Recently re-released, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do articulates the National Board’s Five Core Propositions for teaching. Similar to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, the Five Core Propositions are held in common by teachers of all grade levels and disciplines and underscore the accomplished teacher’s commitment to advancing student learning and achievement. This blog focuses on core proposition 5 that states, “Teachers are members of learning communities.”
How can teachers and school leaders engage parents and families in meaningful ways, to ensure that we are meeting students’ needs? What kind of audience are we for the voices of parents and families?
Throughout my teaching career, I have observed ways schools encourage traditional types of parent and family involvement: volunteer opportunities, communication updates, back-to-school night, or the PTA. I’ve seen teachers and administrators view parents and families in a manner similar to the way businesses view their customers. When a parent complains, schools take steps to appease the parent, even if it means changing their child’s teacher or a grade. Parents and families are often seen as unfriendly or oppositional. When there’s a change or a problem in the building, I’ve heard administrators say, “don’t let the community find out, because the administrators don’t want “trouble.”
I admit, I once dreaded parent conferences. I never knew if parents would attack my teaching skills or if I would receive full support from an administrator. That kind of fear is real for teachers and has led to a climate in which we are sometimes afraid to build relationships with parents. As I progressed in my teaching career, my perspective changed. I started building relationships with parents by using positive communication. I welcomed parents and families into my classroom and talked to them at community events. Now, as a parent of a kindergarten student, I am more aware of how schools engage parents. I appreciate information about my son’s progress and the opportunities to volunteer at his school, but I also want to be viewed as a partner in my child’s education.
We have to stop viewing parents as customers and view them as partners. Educating children is not customer service. All stakeholders need to acknowledge that parents and families know their child’s needs and that they have to be part of the conversation. Not only should we educate them about what’s going on in the school building, but we should engage them to be part of a dialogue that gives them the ability to share their concerns. Core Proposition #5 stresses this practice. As an accomplished teacher, we have to communicate regularly with students’ families. I have to emphasize this word: family. Not only are we interacting with parents; often, we are communicating with other adults who affect the child’s life. Teachers must inform them about their child’s accomplishments and challenges, and part of that is addressing their questions, attentively listening to their concerns, and respecting their views, even if the views are different from their own.
Component 4 of the National Board certification process provides the opportunity for candidates to demonstrate effective and reflective practices for developing and applying knowledge of students. Teachers have to address how their practices evolved as they gained knowledge of their students, interacted with their colleagues, and built relationships with students’ families, caregivers, and other community members. Teachers also have to reflect on their next steps by addressing this question: what is your plan for continuing to have a positive impact on students’ learning and growth in the future?
With ESSA implementation, districts are required to have stakeholder groups convene at the local and state level for making policy, including policy aimed at engaging parents. Under Title 1, parent and family engagement, school districts must involve their students’ parents and family members in programs, activities, and procedures. This involvement represents a major change in policy. How are schools collaborating with parents and families in making decisions?
In the past couple of months with my work at The Montgomery Institute, I have learned new strategies for engaging parents in meaningful ways. In September, Karran Royal Harper from The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools gave a presentation to our participants about strategies on how schools can engage parents. Karran emphasized the importance of two types of involvement with parents and families: decision making and collaborating with the community. We should include families in making school decisions. And just as we do with students and teachers, schools can help to develop parent leaders. We can help coordinate community services for families and provide professional development (PD) for parents and families. When we offer PD for teachers that could be relevant for families, then we can invite parents to participate. If a PD session is focused on teaching reading strategies, wouldn’t it be beneficial to host such a session for parents and families who could practice strategies with their own children at home? Karran emphasized that we should have a welcoming school environment, one in which we invite and encourage families to visit the school. We should consider having a space for parents, possibly for their own PD. We should also make sure that we make accommodations for culturally and linguistically diverse families in order to include them and communicate information to them. Lastly, it’s important to assess the school climate and seek out the thoughts of parents, families, students, and teachers.
Recently, I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, working with teachers from the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE). I attended a community conversation in which families, community members, and teachers discussed responses to this question: What should we, as a community, do to ensure a better future for our children? Teachers shared important details about ESSA and strategies on parent and family engagement. One of LAE’s goals was to bring communities together to collaborate on issues that affect students. In talking to participants afterward, I found that many of them said that they appreciated that their voices and thoughts were being acknowledged, that they were partnering with the community, and that they would be part of the action plan. In Montgomery County, we have hosted town halls and community conversations to gather our community’s thoughts on issues that affect our students. This month, we hosted several town halls on a change that the county made on bell times.
Back-to-school nights and fundraisers shouldn’t be the primary ways that schools engage families; we have to consider ways to move past a superficial way of involving them. Parents volunteering their time is important, but parents offering their voice and insights is even more vital.
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