We love getting great advice from local experts, especially when it can make life better for kids & families. We talked with Dr. Debi Edwards, the Director of Secondary Programs at Huntsville City Schools, and share her expertise about why parent involvement at school is so important.
I miss chalk. I do. We teachers could always pick each other out at the grocery store in the afternoons with that telltale chalk across our backsides! The sensation of writing with chalk has never been replicated — not by markers sliding across a whiteboard or pens tapping an interactive board.
Today, a quick glance around any classroom in schools in Huntsville provides a picture of 21st century learning: students are completing work on a laptop, emailing assignments and sharing documents on their devices. Many teachers are providing interactive instruction using websites, virtual learning games, and videoconferencing. Many long lectures and desks in rows have been replaced with student collaboration and teacher facilitation.
Families’ school experience has certainly changed over the last over 40 years. In the seventies, only about 20% of mothers had college degrees. Many homes where one parent worked when I attended school has now been replaced with homes where both parents work and some parents work more than one job.
But one thing hasn’t changed. We all did and still want our children to do well out in the real world. Instead of preparing students for jobs that exist, schools now must prepare them to be flexible and adaptable to jobs that don’t yet exist.
The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is still applicable today. It’s clear message “the whole community has an essential role to play in the growth and development of its young people” was true when I went to school and is still true today.
Parent Involvement at School is Key
In the past, parent involvement in schools was characterized by volunteers; mostly mothers, assisting in the classroom, chaperoning field trips and fundraising. Today, that model still exists in some schools but in others, it has been replaced with a much more inclusive approach. School-family-community partnerships now include mothers and fathers, stepparents, grandparents, foster parents, other relatives and caregivers, business leaders, churches and community groups. They participate at all grade levels, focusing on student achievement and school success.
The research is clear, consistent, and convincing. Parent, family, and community involvement in education correlates with higher academic performance and school improvement, improving students’ behavior, attendance, and achievement.
Twenty years ago, while working on my own doctorate, I chose three Huntsville City Schools to include in my dissertation. The title for my study? “Do Students with High Parent Involvement Score Higher on State and National Tests”. The evidence at all three schools, Davis Hills, the Academy for Academics and Arts and Challenger Middle School wholly supported this hypothesis. When schools, parents, families, and communities work together to support learning, students tend to earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, stay in school longer, and enroll in higher level programs.
Research supports that the most significant and successful type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success. How can parents help teachers? I asked HCS principals the same question and together, here are the ten most popular answers.
How Parents Can Best Help Teachers Help Your Kids
Don’t be a stranger!
Talk to your child’s teachers early and
often. Back-to-school night shouldn’t be the only time you connect. Open House is a great time to introduce yourself and find out the best way to communicate in the future. Then, stay in touch with updates on how things are going at home, questions about your child and academic work and to schedule conferences to head off trouble (should you worry about that string of C’s?). Teachers would rather solve small challenges with their students before they turn into larger challenges. Teachers have e-mail at school, which is a great way to check in. Good teachers want you on their team, so be a team player. Besides, teachers don’t know what they don’t know. Tell them. Communication is the key to keeping the ‘team’ working.
Learning doesn’t stop at 3:15 PM.
You can help the teacher do a better job by engaging your children in conversations about school at home. Encourage younger children to show you something they worked on in class. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: Ask your child to demonstrate how to do long division or to read a book report out loud. Every time your child gets a chance to show off what he/she knows, it builds confidence.
Keep your child organized.
That means helping teachers with the paper chase. Teachers spend way too much time tracking down tests or forms that have been sent home for a parent’s signature. Often, the missing items are crumpled up in the bottom of a backpack, along with lunch leftovers and other clutter.
The solution? This school year, begin a daily routine by having your child empty his backpack every day as part of a regular after-school routine. Set up a special place, such as a box in the kitchen, where he can put the day’s papers and provide another spot, such as a desk drawer, for old assignments that you want to save. A bright-colored folder is a good idea, too, for toting homework — and signed papers — to and from school. And about those supplies: Keep plenty on hand. Even big kids run out of pencils, paper and other school supplies and it’ll be three weeks before they’ll remember to tell you.
Let your child make mistakes.
