Thursday, May 22, 2008

Becoming Partners with Parents

In Connect the Dots, Chris Lehman recently wrote more about the sustainability of a teaching career. He states:
“The sooner we recognize that if we want teachers to treat our students with an ethic of care, we have to create school systems that treat teachers with an ethic of care. If people don't believe that for ethical reasons, they should realize it for practical reasons, because if we keep on with our current model, we are never going to get enough of the teachers our students deserve.”

This had me thinking about my own career and what kept me teaching all those years in special education. What happened to make me love it so much and keep me from giving up when times got rough? It made me realize that we have a powerful resource that schools and teachers do not use and have actually pushed away over the years. I know what I’m going to say will be controversial to many and have seen this when I mention this to groups of teachers and when I have talked about this in my university classes to other teachers. But I still believe in this with my whole heart and will probably go to my grave preaching this: Schools and Teachers have got to become partners with the Parents.

Over the years I have seen the school systems become School vs. Parents rather than Schools and Parents working together. I think that is why so many parents are dragging schools through the court system. It has been a gradual change and the attitude of the school system has trickled down to the teachers and now it has become a Teachers vs. Parents world.

Throughout my career, I have contacted parents every two weeks, saying mostly positive things but negative if I found it necessary. This close communication allowed me a working relationship with the parent that helped my students succeed. It was this extra time that I took to show students and parents that I really cared about their success so when I had to say something negative, the parents really showed their support. In 27 years of teaching, I may have had about 5 parents who did not support me which was pretty good odds, I think. Now, I have heard teachers gripe to me that they don’t have the time or I don’t have a family etc. During this time I had two small daughters, was a cheerleading coach, and was working on my Master’s Degree so I too was busy. But I made the time to do this and it paid off. During my regular communication with parents, I also found appreciation for what I do and also support when I needed encouragement. This really goes a long way to keeping good teachers. Let’s face it; teachers don’t go into teaching for the big amount of money they will make. They want to help students and make a difference in someone’s life. Without support and appreciation, teachers won’t feel they are doing either of these things.

By gaining the respect and support of the parents, I built a system of trust too. I gave them my home number at the beginning of the year and set up a time for them to call (“please do not call before 7am and not after 9pm). Only 2 parents abused this and I refused to talk to them outside of these hours. This really helped when I had a parent mad at me because I let a nail technician paint her son’s nails. We had told the boy that she wouldn’t, but he had Down’s Syndrome and I hated to see him cry so I let her do it, which was wrong. His mom called me up at home and let me know she was mad at me and we talked it out. I explained why I did it and now realized that I was wrong. I apologized and never let it happen again. The mom calmed down and accepted my apology. We have stayed in touch for years after this happened. She could have waited until the next day and contacted my administration and the whole thing could have blown up into a complicated situation but because we had a rapport and established communication early in the year, she felt comfortable dealing just with me. This strengthened my feelings that the key to a successful career was communication with the parents.

Schools need to be more transparent to the community. I feel the school system discourages this by their actions. They say they are open to the parents and encourage volunteers but I hear differently when I am in faculty meetings or closed doors. During testing, I have seen administrators encourage guidance counselors to use military recruiters, business people, or others who are not parents as monitors. We had a PTSA (parent, teacher, student Association) but instead of a two way communication system, it has become a fund raising organization. Teachers are not strongly encouraged to contact parents on a regular basis. We are told to call if the child is having problems or failing or if the parent requests a call. I strongly feel that teachers need to call the parents often on a regular basis as part of their job.

I have also encouraged parents to visit my classroom without an appointment. They do have to schedule it with the administration due to safety reasons but I don’t need to be notified. Many teachers do not like this because it makes them do their job. I never did anything any day that I didn’t want a parent to see. If so, then I wasn’t doing my job. There have been discussions about videotaping in the classrooms and I wouldn’t care about that either, because I don’t do anything in the classroom that I would be embarrassed about if it was seen on camera. Sure I may make mistakes but that is natural but if I am doing my job, I should have nothing to worry about. When cameras first came out on police cars, policemen were against this because it could be used against them too. I think the cameras have help improve the law enforcement system. Maybe that is why we need cameras in the classroom. In fact, if some of the parents saw how hard we work in the classroom, they might appreciate us even more.

