Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Importance of Involving Parents

In Engaging Parents for Improved Student Success from Change.org's Education Blog, David Flatley states,

“Parents are universally accepted as a child’s first teacher. It’s intuitive, and we usually know it from our own experience. Schools that embrace this reality and recognize the important role parents play in their child’s education are better able to create curriculum and build relationships with parents that have a profound effect on a child’s journey through school.”

When I read this, I wanted to stand up and cheer. I am amazed when I talk to many teachers that they just don’t seem to understand the importance of parents as a way to be successful in the classroom. I want to scream, “Parents are on the same team! We work for the same goal! Hello, people but without the parents we would not have a job!”

When I teach my grad courses I always talk about the importance of communicating with the parents on a regular basis, developing a rapport, and getting to know the family. As I talk, I see their eyes glaze over and they tune me out. The ones that don’t tune me out are quick to give me all the excuses about why this can’t be done. I know it can because I did it for 30 years! I think the issue is more of not wanting to rather than not being able to.

I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again in future blog posts but the parents were a big part of my program. They gave me support and even guidance when it came to working with their child. Let’s face it, they know their child more than I do and know what works and what doesn’t at home, so why not apply a lot of the same principles in the classroom? Why do I want to reinvent the wheel? If there was problem, I felt proud when a parent was able to call me to discuss the problem rather than involving the administration and making the problem become a complicated situation. Usually between us, we were able to solve the problem.
I want to share a Facebook message from a parent of a student that I had many years ago. The student is now a preacher and recently went to Israel on a trip (I am so proud of him!). The parent wrote to me,

"Not meaning to be mushy but YOU made me stronger and YOU made my son .successful and strong....If he gets knocked down , he just gets up and keeps on going...
You not only taught him the three R's but YOU TAUGHT HIM HOW TO BE A SURVIVOR...and he is one!"

(Thank you so much Jeanie! Your words mean the world to me and so does your family!)

I’m not sure this parent realizes how much she had taught me the years her son was in my class. She never gave up. She never gave up on her son or me. Whenever I talked to her, she was constantly telling me how much she appreciated me and giving me a pep talk when I was feeling discouraged. It was a joy to pick up the phone and talk to her about her son. It wasn’t always a bed of roses but I felt like I was not alone in her son’s struggle to learn. I’m hoping that he felt the same way because we attacked his learning problems with a team approach (the student, his mom, and I were a team and we were going to win!). My student sometimes got discouraged and so did I and so did his mom. Luckily all three of us didn’t get this way at the same time and we helped each other up during these times. This parent had so much faith in my ability to help her son learn and so much faith that her son would learn that I was determined not to let her down.

All these teachers who are not making parents a major player in their classroom are really missing the boat. When you feel things are just not right in the classroom or as good as you know it should be, I wonder if you are involving the parents enough.

I have visited a number of charter schools and the ones I have been to seem to really involve the parents. One of them makes parent involvement a requirement in order for the student to attend that school. Obviously the administration and the faculty have a strong interaction with the parents and I have noticed that these charter schools seem to be very successful. I’m sure the parent factor is not the only reason for their success but I’m feel it plays a big part.

If you haven’t made parents a major player on your team, I suggest doing so right away. I know that they played a big part in my class being successful.

Original image: 'Silhouette of a family of five' http://www.flickr.com/photos/13010608@N02/3082540785 by: Robert Crum

4 comments:

Heidi Pence said...

You are spot on about the importance of involving parents. I am curious as to whether you have seen a change in parental involvement through the years of teaching? I have. It used to be you could get room parents, field trip chaperones...but parents are really busy working, caring for elder parents...A priority should be to attend parent teacher conferences. There has been a steady decline in attendance for these too. Your earlier post about calling home or letting the student call home with good news is a great idea. I wish that children were a higher priority in some parents lives. We will just have to work harder at showing these kids we will not give up on them :)

luckeyfrog said...

My school- a public school- is trying out a parent compact this year. Parents must sign off on homework and agree to a family involvement plan where a parent or representative spends time either volunteering at the school, coming to Family Library Checkouts, or coming to PTA meetings. (Those are the basics, anyway.)

This is the first year, but so far no students have actually been required to move to another school. It's really frustrating to some of the teachers.

The most important thing I've learned, though, is the value of positive connections. Parents won't respond well to the negative news if you haven't made contact for a positive reason first! Positive notes home (especially in elementary, when the numbers of students are smaller) can be really helpful.

That said... you won't be able to reach every parent, in my very limited experience, and you can't let that get you down. It is wonderful if you can get the parent on the same team, and you should absolutely try- but sometimes parents aren't willing to put in that same effort. I've seen parents who don't care, parents who are working too hard for their family, parents who are disillusioned with the school and don't want to listen... and while some of those have responded positively, not all have. It's definitely worth trying- but I just don't think it's possible in every case.

Rachie said...

I couldn't agree more that it's critical for teachers to view parents as a teammate rather than an adversary, critic, or "helicopter parent." As a preservice teacher I must catch myself from being fearful of parents or the concern that by involving parents I'm going to be flooded with emails, phone calls and special requests. The bottom line is that parents ARE a child's first teacher. Imagine the power of combining forces...teachers and parents unite!

Rachel L. said...

While definitely run the risk of those helicopter parents as Rachie said, (and I have had them in spades when I taught at a private schools for gifted kids), you also get amazing insights into your kids and their family life as well as some really great parents who want to work with you. I always found sending out a parent survey at the start of the year helpful and as a parent, I really appreciate it when I have the opportunity to fill one out during that first week.