This time of year, many people are reflecting on what is truly important in life and all they have to be grateful for. The most common item of the top of these lists: family.
Many successful individuals can point to family as a factor in that success -- perhaps because of their unwavering belief in our abilities, perhaps because they pushed us beyond what we thought we were capable of, perhaps for their financial contributions to our education. But the overarching feeling is, because of their support.
For those of us fortunate enough to be born into families that knew how to best support us, particularly in our academic endeavors, this support almost goes without saying. But in some families, parents who would like to help their children succeed don't know how best to do so. As educators, we can help families develop the skills needed to support their children in school and beyond. One model for doing so: Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT).
Academic Parent-Teacher Teams
In the mid-2000s, Dr. Maria C. Paredes was Director of Community Education in Phoenix's Creighton Elementary School District and a doctoral student at Arizona State University. Responsible for creating family engagement opportunities, she set up parent workshops, hired parent liaisons and more. One major accomplishment: Repurposing the district's parent-teacher conferences, which she found "mostly ineffective, lack[ing] strategy, ... void of relevant academic substance, and ... without accountability for parents and teachers."
As her doctoral action research project, she developed the APTT model, in which teachers coach parents to become engaged, knowledgeable members of the academic team. In other words, teachers help build parental capacity, developing parental understanding of their children's grade-level learning goals and how to help them meet or exceed standards.
APTT has two main components. The first is three classroom team meetings each year. The "classroom team" consists of the classroom teacher and all the parents in the class. In these group meetings, the teacher reviews and explains class-level academic data, in addition to providing parents with individual data about their own child's performance and helping parents set 60-day SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound) academic goals for their children. She or he also models and provides materials for activities that parents can do with their children at home, giving parents time to practice these activities with each other in a small group setting. In addition, parents can share tips among themselves. (See what these look like in action -- the video is long but worth it to get a sense of the type of material covered as well as the level of comfort that parents have with teachers.)
The model also includes one thirty-minute in-depth individual conference between the teacher, a student and his or her family each year. At these meetings, they review performance data, create an action plan for continuous improvement, discuss how to support student learning at home, and develop stronger relationships. Additional individual conferences are scheduled as needed.
This model appears very promising. Student achievement in both math and reading is up for students whose families have access to APTT compared to students whose families do not. The program also seems to increase student engagement, confidence and attendance, as well as improve parent-teacher communication and parent self-efficacy for supporting student learning at home. Some principals report that the model promotes a sense of community within the school that decreases discipline problems among students and that parents are more comfortable reaching out to other families to resolve conflicts. As Paredes says, "Strangers have become partners in purpose."
Perhaps one of the best ways to assess the perceived impact of the program is to look at teacher participation. The program started with just nine participating teachers in the Creighton School District. The next year, 79 teachers joined the program. In the third year, 187 participated. Now in year four, about 218 classrooms in Creighton are participating. And the model (which Paredes has copyrighted) has spread across the nation -- it is now reaching about 28,000 students in five states and the District of Columbia.
According to Paredes, one of the greatest challenges implementing this (or any model of family engagement) is some educators' mindset about families. As she says, "We often doubt families' capacity to help their children, and we often have mistaken perceptions of their ability to commit to higher expectations and standards for learning," particularly for the families of disadvantaged and minority children.
This season, as we reflect on the support we've received from our own families, we should remember that all individuals desire the opportunity to provide that support to their children. And we should take advantage of our position as educators to help them do so. While not every school or teacher can participate in something like APTT, we can all take steps to build the capacity of families to help their children succeed.