I feel this is an important reason why our schools are failing our students and why we are losing good teachers. If parents are encouraged to be an active participant in the schools, schools will have to do their job. Schools are afraid of criticism by the parents but that may be what it takes to make our schools better. School systems do not want parents to see what is going on in the schools. School systems have to take the first step into rebuilding relationships with parents. Administrators will need to set the example by changing school attitude from a “vs. parents” to a “partner with parents” frame of mind.

Photo credit: Teamwork by dunechaser

9 comments:

A Wanna Be Teacher said...

Hello! I'm a teacher in training and just came across your blog. I really enjoyed this post and was impressed with how you balanced graduate school, raising your children, and teaching. I would love to hear more about how you manage both of these parts of your life. As someone just entering the field, I worry that I will have to sacrifice a part of my personal life in order to be the best teacher for my students.

loonyhiker said...

a wanna be teacher: Thanks so much for finding my blog and I hope you find some of the information helpful! The reality is that you will have to sacrifice some of your personal life if you want to be a good teacher but it helps if you involve them in your teaching life and not keep them separate. I am a creature of routine and every night I would spend 2 hours studying while my children did their own homework. They loved the thought of doing this together. When I was cheerleader coach, my girls came to my practices and the whole family came to games with me. I divided my class load into groups and scheduled to call their homes on a specific night every two weeks. I would only need to call about 10 a night and if I only spent about 5 minutes every two weeks, it only took about an hour each night (Saturday - Thursday, I didn't call anyone on Friday nights or if I was away so we are talking about 12 different days). If I got an answering machine, I would leave good news never bad news. I would bounce teaching ideas off my family and they gave great input. This really does work and has for me for over 27 years.

Bill Gaskins said...

Dear Pat,
You make a great point. Where I sit we do everything we can to make parents want to come to the school house, but a large number never comes (except when we feed people). I think schools must work diligiently to make parent want to come to school and that is building a relationship with parent. Each classroom teacher has to work at this. I have always tried to talk in person or by phone to each of my parent each month. This visits were always positive. With this rapport gave me leverage when things fell apart with a child's behavior. Thanks for pushing my thinking on this topic.

I hope to do better in keeping up with blogs. The course I am taking now is about to do me in with all the other things I am responsible for.

Bill

Kevin said...

Yes -- the partnership must happen and parents must step into the role, too, as much as teachers must reach out to families (not just parents anymore, but grandparents and extended families are raising our children, right?)
We need to bring their wisdom, passion, expertise and experience into our worlds and not just treat each child as one and the same.
It's good to keep this message alive.
Take care
Kevin

loonyhiker said...

Bill: thanks for commenting. Hope you aren't burning the candles at both ends!
Kevin: You are right. Once schools make the effort, parents (guardians) need to step up and meet us half way. But someone needs to make the first steps. Thanks for commenting!

heather said...

Hi Pat,
I totally agree with your comments re parents and partnerships. So many teachers have that view of parents as the enemy and they prefer not to have anything to do with them, unless they want to report bad behaviour. I am doing my best to communicate weekly with parents via email and parents are in our classroom every day as helpers or for 10 mins in the morning before we start (it's a Prep class). I really enjoy including parents, and getting their feedback, as they do really appreciate all the effort. I find it hard though to deal with colleagues and my teaching aide who have different views on parents. I welcome any ideas of new ways to include them.
Heather

Anonymous said...

Communication is so important in so many different areas, especially in the classroom. It is important for us to communicate with our children, as well as with parents.
Whether it is communicating via phone or in other ways, it is vital for our students' learning experience.
Some other possible ideas that I my mother uses as a 26 year educator are just simple parent teacher conferences, but requires each parent to meet with her once a semester, and more if needed.
Another wonderful idea is simply having a "Parent-Teacher" folder with pockets. One side should be notes from the parent to the teacher, the other side should be from the teacher to the parent. This method is great for the teacher or parent with a busy schedule.

Anonymous said...

Communication is so important in so many different areas, especially in the classroom. It is important for us to communicate with our children, as well as with parents.
Whether it is communicating via phone or in other ways, it is vital for our students' learning experience.
Another possible ideas that my mother uses in her classroom is just simple and unoriginal parent teacher conferences, but she requires each parent to meet with her once a semester, and more if needed.
Another wonderful idea is simply having a "Parent-Teacher" folder with pockets. One side should be notes from the parent to the teacher, the other side should be from the teacher to the parent. This method is great for the teacher or parent with a busy schedule.

loonyhiker said...

anonymous: Thanks for the simple suggestions. If both parties know to look for communication and where to find it, it makes life a lot easier and better for the student.