The involvement of parents and families in schools is often cited as one of the most important ways to improve education. High levels of parental involvement correlate with:
- improved academic performance
- higher test scores
- more positive attitudes toward school
- higher homework completion rates
- fewer placements in special education
- academic perseverance
- lower dropout rates
- fewer suspensions”
(The School Community Journal, 2008, Vol. 18, No. 2, p.53).
With four decades of powerful,empirical evidence, few dispute that the connection between home, school, and community is beneficial for all. And yet, most educators and parents have had little training on how to work effectively with one another, creating a challenge for even the most zealous partnership advocates.
Creating and maintaining a partnership with parents is a process that requires both will and skill. Partnerships can only grow when they are based on mutual trust and respect for each others values, perspectives, and experiences. If we are serious about building a bridge and getting to the place where parents are true partners in their child’s education, then we must find opportunities to share the ways we “view” the relationship.
I had a chance to do just that in a series of professional development workshops on the topic. I was given permission to meet with groups of parents days before my scheduled workshop with the school staff. The following reflection represents the voices and views of over 400 PreK -12 teachers and parents across three very different MidWestern school districts.)
I believe that the first step towards partnership work begin with awareness. The following exercise proved a powerful way to get the conversations started. Adapted from the work of Heidi Hass Gable on the Parents As Partners Ning. It is called the The “Appreciative Inquiry”:
1. I ask participants to think about a Parent-Teacher Interaction. (making sure not to lead them in describing a specific positive or negative expereince as I want to know which one comes to mind)
2. Each participant is given an index card and asked to write or sketch a brief description of what the expereince was like for them.
3. Participants are then asked to exchange their “Home-School Experience”stories with one another. (Depending on time, I try to them share thier story with at least two others.)
4. At the end of each story interaction, participants were asked to choose two words to describe the stories they heard.
5. I collected the “The Two Words” from both groups and used Wordle to display the results of our conversation.
Pre K-12 Staff (teachers, administrators, and instructional coaches) described their Parent-Teacher interactions in this way:
Parents in each of the three schools, shared their voices here:
Clearly, teachers and parents view the interactions and experience very differently. It was a powerful reminder that the work we do together is fundamentally an emotional task, carried out by human beings who come with different perspectives and experiences. The most profound effect of the exercise was the ability to move the conversations of partnership beyond blaming and presuming and toward strategy and action as we reflected on:
- the kinds of interactions that produced these perceptions
- the conditions necessary for more powerful interactions to continue or occur
- the qualities and traits needed from both sides to make this happen
Parent involvement from this view may help us understand why parents and schools do not always see “Eye-to-Eye, but I wanted the last conversation of the day to be about viewing the partnership on common ground; the place where we see things ” Heart-to-Heart.”
My final assignment to both groups was this: In two words describe your thoughts about a Parent- Teacher partnership. Here’s what we got:
This view of parent involvement reminds everyone that children flourish when the adults in their lives agree. Children see themselves through our eyes, and it is important that the adults in their lives find their way here. As leaders, you are in charge of getting your staff and community to the place where they come together; heart-to-heart. You provide the conditions necessary for partnerships to flourish or flounder.
No matter where you are in the process – the hope of purposeful engagement and partnership begins with you. Give this a try at your school, and see where the conversation takes you!.
(Origianlly posted at Angela Maiers’ personal site and Cross-Posted for LeaderTalk on Education Week Blog)