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Fathers in Schools:
How Dads Make a Difference


Today, fathers are expected to take on multiple roles, including being participants in classroom activities and school meetings and events. With Father's Day just around the corner, Education World offers ways to help fathers connect beyond the traditional back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences. Included: Books for dads and kids to read together.

"Today's fathers are being challenged to alter their parenting roles to accommodate new norms for fathering. ... Fathers, like mothers, are expected to take on multiple roles: provider, nurturer, caregiver, teacher and instiller of family values."

-- Andrew V. Beale, Ed.D., professor of counselor education, at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
Source: Professional School Counseling (American School Counselor Association), October 1999

Homework? -- Help! According to a 1998 Census Bureau Report, the number of single fathers has grown 25 percent, from 1.7 million in 1995 to 2.1 million in 1998. Men now comprise one-sixth of the nation's 11.9 million single parents. Mike Gowan is one of those dads. He is learning to cope with his multiple parenting roles. He admits, though, that sometimes the homework assignments his children bring home defeat him.

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In his article Homework? Help!, Gowan describes his confusion about homework assignments. "It's really frustrating to be a college graduate and yet have to tell your ten-year-old that you don't have a clue how to complete his homework," Gowan said.

"Sometimes I think the assignments are designed more to test the basic intelligence of the parents," Gowan told his readers.

A special reading time with dad. David Shaw's son Ryan was in trouble almost from the beginning of first grade. According to his teacher, his social skills were poor and he was in the lowest reading group.

Shaw, a California computer consultant, works a flexible schedule, and he is able to attend regular conferences with his son's teacher. They developed a reward system (McDonalds with dad) and Ryan's reading and behavior improved.

"Now he loves to read, and he can't wait to go to school," Shaw told Education World. "Every day we have a special time to read together." Ryan is reading grade level material and his teacher says he will be ready for second grade.

Doughnut and dads. Last month, Tincher Preparatory School celebrated its second annual Dad's Doughnut Day. Fathers and significant men in children's lives attended a coffee and doughnut breakfast in the school cafeteria. They the "dads" stayed and visited the classrooms of their children. This is a very popular event that has included 500 or more fathers and significant others.

"Photographs are taken of each father and his child," Bill Vogel, school principal, told Education World. "The teaching staff structures activities that include the fathers. Writing exercises, science experiments, hands-on math, and technology lessons were among those activities."

This is one of many activities at Tincher that promote a strong community and school-parent bond. Others events include Mom's Muffin Morning, Grandparents Day, and a Power Lunch.


Mike Gowan and David Shaw are dads who seem to be on the right track. Fathers' Involvement in Their Children's Schools is an October 1997 report from the National Center for Education Statistics. According to the report, children whose fathers participate in classroom activities and school meetings and events receive higher grades, enjoy school more, and are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities than children whose fathers don't participate -- regardless of the level of maternal participation.

Books for Dads and Kids!

For family reading, try the following books, which present nurturing fathers or families.

* Bear at the Beach, by Clay Carmichael, ages six to eight, published by North South Books, 1996. "Simple line drawings and soothing pastel watercolors depict the gentle seaside setting for this story of a bear who longs for a father." (Review from The Horn Book )

* Just Me and My Dad, by Mercer Mayer, ages four to eight, Golden Look-Look Book, 1982. "Father and son go camping, but who is really taking care of whom? The happy father and son manage to put up their tent, catch fish for dinner, and sleep beneath the stars." ( editorial review)

* Laura's Pa, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, ages seven to ten, HarperCollins Children's Book Group, 1999. "Laura helps Pa make a door for their cabin and finds that no matter how hard Pa works, he's never too tired to sing and play the fiddle for his little girls." (publisher's review)

* Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary, ages eight to 12, William Morrow and Company, 1990. A Newberry Honor Book, "This tale recounts Ramona's efforts to cheer up her father after he loses his job, including a crusade to help him stop smoking." ( editorial review)

* Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm, ages nine and up, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999. In this Newberry Honor Book, readers learn that life 100 years ago wasn't too different from life in the 21st century. Amelia's father set rules, her brothers argued with her, and she ran away.

In spite of the benefits of father participation, according to the NCES report, fathers often are not involved in children's education:
  • Nearly 70 percent of nonresident fathers and 50 percent of fathers in two-parent families are not involved in school-related activities.
  • School climate had a significant impact on the degree of father involvement, particularly in grades 6 through 12.
  • The advantages of paternal involvement were most significant in grades 6 through 12.

