Supportive Spectator Model

In K-12 education, parents receive regular communication through apps and emails. Parents learn that they are part of the student success equation and are encouraged to extend school into the home with activities such as reading together, studying spelling words, and arranging transportation to school and activities. However, when a student enters higher education, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that schools communicate directly with students. This may leave parents feeling confused and cut out of the picture. 

Our work builds bridges between families and the university within FERPA guidelines. Yet, we often feel the tug of outdated ideas like in loco parentis and helicopter parenting. Through my research, I have developed a model that directors can use in teaching campus partners (and parents) about the tangible levels of parental engagement. 

  1. Connecting is the first step in parent involvement. Parents must opt-in to receive communication from your university by providing their contact information. This may happen on the admissions application, during orientation, or at a parent workshop. 
  2. Engaging is where parents learn about campus resources, processes, and traditions. They receive and engage with campus communications and begin attending sporting events, webinars, and workshops that you and your team offer. 
  3. Embracing is where parents take the information they’ve learned from you and act on it. They listen to their students, encourage them, and, most importantly, allow them to lead. If their student is homesick, struggling in class, or has a registration question, the parent knows what campus resource to recommend. They encourage their student to schedule appointments, make phone calls, or send emails, but most importantly, parents shift into the spectator role. This may mean their student makes mistakes, but the family encourages them to press forward with their college experience. 
  4. Sharing is the fourth phase, in which parents serve as your brand ambassador. They may post on social media, volunteer for an event, or talk with others about their experiences. Parents are a resource for you and extend your reach into their communities. 

Parents may move in and out of these phases and sometimes cycle the model through several times. For instance, some parents wear their “proud parent” shirts from the moment their student receives their acceptance, thus serving as instant ambassadors! The most challenging phase to sustain is Embracing. Parents and students learn together how to set shared expectations in this phase and rely upon on-campus resources for support. 

As you create your training materials for next year, consider mapping how your activities and programs reach each level. Be sure to allow space and time for parents to engage at their own pace. And as you work with your campus partners, consider sharing the Supportive Spectator Model to explain your program’s goals and intended outcomes. 

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Comments on "Supportive Spectator Model"

Comments 0-5 of 1

Nicki Jenkins - Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Yay, Heather! This is excellent information. Thanks for sharing!

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