queen of the PTA, your participation still matters!
So, how many fathers are highly involved in school? “Involvement” was marked when a parent attended a class event, parents conference or general school meeting and by volunteering. It is probably not surprising that in two-parent families, the proportion of children with highly-involved fathers (27 percent) is about half of the proportion with highly-involved mothers (56 percent).
Here is where it gets interesting: fathers in single parent homes are just as involved as mothers in single parent homes. Furthermore, if there is not a mother in the household, the father steps right into the role and at practically the same rate as the mother in a two-parent household.
Dads tend to stick around! Parental involvement decreases as children move from elementary to middle to high school. This decline stems partially because there are fewer opportunities for parental involvement and a less-welcoming environment in middle and high schools. The decline of involvement is steeper in mothers than fathers. Most of the fathers who are highly involved in elementary school are still active in high school.
What gets parents involved? According to the study, the following factors affect parental involvement in fathers as well as mothers:
- Teachers maintain good discipline in the classroom
- In child’s school, most students and teachers respect each other
- Principal and assistant principal maintain good discipline at school
- School welcomes a family’s involvement
- School makes it easy to be involved there
Come on, Dad!
How to encourage involvement
Make schools and classrooms more appealing to dads. Three out of four public school teachers are female, and at the elementary level, the proportion is even more tilted. Sometimes the school atmosphere has a feminine feel.
Things can be done to make the school more welcoming to fathers, from including magazines in the office that are more likely to appeal to men, to having larger chairs available in the classrooms. Schools can be mindful to keep a balance of posters and artwork that appeal to both genders of students and parents.
Encourage two parents to be present at parent conferences and school meetings. Make schedules flexible. Provide childcare. It is common for one parent to stay home with the kids, and it is usually the mother who winds up at school. When the father does attend parent conferences, it is important that teachers direct questions and information to both parents.
While all-calls for volunteers are sent on a regular basis, many parent volunteers first show up to the school after a personal invitation. Whether you are a parent, teacher or administrator, make sure you personally ask dads as well. Find out the wealth of skills your dads have and ask them to step in and be a part of their child’s school experience. Is he a numbers guy? Ask him to be treasurer. Tech savvy? Ask him to help with the website. Chess fanatic? Artist? Carpenter? College professor? There is much more to school involvement than baking cookies and tying ribbons on teacher appreciation gifts.
Get Dad in the door with a father-themed event like Dad’s Day, Doughnuts with Dads or Career Day. Once they see the positive reaction from their kids and get comfortable in the school, they are more likely to come back. Come up with activities that fathers are more likely to enjoy, such as father-specific races at field day or sports-related contests at back-to-school nights. Start a tradition at the school that dads will look forward to, like a half-court shot contest or a contest for building the fastest car from a table of recycled materials.
Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) is another opportunity where fathers are encouraged to spend one day in their child’s school with the specific goal to enhance school security, reduce bullying and give fathers a visual role in the schools.
Make room for two! Encourage both parents to join PTA. Give a special rate if both parents join, and make sure you get contact information for both parents. Make sure there are two volunteer forms included and that fathers are contacted directly. Make sure there are always two spaces per kid on any sign-up sheet!
If you can’t join them…make your own club. PTAs are historically Mom’s realm, leaving dads to feel left out or uncomfortable. Some dads have found it preferable to form their own group instead of (or in addition to) working with the traditionally female-led groups. Some men feel more empowered to make a positive impact in their own way, adding to the overall well being of the school.
It is clear that we all need dads in our schools. Let fathers know about the different ways they can be involved and how their involvement affects their son or daughter’s education. Include Super Dad notices in school newsletters, hang photos of dads volunteering and be sure to tell the students how much you enjoy seeing their dads in school.
If dads feel valued and appreciated, they will keep coming back!
“One of the best predictors of whether kids succeed academically is the fathers’ involvement,” says James A. Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York City. “When a father shows an interest in a child’s schoolwork, the father’s values are clearly communicated to his child.”
Jennifer VanBuren is an educator, mother of three school-aged boys, and grateful wife of a highly-involved dad.