Submitted by Janet_Brown on June 24, 2011
DAY THREE SUMMARY
Yesterday's contributors included the head of a teachers college, a school principal, two PTA executive members, a teacher, a parent, and the two discussion moderators. The dialogue was very stimulating and a challenge to summarise, but here are some of the key points I drew from the exchanges:
1. When the school leadership, or even just one teacher, shows interest in individual parents and seeks ways to engage them, there are "win-win" outcomes--children do better, parents feel valued, and the school benefits from greater cooperation and participation. Both research and personal testimony were used to underscore this point.
2. When teachers listen to what parents have to tell them about their children, they can learn how best to deal with individual children's different learning styles. Parents often do not have the confidence to express what they know, but teachers can encourage this and learn from it.
3. Home visits are great ways for teachers to get to know the background and families of the children in their classrooms. As one contributor said, "I got my students to do so much more. I made them accountable because they and their parents realised I was deeply interested in their welfare". I heard a school principal recently assert that her teaching staff MUST do home visits regularly as part of their job; parent participation in her urban school is very strong. (So Christopher, it's not only possible in "ol' time rural Jamaica!)
4. Parents who "neglect their God-given responsibilities in taking care of their children" (as one contributor put it) can be very discouraging to teachers and school administrators. However, experience demonstrates that "shaming and blaming" parents (e.g. treating them like children) rarely has positive effect, but rather pushes them away from cooperating. Instead, appealing to the strengths or aspirations which all parents have in some degree can go much further in engaging them in dialogue and cooperation on goals for their children. Parents in all strata "want the best for their children"; finding a way to connect positively with that aspiration is the challenge.
5. It is unfortunate that to date few current classroom teachers have waded in on this discussion. This is a very busy end-of-year period for them, so it is understandable. It would not be surprising if some didn't feel defensive at some of the suggestions in this discussion that school climates often discourage parent participation. Some might say: "But we are overworked as it is! And underpaid! What more can you expect us to do...take on the parents as well?" While we can empathise with this reality for our teachers, there is sufficient evidence within our schools that when teachers DO engage with parents in relation to both their children's and the school's goals, their own work can be eased--both because they get concrete help from the parents, but also because the children respond better to this expression of personal interest.
6. It was very encouraging to read the day's exchanges between two PTA executive members from two different schools. From the examples they offered of ways in which parents can become engaged, it is clear that the teachers do not have to carry the responsibility of parent involvement alone. A vibrant PTA can go a long way in assisting the school administration and teachers to engage parents in a variety of meaningful ways. It was most encouraging to read that these two schools plan to have dialogue on ways to broaden and enrich the parent school engagement opportunities, and that they commend to the National PTA organisation some of the ideas which have been proffered within this four-day discussion.
7. Finally, we were cautioned against generalising about parents, as is often done in public statements. There are deeply engaged and concerned parents at all levels of society, and there are too-young or unprepared or overstressed parents overwhelmed with the requirements of their children, and there are many variants in between these extremes. We do well to avoid generalising about the parent populations of our schools, and instead seek ways to know the personal situations, as well as the individual talents and interests which every parent body offers to a school, in order to design avenues for more and more parents to feel a part of their childrn's education and personal development.
Grace and I are enjoying the discussions. Today we hope there are more specific ideas and experiences shared that can re-inspire us to take up the challenge of aiding parents in their investments in their children. We can only gain from such endeavours. Have a great day!