Research appears to confirm the adverse consequences boys face when they grow up in homes with absentee dads. A recent study of 6,000 males ages 14 to 22 found that boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of going to prison. That study, produced by Cynthia Harper of the University of Pennsylvania and Sara S. McLanahan of Princeton University, found that such factors as race, income, parents' education, and place of residence had little or no bearing. Other results of this study, according to a Reuters news report, "Boys With Absentee Dads Twice as Likely to be Jailed" (August, 21, 1998), included the following:

  • The risk of incarceration for boys who grow up with a stepfather in the home is about three times that of children who remain with both natural parents.
  • Remarriage of parents doesn't help. A stepparent in the household doesn't erase the absent father problem.
  • Young men whose parents separated during adolescence are roughly one and a half times as likely to end up in jail as are children from intact families.
  • Boys whose parents separate fare only slightly better than boys born to single mothers do.

A national study of father-son relationships found significant ties between substance abuse and homes where father and son didn't get along.

According to a New York Times article about that study ("Teenage Substance Abuse and Paternal Ties," August 31, 1999) "teenagers who do not get along well with their fathers are more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs than youngsters in average two-parent families."

Furthermore, the Times reported, "a child living in a two-parent family, whose relationship with the father is poor, is 68 percent more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs than teens living in an average two-parent household."

The report also found that a child in a two-parent family where the child has a poor or fair relationship with the father is at more than 60 percent higher risk of substance abuse than a child growing up in a home headed by a single mother where the child has an excellent relationship with the mother.


"Many fathers, though willing, are unprepared for this new and expanded parenting role. For this reason, involving fathers in parent education programs should be a program priority," wrote Virginia Commonwealth's professor Beale in last October's issue of Professional School Counseling.

Beale suggested a series of planned parent-education activities to help fathers discover more-effective ways of dealing with their children. He reported that activities directed by school counselors have helped fathers become actively involved with their elementary age children. He shared some of those activities in Professional School Counseling. Two of those activities follow:

Activity 1: Father's night out
Fathers answer the 25 questions on a "How Well Do You Know Your Child" questionnaire. Then they participate in a group discussion led by a school counselor. A few of the questions are listed below.

  • Who is your child's favorite teacher?
  • What does your child like most about school?
  • Name your child's favorite friend.
  • What is your child's proudest accomplishment?
  • What does your child think you do for a living?
  • Where would your child most like to go on a vacation this year?"

Activity 2: Father-child interviews
Fathers interview their children to determine the correct answers to the questions.

"In a number of cases, the interview process led to meaningful discussions between fathers and children about the ways in which they are both changing and growing," said Beale.

Other ways to involve dads in school are suggested in Dads Make a Difference on NAESP Principal Online, the Web site for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. In an effort to involve fathers, James Lewis, principal of Gene George Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas, planned a building project where fathers helped add improvements to the school gym. According to the story, the informal setting often contributed to serious discussions about children. "I was cutting two-by-fours with a dad, and we got to talking about his daughter," Lewis said.

Stan Paine, principal of Centennial Elementary in Springfield, Oregon, instituted a food and games night for dads and their kids. After pizza and basketball are finished, Paine recommends books that fathers and kids can read together.

To accommodate parents, Principal Jan Riebhoff, principal of Belgrade Intermediate School in Belgrade, Montana, schedules parent-teacher conferences in the evening. To build a list of volunteers, a sign-up sheet for parents is included in the student handbook. "Parents who do volunteer get the VIP treatment, complete with the cheers of a student-led thank-you squad at each visit."

The article concludes with the following advice on principals' helping fathers: "Simply by recognizing the factors that surround parental involvement (or the lack thereof) and offering easy ways for parents to become involved, principals can make a real difference in student success."


Center for Successful Fathering, Inc.
This site is designed to provide education and support for fathers. It offers online seminars on parenting issues and links to related sites.

National Center on Fathers and Families (NCOFF)
(Site not working 4/17/2009)
The NCOFF, established at the University of Pennsylvania, consists of seven libraries for different populations of fathers and families. MORE ABOUT FATHERS IN EDUCATION

Bring Your Fathers to School
The article discusses the implications of parental involvement to a child's success in school. It offers ways to involve fathers at school.

Article by Wesley Sharpe, Ed.D
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 06/13/2000
Last updated 06/01/2010