How To Engage Parents that are Hard-To-Engage

Every school has those superstar parents who are there whenever, wherever, for whatever’s needed. We love those parents! They are the bedrock of any strong school community. Other parents, however, are a little more difficult to pry out of their shells. How do you engage parents that are hare to engage?

A common misconception among teachers and administrators is that these reticent parents simply don’t want to be more involved at their children’s school. While this is certainly the case for some of these folks, it’s not true across the board.

In fact, with the right approach, some of the parents you’ve already written off as non-joiners have the potential to join the upper echelon of the Superstar Engaged Parent ranks. But the right approach is key. Here are 5 things to keep in mind:

Engage parents with a hand-written letter.

This seems to be the popular advice of the day. I’m sure I’m not blowing anyone’s mind here by suggesting a hand-written letter, but understand that if you have a parent that simply will not engage with the school there could be 1 million reasons why. If you write them a personal letter that parent will feel something. But the best thing is that you’re not putting them on the spot. They don’t feel pressured to “reply”. And maybe, just maybe they’ll reach out.

Watch out for hidden biases.

Do you send out announcements looking for “room moms”? That’s so sexist! :). Does a significant portion of your school community speak another language at home…yet your notices are all in English? Do a lot of meetings and events take place during the school day? If you’re guilty of any of these practices, you’re not alone – but being sensitive to the messages you’re sending out can make a world of difference.

Meet parents where they are – literally and physically.

Some parents are intimidated about coming into school, for any reason. And some just don’t have work schedules that align well with during- or after-school activities. We all know this. For parents like this, you will need to make an extra effort. Maybe you could plan an outreach program to visit students’ homes, or schedule a lunchtime meeting at an office park where many of your students’ parents work. Just like the letter, if you make the first move then maybe they’ll soften up.

Emphasize that there are all kinds of ways to participate.

Some parents who run screaming from the bake sale scene may be more than happy to build sets for the school play. A CPA by day may be willing to help straighten out the school’s books by night (as long as you don’t need the help in the middle of tax season). “Just writing a check” can be unfairly denigrated by some, but many very busy parents would be thrilled to be involved in this manner. We have a no-fuss fundraiser for our PTA and it’s a hit.

Focus on small gains.

Parents who are wary about getting more involved at school may be concerned that “volunteering” is actually code for “signing away all of your free time for the foreseeable future.” Be sure to clarify that all efforts are valued and appreciated, and that you are never looking to take more than they’re willing to give. Also, make sure you provide a clear ending to their volunteer time. When will their services be over?

Create multiple communication channels.

We think MemberHub is a fantastic communications tool (of course!), but reaching hard-to-reach parents can require a variety of different approaches. In addition to online communications (blog, ezine, website, etc.), make sure parents have an opportunity to get acquainted with the school in other ways, too. Drop-in open houses or fun, low-pressure family events are a great way to encourage shy or otherwise reluctant parents to get more involved.


Click here for your copy of our free eBook, 9 Effective Strategies for Parent Engagement at Your School.


Image by Peter Liu Photography