Photo: Illustration of a family holding up an open book that says Family Engagement

Family Engagement Blog Part 1 — Parents, Friends or Foes?

Posted on July 12, 2019 by Wendy Katz
Throughout my professional career as a teacher and administrator, I have listened to colleagues complain about parents.

“Andrew’s parents don’t care!”

“Beth’s parents don’t follow up as I ask them to do.”

“I always have so few parents show up for parent conferences.”

“Her parents are micromanaging their child’s work.”

“Several of my parents scrutinize my grades.”

“Jeb’s Mom won’t allow him to accept responsibility for his own actions.”

“Sara’s Dad is actually doing her work for her!”

“I dread parent-teacher meetings.”

When it comes to parents/guardians, my observation is that SOME educators are rarely happy. They protest when parents aren’t involved and grumble when they are too involved. What do they really want? “America’s school communities include some 80 million parents. About 40 million are far too involved in their child’s education. About 40 million are far too removed. A few dozen have it pretty much right. Families face hard choices.” Dintersmith (2018).

For the most part, I lament that parents are really left out of K–12 public educational experiences. They send their children off to school, entrusting their most prized possessions to school staff. They don’t leave their best kids at home! If they asked for input regarding teachers or placement, they are often labeled as “overzealous.” Often, school administrators and teachers claim, decisions should be made by the school. I challenge that assumption for several reasons:

  • When we work with parents, we need to keep in mind how we would want to be treated. They deserve to have the same set of rules that we would expect others to employ for our own children. I have never encountered an educator who doesn’t want input for their own children’s education or hasn’t advocated when the need arises. So, what’s good for us, should be good for all parents.

  • Parents should have input into their child’s education. They often have valuable information that school officials lack when making decisions such as the teaching style that best suits their child’s personality; certain students that have been problematic in the past, keeping twins together or separating them in classes, medical issues, and home challenges. When we invite parents to be robust partners in their child’s education, meaningful relationships develop, and both teacher and student benefit.

  • Most parents truly want their children to succeed in school but often lack the interpersonal skills or experiences to tactfully handle interactions with teachers or school administrators.

  • Many parents had negative experiences themselves in school and therefore avoid school events and conferences whenever possible.

  • Most teachers and administrators have never had any training in college coursework or from school districts on how to work successfully with parents. It should not be surprising that so many educators struggle and dread parent interactions. Even phone calls often create great trepidation from both sides.

  • There is often a language barrier with many of the diverse students’ families served. Structures and systems need to be orchestrated with genuine care to offer ways to communicate in respectful ways.

Nationally, efforts are at the forefront to engage families in more meaningful ways. The shift in language is significant—parent involvement to family engagement. Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education under the Obama Administration stated: “My vision for family engagement is ambitious… I want to have too many parents demanding excellence in their schools. I want all parents to be real partners in education with their children’s teachers, from cradle to career. In this partnership, students and parents should feel connected—and teachers should feel supported. When parents demand change and better options for their children, they become the real accountability backstop for the educational system.” MAY 3, 2010

I am quite proud of The Patterson Foundation initiatives EdExploreSRQ and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading because both initiatives continue to focus extensively on finding better ways to engage families in experiential learning and reading.

Read Part 2 to learn how we can be more inclusive and inviting for parents and families.

Comments (1)

  • Michael H. Katz

    Michael H. Katz

    12 July 2019 at 14:40 | #

    Excellent blog. Very informative. Thank you for sharing

    reply

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