Teachers must understand that in order to support students effectively, they must engage with the student’s community, and I truly believe that this connection must start with the family.
When I entered the teaching profession, one of the first things I learned was the importance of connecting with the local community. Recently a friend of mine from when I worked in Ohio helped me to re-examine this idea. Todd Allyn, from The Todd Allyn Show, shared the following with me when reviewing the mission of Way of the Teacher
“Make sure you talk about community. People always want to send their kids to the best schools. [The best schools and communities] have good teachers, benefits, home prices, and quality of life. The teacher supports community [because] the school is the intellectual centre of all communities.”
I agree with this statement completely. Most families want to send their children to the best schools because they feel that the best schools will provide the best opportunities for their children’s success. What is not read here are the many conversations Todd and I’ve had in the past regarding the importance of educators connecting with their local community. Teachers must understand that in order to support students effectively, they must engage with the student’s community, and I truly believe that this connection must start with the family.
I can almost predict which students are going to be successful in school, and which students will struggle just by having regular meetings with their families. If the family has been involved with their child’s education at home, and if they were part of a collaborative partnership with the school, more often than not the child’s performance will improve. If the family is not involved with their child’s education at home, and if they were not part of a collaborative partnership with the school, more often than not the child’s performance will suffer.
Further to my point, I have found no difference between success rates between students from inner-city public schools and students attending private school. Take away the extra tuition students in the later category may receive and I believe students who have strong families willing to collaborate with their school will experience positive improvement over time, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Although further research needs to be conducted in the area of home-school collaboration, the paper “A Longitudinal Assessment of Teacher Perceptions of Parent Involvement in Children’s Education and School Performance” by Izzo and colleagues (Izzo et al, 1999) is a good starting point. From this paper, I’m going to focus on three main areas to support what I consider one of the most important aspects of teaching – connection with the home.
Area 1 – Frequency and Quality of Parent-Teacher Contact
I feel that consistent contact with families is important. I make an effort to ensure that I touch base with each parent at least once a week. Usually it only involves a few minutes of my time through email, phone, or face-to-face conversations. I talk with parents about everything from how their child is performing in school to what exciting things they may be exploring during the week.
What’s most important is the idea that I talk to parents about how their child is doing in positive terms. Typically, parents seem to only talk with the teacher about “bad” things. This breeds a sense that conversations with the teacher are negative. We need to break that by having conversations with parents that focus on many different aspects of their child’s overall development. By creating positive conversations, parents and children are more willing to collaborate with the teacher.
Area 2 – Participation in Educational Activities at Home
Recently, I found that many of the activities and homework assignments I send home come back with notes from parents. Many of these notes are similar – parents state that they do not understand the assignment and/or do not know how to help their child with the given task because it’s too complicated. This is a red-flag for me. If my students don’t understand an assignment, and their parents are struggling to understand, then I have failed to do my part as an effective teacher.
Although I do not want parents to give their children answers to questions, I do want parents to engage with their children’s homework each night. I still haven’t cracked this problem yet, but I have started a practice that seems to be having an impact. I’ve begun setting homework each night that has three sections:
- The given task students should be able to complete using prior learning.
- A challenge activity which may require support from parents.
- A note area where parents and students can write what worked and what did not work.
Additionally, each assignment has a “Hint Box” that gives some guidance to help complete the task.
The point of structuring activities and homework assignments this way is to engage not just the student, but parents as well, thus creating a greater sense of home-school connection.
There are many instances when families do not have time to support their children. Working multiple jobs, taking care of multiple children, too much happening in their life – these are just a handful of reasons I’ve had from parents from public schools and private schools alike, explaining why they are unable to support their children at home. This is where families need to really consider what is important to them. I’ve had many families who could easily use the same reasons, yet they find the time regardless. If you find this is the case, have a conversation with the family and see how you can collaborate with them in order to ensure your student is supported effectively.
An additional note – Starting this term I will be adding homework assignments with guidance on our school’s Cloudbase system. Here, parents and students will be able to access more in-depth information, and they can reference resources for future use.
Area 3 – Participation in School Activities
This is a difficult area for me, one which I unfortunately have not been particularly strong at. Participation in school activities means an offering for families to engage with lessons and/or school activities throughout the academic year.
The school I work for is great at offering families a chance to support with extra activities such as fairs, sales, and various volunteer events. I’ve even had some parents present topics they are familiar with (e.g. scientists sharing what they research).
The critical point is that parents can sometimes feel schools are untouchable, that they cannot be influenced. By involving parents in the daily school routine, they recognise the value and influence a positive collaboration can have, and the idea of school becomes more approachable. No more “them and us”, but rather “we”.
As Todd said, schools are an intellectual centre for communities. This is a big responsibility. As teachers, let’s take this call seriously and make sure we are not dictating knowledge to our students and their families. Instead, let’s create a partnership in order to make our communities stronger.
The story “The Bundle of Sticks” from Aesop’s Fables is a great analogy for this post. A father explains to his sons that they must work together, because a bundle of sticks is stronger than just one stick alone:
“…do you not see how certain it is that if you agree with each other and help each other, it will be impossible for your enemies to injure you? But if you are divided among yourselves, you will be no stronger than a single stick in that bundle.”
Until next time!
Izzo, C.V., Weissberg, R.P., Kasprow, W.J. & Fendrich, M. 1999, “A Longitudinal Assessment of Teacher Perceptions of Parent Involvement in Children’s Education and School Performance”, American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 27, no. 6, pp. 817-839.