Schools can and must empower parents to serve as partners in the community, school, and the children’s learning journeys. Here are a few examples:
- Surveying, and responding to, parent needs in Garden Grove Unified School District – Garden Grove Unified School District’s parent partnership has long been a key to the success of this award-winning district; they were early implementers of the 10 Educational Commandments described below. (I served as the Director of K-6 Instruction in Garden Grove Unified.) Now, as part of the district’s comprehensive and cutting-edge commitment to college and career readiness for all, parents are extensively surveyed for their opinions and experiences. These evidence points are as important to all educators in the district as grades and test scores and they directly shape continuous improvement efforts. Michelle Pinchot is an exceptional principal and the co-author, with Michael Fullan and others of articles on the topic of school leadership (Fullan & Pinchot, 2018; Pinchot & Weber, 2016). Among her many other gifts, Michelle is a master of authentically involving parents and has done so at multiple schools. At a prior school, they, “developed grade level parent meetings held each trimester. Topics were created by both the teachers and the parents. We imitated classroom instruction and had parents experience learning first hand with their child so that they could better support at home. This was highly successful because it was a shared vision by school and parents.” At her current school, “Our parents have requested help with immigration, learning English and understanding how to navigate the US school system. We’ve also started training parents in computer science to support the new schoolwide focus. I also meet with parents monthly to collect ideas and to share upcoming academic requirements and events. Last month, we had our largest group of 52 parents; our first meeting had 8. Parents are starting to hear that their voice matters in decision making and are excited to attend Parent Partnerships with Principal Pinchot.” Productive parent partnerships are possible; we must recommit to the common sense idea. And let’s proceed with respect. Michelle Pinchot: “We can’t assume that what we know what parents need to be ‘educated’ on or what they need or want for their own self growth or for their child. We need to ask them for their input; we need to listen. I have found that empowering parents to early ‘wins’ encourages initial participation. Then later, we expand involvement into other initiatives.” There are examples of school in which parent partnerships are robust and impactful on community, school, and student success.
- Parents as interventionists – Talman Elementary School, a K-8 school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, is one of Chicago Public Schools’ most creative and successful buildings. Principal Jackie Medina invited me to hear from staff about their systems of supports that have led to record-setting achievement. It took me 20 minutes of talking with and learning from a group of adults early in my visit to learn that the group was composed entirely of parents. Parent tutors are ever-present in the hallways and classrooms of the school. They significantly lower adult-student ratios and provide interventions to students for which there is undeniable evidence of success. And, this parent network is self-sustaining; after years of practice and success, parents teach and empower the next generation of parents every year.
- Orange County Business Council’s 10 Educational Commandments for Parents – In partnership with the Latino Educational Attainment Initiative, the 10 Educational Commandments for Parents…
- Commit as a family to be involved in school
- Do my part in helping my child study
- Understand how grades work
- Learn how schools are structured
- Learn what my child needs to graduate successfully from high school
- Support the learning of mathematics, science, and English
- Encourage my child to take honors and advanced courses
- Help my child prepare to be college and/or career ready
- College options are affordable
- Teach my child to be creative, to communicate, and to view challenges as opportunities
…may be the most remarkable parent empowerment initiative I’ve ever encountered. Guided by parents for parents, this program doesn’t simply expect parents to embrace and practice the commandments; parents learn the why, what, and how represented by each commandment. In combination with educators within schools and districts that embrace and support the Commandments, parents are empowered to significantly and actively contribute to their children’s educational lives.
- Making the Common Sense More Common – We are recommitting to common sense, and research-based ways, of collaborating with families. There are many strategies teachers can use to engage families. First, we are more proactively getting to know parents and learning more about their children through meet and greets – we share how we will communicate and hear their expectations; this information is then intentionally embedded into learning environments and student goals. Drop-off and pick-up times are prime times for interacting with families; we are taking advantage of these informal opportunities to exchange information and build relationships. Electronic grade books have greatly improved immediate access for parents to their children’s progress; we are ensuring that families know what to do with the information and that we are ready to respond when needs arise. We are leveraging conferences more than ever to make connections with families and learn about student’s strengths, interests, as well as identities outside of school. Like so many school districts, well over half of our families are non-white. We are trying to create more welcoming spaces of respect and openness in the front office that present a respectful, empathetic school culture: Including literature that reflects and includes the diverse backgrounds represented in our communities; highlighting historical contributions made by individuals from these backgrounds beyond those already well known; sharing the stories of role models within fields of study that reflect students’ race and ethnicity; and displaying photographs of students from our schools. Lastly, we are continuously using school climate surveys to gather information about which aspects of school climate to prioritize.
We know the need. We know (or could know) what to do. The question is whether we have the will to support our parents so that they are even better able to support their children. How do we get parents more involved in their child’s education? We are the answer we’ve been waiting for.