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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Engaging Parents: An Elementary Teacher's Field Guide

I love watching the new teachers scramble for the laminating machine and make copy after copy of bio info, homework routines, and schedules in preparation for Back to School Night. They sweat, stutter, and turn bright red. Don't get me wrong; I'm not making fun of their anxiety at all.

I'm just envisioning future parent events, and how fledgling teachers will morph into strong and confident educators. It won't be long before they're rocking the BTSN crowd. I hope. I hope the direction of their dialogue with parents will make connections, not build walls. It might be their one and only chance to personally speak to parents (I hold shame in my heart for saying that, but it's true.) Yes, first impressions are long-lasting and absorbing.

Thing #1 About Which Parents Could Not Care Less: My Qualifications

I just finished my twelfth Back to School Night. And in the midst of my presentation, which has been honed and carved to absolute perfection, a dawning overwhelmed my heart. Parents don't care. Parents don't care that I've been teaching for twelve years (it took twelve to realize this). They don't care that I will hold a master's degree at the end of this school year, blog for Edutopia, and am about to be a published author. They don't care that I am the current Teacher of the Year for the whole entire district. They don't care. Maybe I've been too caught up with my personal development, as a teacher, writer, and human, to recognize that a list of accomplishments is not impressive to most parents. Of course my hard work will allow me to effectively teach their kids, but I don't think parents put that at the top of the "What I Want for My Child in School" list.

I'm not trying to insult the intelligence of parents or point the finger for not caring about the skill level of their child's teacher; I just think that the humanity of teaching trumps the content for parents of elementary-aged kids. Parents value how a teacher makes their child feel, over if he/she remembers the capital of Utah.

What Does Matter to Parents?

LOVE. Parents long for their children to be loved and valued in school. I've always loved my students, so why now is it reaching the surface of consciousness? I really don't know. I wanted to immediately make a PA announcement -- "Attention teachers! Love your kids!! Parents want love, not credentials, routines, and marble jars." A definite hippie moment, but it's so true.

In his book, Teaching for the Students: Habits of Heart, Mind, and Practice in the Engaged Classroom, Bob Fecho states that, "A classroom is a living thing." (Duh, right?) You need to talk to it [the class], just like you would speak to a friend or family member. When my reading and writing workshop is filled with meaningful, personal dialogue, I truly "know" my students. I love them. Fecho's book, the inspiration for this blog, encourages teachers to create a dialogical classroom, where inquiry and critique twist and turn on the dance floor co-creating knowledge. This type of education spawns thinkers, not memorizers. In reading Fecho's book, the theme of love and dialogue is evident, but I do believe he needed to go a bit further to include parents in the dialogue. As teachers we all want parents to be involved, but I think in today's world of faux-reformers, edu-profit mongers, and mind-less fiery hoops of fear through which teachers need to jump, not only our kids' education is at stake, but their mental and social health as well.

And Among Educational Policymakers?

Unfortunately, love is not the "in-thing" right now in classrooms. It's making AYP (Annual Yearly Progress). It's block scheduling to accommodate RTI (Response to Intervention). It's using DIBELS to screen kids for reading problems. And teacher evaluation, based on hollow test scores, will create more love-less and stale classrooms all over the country.

This really is a mess. Teachers want to inspire students to, according to the late big thinker and educator, Paulo Freire, "Produce and act upon their own ideas -- not consume the thoughts of others." Parents want a loving and caring teacher who will make their kids feel good about himself or herself. Politicians and "Faux-reformers" want teacher evaluation, standardized tests, and schools for profit.

The Power of Parents

So, where can teachers and real educators get a foothold on this huge mountain of greed? I don't have all of the answers. (This is the beauty of the blog. Write it, let it off of its leash, and wait for its return -- sometimes with a bone, sometimes not.)

