(Part 2 in a Three-Part Series)
Educator Sunny P. Chico states, “A child has four basic needs for success in school and life: physical health, social well-being, emotional well-being and academic achievement. When parents are engaged, they address all of these needs simultaneously in order to raise a balanced and healthy child who can grow up to be a productive member of society.”
Many administrators and educators agree that parental engagement has positive implications on learning, but it’s hard to find consensus on how to achieve engagement. This is partly due to confusion between involvement (showing up) and engagement (participating in) the education process. But this confusion is compounded by a lack of clarity on what role both schools/teachers and parents play.
As we discussed in our October blog, Parental Engagement: The School/Teacher Role, engagement is the result of two-way communication that establishes trust, and teachers are on the front lines when it comes to initiating such a relationship with parents. However, teachers can’t do it alone; parents need to reciprocate.
Two-way communication requires parents to be not just receptive but responsive. That means supporting the teacher’s efforts outside the classroom and sharing feedback on progress or problems. It means reinforcing healthy habits inside and outside of the classroom. It also means sharing your goals for your child with the teacher so you can work together to meet those goals.
Establish a Relationship with the Teacher
The school year often begins with an opportunity to meet the teacher, either through a personal visit or an open house where students and parents visit the classroom and meet the teacher. Its typically during these points of contact where teachers provide information about themselves such as why they chose to be a teacher or whether they have children of their own. Teachers that offer this information are taking the first step towards building a relationship, and parents should reciprocate.
Read the information that’s been provided and find something that sounds interesting or that you can identify with and ask the teacher to talk about it. Maybe you have the same alma mater or hail from the same city. Or maybe you have the same hobbies. Teachers share personal information as a means to build a connection with parents, and these connections lead to trust, which can enhance communication throughout the year.
Teachers aren’t the only ones who have expectations for the school year. Parents begin each year with an idea of what their child is going to learn and experience, often times based on their own memories of school. However, school today looks much different than it did twenty years ago.
Today we have more technology, different methods of instruction, different curriculum, and even different types of schools (i.e. charter, virtual, etc.). Holding teachers to an expectation based on your memories and childhood experiences is destined to fail, but if parents vocalize the expectations they have teachers can spot where there might be disparity between expectation and reality, and take steps to get everyone on the same page.
Parents may want more or less homework than the teacher has planned for, or they may be skeptical about current classroom trends such as no desks or exercise balls for chairs. They may expect phonetic spelling to be acceptable when the teacher grades for accuracy, or they may not realize teachers have any expectations for them.
Teachers and parents alike have a vision for what the school year will look like, and while both want the same outcome, academic and personal growth, their notions of how to get there may vary. By communicating about what you want for your child, such as his or her strengths and weaknesses, areas of concern or areas to focus on, parents can find common ground and trust that teachers have the students’ best interests at heart.
However, teachers aren’t the only people parents need to set expectations with. According to ChildTrends.org, “Studies suggest that parents’ expectations for their children’s academic attainment have a moderate to strong influence on students’ own goals for postsecondary education, and that students had better attendance and more positive attitudes toward school if the parents expected them to attend college.”
Regardless of whether parents want their children to learn their multiplication tables or go to college, setting clear expectations for the school year has a positive impact on students.
Identify the Hive
The Hive, as discussed in our May blog The Secret to Successful Students: Who’s In Your Hive, includes all the people that are in a position to support a given student. From parents and teachers to coaches and even neighbors, each student has a support system that’s unique to them and their individual needs.
By collaborating with other members, the hive can foster relationships with one another and obtain the information necessary to make more effective decisions on behalf of the student. For example, maybe a child needs more reading practice, and if this is communicated parents know to set aside time for reading each night. Or maybe a student demonstrated comprehension of a new skill, and if the teacher shares that accomplishment with parents they can ask about it at the dinner table and give the child the opportunity to take pride in seeing the result of their hard work.
There are a number of factors within and outside the classroom that can influence a student including home life, social life, classroom culture and curriculum. Frequent and relevant communication about how the student is navigating everyday life, both positive and negative, can impact their academic achievements and personal growth.
Support Children Outside the Classroom
It’s easy to assume that academic achievement is the result of what’s happening inside the classroom simply because we don’t realize how many learning opportunities exist outside the classroom. But healthy habits like time management, personal responsibility and a desire for learning are life lessons that can be taught outside the class, and which have a positive impact on academic performance. Consider the many ways parents can contribute toward the education process:
- Talk to children – Set aside time after school or at dinner to talk, not just about grades but about life. Hobbies and interests, stressful events or challenges and accomplishments can all be discussed so children understand the many ways in which parents can help support and guide them. Talking helps children develop language and listening skills, which helps with reading and following directions. Remember, talking also involves listening, so it’s important to give children your full attention and let them finish their thoughts before responding or asking follow-up questions.
