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Second Shift

How To Stay Involved At Your Kid's School When You Work Full Time

Being involved helps your child succeed in school—but how do you balance school events and a more than full-time job?

How To Stay Involved At Your Kid's School When You Work Full Time
[Photo: Flickr user Phil Roeder]

You know that your children need your involvement in their lives. And a pile of research shows that parental involvement in their children’s education yields positive results. Students whose parents are involved in their schooling tend to score higher on tests and get better grades. Parental involvement is routinely cited as one of the most important factors in a child’s academic success.

But for working parents who face commuting, long office hours, meetings, conference calls, and business dinners or travel, this can feel like yet another log to add on to the roaring inferno of parental guilt. Who can get home to be class parent or make the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting when the office is an hour away and the last conference call ends at 6:30 p.m.?

It’s possible to remain engaged in your child’s education without being the parent that attends every meeting, says Joanna Strober, founder of health coaching firm Kurbo Health and coauthor of Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All . Applying the same strategic skills that you do to competing work priorities can help you understand the best way to be involved in your child’s education, even when you’ve got a demanding professional life, she says.

"As a parent, you have to ruthlessly prioritize. I think you can prioritize your kids and make sure they’re very successful at school without going there very often," Strober says. These ideas can help.

Identify Lines Of Communication

Some schools have robust websites with online portals where you can view grades, assignments, and disciplinary action, while others communicate with parents via email or paper flyers sent home in students’ backpacks. It’s important to figure out early which methods your school uses so you can know where to look for information, says Liz O’Donnell, speaker, "recovering PTO president," and author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. Staying on top of this communication will help you spot areas that need your attention, whether it’s a field trip permission slip or a student struggling in math. That way, you’re not blindsided by problems of which you were unaware, she says.

Look For Independent Volunteer Opportunities

For other parents, getting involved in broader school activities makes them feel more involved and like they’re supporting the institution where their child goes to school, O’Donnell says. Some schools even have fundraising or volunteering requirements. She advises looking for independent opportunities that don’t require committee meetings or other unrealistic commitments. When her children were in school, she hosted raffles as fundraisers, which she could do on her own to support the school. She says that’s also why it’s important to stay on top of school communication: You can snag those plum solo assignments early.

Find A Partner

The first time O’Donnell joined a PTO board was when her son was in preschool—and she ended up quitting by December. Many boards still aren’t structured to accommodate working parents.

"The president kept sending out notes—‘Can anyone go to the school and do that?"—I was really frustrated. I felt like I couldn’t contribute in a way that I had hoped by being a member of the board," she says.

Then, she ran for president with a good friend—and they won the spot. As a team, O’Donnell says they were able to complement each other’s skills and share responsibilities. This made the job far less overwhelming than if she tried to field it along. So be open to new ways of collaborating—just as you would in the workplace, she says.

Make Connections

Each year, identify the VIPs in your child’s education experience and reach out to establish a relationship, she says. In younger grades, the teacher is probably your point person, while that role may shift to a middle or high school student’s guidance counselor. If your child has an individualized education program (IEP) for a learning or other issue, a therapist or other support staff may be important contacts. When you introduce yourself and share information about your child, you’re showing interest in being involved, which most teachers appreciate, she says.

Know Where Your Child Needs You

Strober favors strategic involvement over just showing up for the sake of face time. When time is tight, you need to look at where it’s best spent for your child, she says. When her son was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade, she says she got scared. How could she make the time she needed to help him in addition to her demanding job? But after she began to do her homework by joining online groups for parents of dyslexic children and doing research about how to best help him, she realized her time was best spent being a liaison to the teacher and ensuring that the proper support was available to her son. None of that required her actually being at the school, she says.

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