Don’t forget, they are still learning. Teachers don’t want perfect students, they want students who try hard. Sometimes parents get caught up in thinking that every assignment has to be done exactly right, and they put too much pressure on their child. It’s important for teachers to see what students don’t know, so we can go over the material again. Struggling is productive. Don’t rescue your children and don’t complete their assignments for them. Don’t write notes or make a phone call to offer excuses and don’t immediately leap to your child’s defense when they make a poor decision at school. This not only prevents children from learning how to make good choices but it also breeds a culture of irresponsibility. Teachers want students to own their learning. Allowing your child to experience the consequences of their actions and learning from their mistakes is important. Don’t bail your child out.
Stay involved — even when you don’t know the material.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we promote you becoming an INOW addict. You can provide moral support and be your child’s cheerleader no matter how well (or poorly) you did in a certain subject. I hear parents say “I didn’t take trigonometry or I flunked chemistry, so how can I check my child’s homework?” Teachers don’t expect parents to be an expert on every subject. Just knowing a parent is paying attention can be very motivating for a student and for the teacher.
Teachers are on your side — give them the benefit of the doubt.
Teachers want the best for their students. Parents want the best for their children. If you child comes home mad or upset or complains about a teacher, reach out to that teacher. Ninety five percent of a parent concerns can be handled directly with the teacher without parents going to the principal or the central office. If for some reason a parent is apathetic and unenthusiastic about education, you can be sure the child will feel the same way.
It’s okay for your child to be bored sometimes.
It is a scientific fact that while children may claim to be dying of boredom, no one has ever actually passed away from a lack of immediate entertainment. Too many children and young people have almost entirely lost the ability to entertain themselves. If a child is never bored, they will never develop the resilience to persevere in tasks they do not find immediately gratifying and entertaining, and let’s be honest; as adults there are many important tasks we simply have to do that aren’t much fun. Cleaning the toilet and changing the sheets on beds is certainly not on my list of fun things to do. In fact, when I was young, I didn’t dare tell my mother I was bored because she was very quick to find me something to do…
Don’t be your child’s best friend.
Children need you as their parents. Keep in mind that if your children like you all the time, you are doing the parenting thing wrong. While your love for your children should be unconditional, your acceptance and support of your children should not be. It is a parent’s role to establish and maintain boundaries for your children, modeling, urging and insisting on good conduct and good character.
If the teacher deserves a good grade, give them one.
Teaching isn’t easy, and there are days when a teacher feels like crying because a parent has spoken to her harshly. So, why not e-mail or call when your child enjoys a class event or says something nice about the lesson or about the teacherr? If you feel your child’s teacher is doing a good job, let them know as well as the principal. Volunteering is another way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and support, even if you only have time to help out once a year. It shows your child — and his teacher — that you really care about his education.
Be a role model.
When it comes to learning, show your children that it can be fun. Pay attention to what your children are interested in and have meaningful discussions about those interests. Modeling kindness and inclusivity can also go a long way in teaching your children how to be amazing people and citizens both in and outside the classroom. Helping your child accept all children is the biggest deterrent to bullying. Make reading part of your daily routine with your child. Bedtime is usually a good time. Reading to your child fosters an interest in and acceptance of reading. As your children grow older, have your kids participate more by reading to you. Your teenage children…ask them what they are reading and why. You might just learn something from them.
To be successful at the highest level, schools need support from parents, friends and from the community. Schools with involved parents:
- Engage those parents
- Communicate regularly with them and with stakeholders
- Incorporate them into the learning process
Parents & families are so important to the success of our students and our schools!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Debi Edwards is the Director of Secondary Programs at Huntsville City Schools. She has a Doctorate in Education Leadership from Tennessee State University and her Masters from Alabama A&M University. Dr. Edwards has 35 years experience in the classroom and as an administrator. She is married with two children and three grandchildren and is herself a product of Huntsville City Schools.
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Rocket City Mom is a website about raising children in and around Huntsville, Alabama. Started in late 2010 by a local mom and newcomer to Huntsville, Rocket City Mom has grown into a thriving community of local parents and now boasts a staff of four, thirteen regular contributors, and tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley readers making it the #1 Parenting Resource in North Alabama.