03/30/2013 | DR. JONI SAMPLES
I was a teacher and an administrator for years. Many of my schools didn’t have a culture of parental involvement. Involving parents for most schools is like asking Attila the Hun to sit in on your staff meetings. You know he’s going to attack. You’re just not sure when. I understand anticipating the attack as well as how and why we get into that mode of thinking. If you’ve had some experiences with unhappy parents, you don’t want to repeat the situation. It seems wiser to keep parents out of the system and any educational process than to open up a possible conflict. Including parents for fund-raising or acting as room mothers is fine, but don’t allow them decision-making abilities. It’s too crazy. Yes, it can be, yet I want to suggest a different way of making parental engagement work.
Bringing parents into the new Common Core mix is truly not as odd as it sounds and in actuality is probably good timing for doing so. Those schools who practice parent involvement as a routine won’t find this concept too far-fetched. These schools expect that this transition to Common Core will be made with them not to them. Valuing parental input is a part of a regular system of school change. Parents know their input will be respected. They can share with teachers and administrators what concerns they have, what strengths and/or weakness they can detect, and how they see this new learning approach playing out in schools and at home. Schools who have practiced parental involvement will also garner support more easily for these changes because parents are included in decisions, know what’s going to happen, have input, and aren’t surprised by what is occurring.
Opposition often comes when we don’t include folks. Take a look at the recent gun control suggestions that our government has put out to the nation. People are taking all kinds of sides. They don’t like background checks. They resist bans. They fight, picket and argue. When we are asked, consulted for our opinion, and it is respected and valued, we are much more likely to support an issue.
Closer to home, what has been your own reaction to No Child Left Behind (NCLB)? A visit to Washington, D.C. a few years ago showed me that every staffer I met from the Department of Education to the Department of Transportation supported NCLB. They were consulted and a part of the design. That’s not what I was hearing from local superintendents and teachers. There was much resistance. They were not part of the planning or development.
Collaboration makes a difference. Working with your parents on any issue allows both the school staff members and the parents to gain skills. It can be a bit awkward at first. So is the first few days on a new job or the first 15 minutes at a cocktail party. Once you begin making the connection, talking and sharing, much of the awkwardness disappears and you can move on to working together to have conversations and make decisions that mean something.
Let’s say parents and school personnel have gotten past the awkward stages and have developed a healthy respect for one another. The issue on the table today is how to implement the Common Core Standards. If I take off my educator hat and become the mother of my four children, my questions would not be about how teachers are going to teach the Core. My questions are about how do I help at home? What can I do to support my children with learning, based what you are teaching? If you are teaching critical reading skills, what do you want me to do?
Here is where planning and subsequent professional development in your school is not just for the teachers, it’s also for the parents. Build in what the parents can do to help. Include in training how to demonstrate to parents what teachers are teaching. In your implementation stages show parents what it is you’ll be teaching and ask them to do activities at home to support learning.
Here’s an example. This month the students in Mrs. Jones fifth grade will be reading Island of the Blue Dolphin for both English class and in Social Studies. In English the students will look at the theme of the story, determine the meaning of words and phrases, and look at the speaker’s point of view in the way events are described. For Social Studies they’ll be looking at the author of the historical narrative, what happened as she describes it, what events occurred, what consequences followed, and what strengths and weaknesses are evident. Demonstrate to parents how to a read a story aloud. Show parents how to have their child read the story to them. After the story is read, show parents how they can: check out what’s on the Internet about the story, find out about the author or events around the story, or discuss how you’d live if left alone on an island. Suggesting to a parent some of these extensions usually brings other ideas like, “We could see if there is a movie about the book or we could pretend to be on a deserted island in our backyard, or ...” Let them create their own ideas.
Besides the pressure of the Common Core Standards, test results are all consuming for many of us as educators. You may be asking how does involving parents in Common Core affect test results since that’s the major focus for so much of what is done in schools. Including the parents can make a significant change in test results. It’s somewhat logical that parents who understand the system and can help with what is being taught at school, i.e. the Common Core Standards, can support and help their children learn. Parents who are part of the solution will support the solution they help create. The results can then be seen in the children’s work.
Confidence and self-esteem for a child in school comes from knowing the subject matter. A child who understands the subject at school and practices the work at home is certainly more likely to do well in class. A child who gets the work at school and has no practice at home is like a child going to piano lessons and living in a home without a piano. No practice takes place between one lesson and the next. It takes practice to learn Beethoven. It takes practice to learn the multiplication tables. It takes practice to understand an author’s meaning. Doesn’t it make sense, perhaps Common Core sense, to include the folks who will help children practice in the planning and implementation of what is being learned?
Over my last 10 years of helping schools and parents learn to collaborate and work together to reach their common vision, I’ve watched so many positive outcomes. Skills are developed, support comes to teachers, parents feel empowered to help their children, student behavior changes, and many more. Involving parents in the implementation of the Common Core is another step in closing all gaps including the gap between school and home.