The research is clear that having a dad involved at school with his kids has a big impact on their education. Consider these statistics:
- Among children living in single-father families, high father involvement is associated with a greater likelihood that children in grades 1 through 12 get mostly A's and is marginally associated with a greater likelihood of their children enjoying school
- High father involvement also reduces the likelihood that children in the 6th through 12th grade have ever been suspended or expelled from school
- Fathers involvement has a stronger influence on the children getting mostly As than does mothers involvement.
Given how important father involvement is at school and the small number of fathers that seem to get engaged, my friend and I tried to come up with a list of why dads don't volunteer more at school. Among the ideas we surfaced included:
- Dads feel a little out of place at school because more dads don't volunteer
- The teachers are almost all women and it feels weird interacting with women authority figures
- The school is built for kids, not for adults, and I can't sit anywhere comfortably
- Dads interact with kids more outside of school like on soccer teams and in Scouting and it is Mom's job to do the "school thing"
- Dad might not have liked school as a child and doesn't have a comfort level with being in the classroom or helping out
Collect fathers' contact information at the start of the school year. In order to connect better with dads, teachers need to be able to get information to them. When a child registers for school or has information sheets to fill out and bring home, teachers should make sure to include a line for the father's cell phone, work phone and email address. By asking for both parents' contact information, educators can more easily make contact with them about their children or about events and opportunities to be engaged at school.
Make schools and classrooms more appealing to dads. Schools, which by their nature and history tend to be more female dominated, tend to not make allowances for fathers. Even the design and decor in a school seems often to be more feminine and masculine. Consider having a few magazines in the school office waiting room that might be of more interest to dads than Working Mother. Make sure that classrooms have a few larger chairs that would accommodate dads when the visit or volunteer. Have a few posters in classrooms that would appeal to males (fathers and students) like sports figures, motorcycles, or men at work as opposed to flowers and butterflies.
Embrace father-centered programs in the schools. A number of organizations have created programs that invite father involvement in a father-oriented setting. A few of these include:
- Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) in which dads volunteer in enhancing school security and reduce bullying
- All Pro Dads Day which is a monthly breakfast program for dads and their children at the school or at a local restaurant
- Doughnuts with Dads is a program that happens at many schools where dads come to school one morning every so often to share a doughnut with their kids and then have an activity
Get dads on boards. Virtually every school has a PTA, a PTO, a community council and/or a safety committee. The boards and committees are usually dominated by mothers. Consider creating a board position specifically for a father or just make a more concerted effort to get fathers on these boards. The board may have to modify its meeting schedule to accommodate a father, but having a dad on the board will help make it OK for other dads to be involved.
Specifically invite dads to parent-teacher conferences. All too often, parent-teacher conferences tend to involve mostly mothers, and often the information never makes it home to dads. Send a special invitation to dad to participate in the regular parent-teacher conferences and schedule them at times that work for most dads.
Plan a fathers' recognition evening. Dads often do quite amazing things that often go unnoticed. Educators could consider a special awards night for dads who are engaged, who give service to the school or who just are great dads. Schools could have students write tributes to their dads and have a judging process to recognize the best dads and/or the best written tributes.
Create a Dad's Wall of Fame. Some schools have taken the tribute idea a little further and have children draw pictures of their dads along with the tribute and then post them on a corridor wall at the school. Another idea would be to take pictures of dads that volunteer at the school in some way and then recognize them in a wall of fame.
It just takes a little effort and commitment to find ways to better involve fathers at school. Educators can make a difference in their lives of their students by making schools a little more father-friendly and bring dads into the school environment in a positive and productive way.