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Editor's Note: Gary Johnston is a teacher at Saigon South International School who teaches middle school math and science. You can read his blog “Teaching Ahead of the Curve” at http://teachingaheadofthecurve.blogspot.com/
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Parental Involvement: The Key to Student Success
I was recently directed to a cartoon from a colleague entitled “In 50 years, a lot has changed in schools” wherein 50 years ago a child with a poor report card was being questioned by the child’s parents and teacher. “What’s the meaning of these marks?” they all ask the child. Fast forward to the present, when the same poor report card was now directed at the teacher who was presumably at fault and being questioned by the parents AND the child with the same caption: “What’s the meaning of these marks?”
What has changed? In our quest for education reform have we really absolved the learner and their parents from responsibility? To be sure, teacher quality is the biggest indicator of student achievement, but parents must share some responsibility as well. Getting these parents involved in their child’s learning is essential if our students are to build good habits outside of the school setting and build lifelong learning skills. Generally, my highest achieving students are poked and prodded by highly driven parents and my poorest performers have parents that are indifferent to what is happening in the classroom. Here are some things that you might consider doing this year to motivate and invite parents into the learning process:
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- Introduce yourself. Start the year with a letter about yourself that you give to the students on the first day of class to take home and give to their parents.
- Make your policies transparent. Don’t be shy in explaining your pedagogical philosophy, grading criteria so that there is full disclosure. If you have a number of class policies, ask for a parent signature so that they understand your expectations.
- Do an inventory of your parent’s professions. Parents of students have a wealth and variety of professional experience. A number of them may be able and willing to serve as a guest speaker or have places of work that may be a good field trip destination. They’ll appreciate the consideration.
- Build a classroom blog. A blog of student work and news of what is happening in the classroom is a great tool to communicate to parents what their child is doing and what their tuition money is going towards. It will also serve as a nice portfolio of work to showcase later. Tell them how to subscribe to feeds and invite comments.
- Be patient with their learning curves. Education has changed a lot since they were children. I you have any online learning portholes where parents and students can access grades, course syllabus’ and pending assignments, you may need multiple sessions to fully brief parents with these resources. Our school has tried to meet this by offering a number of tech software evening sessions for new parents.
- Give parents updates if you’re tutoring their child. If students are coming in for help after school, take two minutes to write a quick email summary of what was accomplished. Likewise, if students don’t come in, be quick to notify parents as well.
- Make a learning/support contract. I’ve used learning contracts with students but I’ve started using contracts with parents too. If there are problems with students not completing work at home, negotiate with parents the best course of action to prevent this from happening. A parent contract might include language like: “We will provide a public and designated time and place to ensure that Kyle finishes his math homework. We will log onto “Moodle” and help him understand what is expected before he starts his work at the kitchen table after dinner.” Such writing also provides a paper trail which proves helpful for streaming, enrichment and course placement.
- Understand parents have limitations. Although we assume parents are willing to help, there comes a time when they are unable to because the content is too difficult. A colleague of mine learned this year that the mother of well meaning 8th grader could simply not comprehend math done at that level. As the student gets into high school, this may prove extremely difficult, as parents may struggle in helping their child with higher math, foreign languages, science and English if it is not their first language. Some parents may not be very forthcoming with this shortcoming.
- Keep the lines of communication open. I usually have a handful of students that are “on the radar” for a variety of reasons. When these students have a great success, I fire off a quick email alerting the parents of it, and if they struggle or relapse on an assessment or student skill, I debrief it carefully with the student and communicate that discussion with the parent. The parents really seem to appreciate me taking a minute of my day to let them know what is happening.
- Get involved in the PTA. Your school’s parent teacher association often has its pulse on the beat of the school. You might learn of a number of hot issues that are of interest to school. Some parents may have come from schools with programs that they’d like to see come to your school. Get them on board! A friend of mine sends their child to a school in Santa Barbara California that requires all parents to commit to volunteer in their child’s classroom every week.
Parents and teachers have the same goal: we want our children to succeed and be successful. This job is much easier if we build a network that supports on another, rather than direct the finger of failure. Because we see the child in different settings, we are able to provide a different perspective that the other may not see. What we definitely do see as educators, is parent commitment on a spectrum that swings from obsessive to apathetic and the more that we can make them feel like participants instead of spectators, the more their child will benefit as well.
- “In 50 Years a lot has changed in school” Staffroom HQ: http://staffroomhq.com/media/3-relevant-education-cartoons/
- Photo via Flickr by stevendepolo under CC BY 2.0
- “Parents know best: Let’s start acting like it” Kevin Chavous http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-p-chavous/parents-know-bestlets-sta_b_1644844.html?utm_hp_ref=education
- “How to Improve Student Skills” Gary Johnston http://teachingaheadofthecurve.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-improve-student-skills.html
- “Cut Education Now, Pay Later” Lucia Graves http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/24/education-cuts-austerity_n_1698963.html