Students thrive when their parents become part of the classroom.
Home is the eternal school of life. Our children learn best when significant adults in their lives work together to encourage and support them. Schools alone cannot address all of our child’s developmental needs: The need for a strong partnership between schools and families to educate children may seem like common sense. In simpler times, this relationship was natural and easy to maintain. Teachers and parents were often neighbors and found many occasions to discuss a child’s progress. Children heard the same messages from teachers and parents and understood that they were expected to uphold the same standards at home and in school.
Now, as society has become more complex and demanding, these relationships, too, have often fallen by the wayside. Teachers and families alike commute to school. Neither educators nor parents have enough time to get to know one another and establish working relationships on behalf of the children. In many communities, parents are discouraged from spending time in classrooms and educators are expected to consult with family members only when a child is in trouble. The result, in too many cases, is misunderstanding, mistrust, and a lack of respect, so that when a child falls behind, teachers blame the parents and parents blame the teachers.
At the same time, our society has created artificial distinctions about the roles that parents and teachers should play in a young person’s development. We tend to think that schools should stick to teaching academics and that home is the place where children’s moral and emotional development should take place. Yet children don’t stop learning about values and relationships when they enter a classroom, nor do they cease learning academics — and attitudes about learning — when they are at home or elsewhere in their community. They constantly observe how the significant adults in their lives treat one another, how decisions are made and executed, and how problems are solved.
The Starting Point
These days, it can take extraordinary efforts to build strong relationships between families and educators. The hectic pace of modern life can make this kind of involvement seem out of reach for many parents. The starting point is to create opportunities where parents and teachers can learn that they both have the children’s best interests at heart. We applaud the growing trend to decentralize decision making from central offices to individual schools because it creates opportunities for parents and educators to work together and make decisions about school policies and procedures. Some may see this arrangement as shifting power from school staff to parents, but it’s not power shifting; it’s power sharing. It is empowering all the adults who have a stake in children’s development.
Besides participating in governance, parents can be involved in schools in many roles. There are the traditional ways: encouraging children to complete homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, and being active members of their school’s parent-teacher organization. Home visits, parent visitation to child care or school setting, telephone conversations, newsletters, informal notes, bulletin boards, workshops, and regular face-to-face communication can be used to keep families informed about the specific social skills being focused on in the early childhood setting to learn about what families are doing at home.
Technology can allow educators and parents to be linked into a sturdier web of mutual support than ever before. The internet allows them to freely share information, via email and web bulletin boards, twenty-four hours a day and year-round. They are also able to review what the child has been doing by looking at actual samples of schoolwork that have been collected in an electronic portfolio.
Regardless of a parent’s direct involvement in school activities, it is vital for parents and teachers to communicate effectively with one another. Each has a piece of the picture of a child’s development, and each can be more effective when information is shared. Constant communication helps ensure that both schools and homes are responsive to students’ unique needs and therefore support children’s overall development.
Parents who get to know their students’ teachers, about the curricula and the teachers’ educational methods are more likely, than those who don’t, to help children with homework and ensure it’s completed. And, by holding enjoyable family activities, schools encourage parental attendance and interest in participating in other useful activities, such as fundraising and volunteering in the classroom. These activities also strengthen bonds between parents and children.
In the end, parent involvement in schools leads to higher grades and test scores and better attendance and homework completion records. These students also are likely to graduate and pursue higher education because their parents have taken an interest in their education and serve as role models. Simply stated, the biggest winners are our children. When we walk into a school and see parents and teachers working togethe, in all sorts of roles, it’s a sure sign that the school challenges the very best in students and helps everyone realize their fullest potential.