- Read at home – Reading is not only a great way to spend quality time together, it encourages creative thinking and independent learning. Studies show higher reading and writing achievement correlated with engaging in more home literacy activities (Education Research Report, 2017).
- Show a positive attitude about learning – Talk about the benefits of a good education, set expectations for effort and show enthusiasm for achievements. This positive attitude towards learning will inspire students to value education.
- Establish a homework routine – Designate a time and place for homework where children can focus, access the materials they need, and distractions are at a minimum. Offer assistance, but don’t do the work. Provide praise and use a positive tone when giving constructive criticism. Positive homework habits instill a sense of responsibility and pride.
- Practice active learning – Books and computers provide information, but many children need more than text to retain information. Ask children to explain their work to promote comprehension. Have them follow a recipe to teach them about following instructions. Ask them to suggest solutions to a household problem like a clogged vacuum to encourage problem-solving. Active learning conditions children to retain information, not just recite it.
- Encourage independence – Independence teaches responsibility and problem-solving skills children will need in adulthood. Urge children make their own social plans (within reason). Have them speak with their teachers about missed assignments or poor grades. Reward them for superior work not simply meeting expectations. Be available to provide support, but as with homework don’t do the work for them.
- Monitor technology – Children need an outlet, be it television or video games, but too much doesn’t just get in the way of personal interaction, it can negatively impact development. According to the Urban Child Institute our brain creates neural pathways for attention span at a young age, and the fast pace of technology doesn’t promote development of the deep pathways we need to focus on things for an extended period of time. Further, the internet can be a dangerous place for children, so it’s best to monitor not just the time spent on technology, but how and where that time is spent.
- Get fathers involved – A 2009 study by the National PTA and the National Center for Fathering found:
- 39% of fathers never read to their child
- 32% of fathers never visit their child’s classroom
- 54% of fathers never volunteer at their child’s school
- 74% of fathers never have lunch with their child at school
However, the study also indicates that when fathers are involved students learn more, display appropriate behavior, have fewer discipline problems and are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Fathers are an important part of the engagement process, and as such it’s important to encourage their involvement and recognize their role in the hive.
Take Advantage of Community Resources
Many schools are engaging local businesses, sports teams and charitable organizations to facilitate learning both within and outside of the classroom. We’ll discuss what this looks like in our December blog, the third in this series, but in terms of the parental role it’s beneficial for parents to explore how community resources might support students so that you can engage in the opportunities that make sense for your child.
Join the Conversation
Parents don’t need to be present at the school to be engaged in their child’s education. In fact, it’s largely what parents do outside the school that helps them truly engage in the learning process. By maintaining strong communication with a child’s hive, supporting the learning process at home, and helping children develop healthy habits, parents are able to engage and have a positive impact on their child’s performance, both in and out of the classroom.
The engagement activities listed here have been shown to impact development and have a positive classroom result, but they aren’t inclusive of every action outside the school that can promote engagement. What have you seen or tried with children outside the class, and how do they respond?
Alston-Abel, N. and Berninger,V. – Relationships Between Home Literacy Practices and School Achievement: Implications for Consultation and Home–School Collaboration. Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation, (http://www.readingrockets.org/research/topic/parent_engagement)
Chico, S. (2015) The Difference Between Parent Involvement and Parent Engagement (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2012/03/response_the_difference_between_parent_involvement_parent_engagement.html)
ChildTrends: Parental Expectations for Their Children’s Academic Attainment (https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/parental-expectations-for-their-childrens-academic-attainment/)
Colorin Colorado – Twenty Ways You Can Help Kids In School (http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/twenty-ways-you-can-help-your-children-succeed-school)
Ferlazzo, L. (2015) Response: The Difference Between Parent “Involvement” and Parent “Engagement” (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2012/03/response_the_difference_between_parent_involvement_parent_engagement.html)
Holey, D. (2016) – The Dangers of Technology on Children (https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-dangers-of-technology-on-children)
Kantrowitz, J., Education Research Report (2017) – More Home Literacy Activities = Higher Reading and Writing Achievement, Better Executive Functions (http://educationresearchreport.blogspot.com/2017/10/more-home-literacy-activities-higher.html)
Michigan Department of Education (2011) – “Collaborating for Success” Parent Engagement Toolkit (http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/4a._Final_Toolkit_without_bookmarks_370151_7.pdf)
U.S. Department of Education (2005): Helping Your Child Succeed In School (https://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/succeed/succeed.pdf)