I do think parents have the power to move that greedy mountain, but it needs to begin with dialogue. For Freire, dialogue existed at the intersection of love, humility, and faith and it is only there "that a horizontal relationship of mutual trust can exist." This mindset sounds great in linking the dialogical triangle between teacher, parent, and student. This powerful trinity, in my opinion, will not only move that mountain, but also, in the words of famous guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, "Chop it down with edge of my hand."

Fecho argues that, "We (teachers) need to call our practice into question and seek ways to invite and sustain dialogue with our students." And, I would like to add, invite and sustain dialogue with parents. But how?

Tweet!

In the name of #schoollove, I've committed to Tweeting one classroom/school "little moment" of loving connection between teacher and student a day for each day of the school year. That's 180 tweets. Thanks to my good friend, Jill Schwantes, we have some names for my Tweets.

"Positweets"
"Optimistitweets"
"Positive Tweetergy"
"Positive Tweetertude"

Call them what you like, wish me luck, and follow me: @gaetanp.

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments area below.

The mighty triumvirate of teacher, parent, and student can (and will) take back the classroom, but it needs to begin with dialogue.

In the words of The Black Eyed Peas, "Where is the Love?" No room. No time for dialogue, no love.

Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Rosario Hutchings's picture

I found your blog interesting, and since I am exploring ways to create more communication between parent, student, and teacher, my concern is more about having students discover who they are as a learners.

I ask myself, "How can I engage students and parents to know themselves and their child as a learner? What does it mean to a parent to have their child reading below three or four grade levels. What do we do and say to parents,once they understand this?"

From my last open house, I felt foolish telling parents my accomplishments, because having recently come from my daughter's curriculum, I could care less as well. More than that, I could care less about the curriculum. I wanted to see my daughter in the curriculum.

So what I learned was that, unless what you say filters down to "my johnny" or "my elizabeth" , then I have not captured the parents attention. I thought, had my daughter's teacher related the curriculum through pictures of children actively engaged in her explanation, and more importantly pictures of my duaghter actively engaged, then she would have moved me.

So I thought, how do I take this information back into my classroom.
The criticisms I internalize as a parent filter down back to me as a teacher.

My own thoughts on this is that contact I have with parents should entail more than love and good will. It should be involved and academic. Our love for our students will shine through this.

I will be following you on twitter to learn from your feedback.

Thanks,

Rosario Hutchings
7th grade Language Arts
Valencia Middle School
Tucson, AZ

Nichole5420's picture
Nichole5420
Kindergarten Teacher from Indianapolis, Indiana

I thought your blog was filled with humor and I adored it! It's very true BUT...I do think you should give yourself some credit. In the school system I teach at, the parents are extremely interested (or at least they act like they are) in the credentials of their child's teacher. They are also extremely interested in where I shop, go out to eat, and spend my free time. In my area, where you attended college and where you've obtained your masters degree is a topic of a lot of discussions. Most all of my parents are educated with at least a 4 year college degree. Most hold a masters degree and some doctorates. We as teachers work very hard for our education (and make little money to repay all of those loans) and I feel I've used a great deal of what I've learned from college. Not many professions can say that. We should be proud of it!
I could not agree more with you that parents just want to know that their child is loved by their teacher and liked by their fellow peers. I teach Kindergarten and just completed the first parent teacher conferences of the year this week. Parents were interested in their child's grades, behavior and work ethic, but overly concerned if their child has friends, eats their lunch and can find their way to the bathroom. :)
All in a days work!

Laura Turner's picture

have no meaning for us. I don't understand the first 20 I browsed through. It's not about education. So why include that in your blog and ask people to follow? I guess you're not done talking about yourself at B2School Night.

Stephanie's picture

I enjoyed reading your blog. I think it is so true that what parents are really concerned about is if their child is being loved and cared for. Some parents find it to be a plus if their child's teacher has a master's and has been noticed for exceptional work, but if that teacher is not loving their child, they could care less what the credentials are.

To have the best results with my students, I really need to get to know who my kids are. Like you said, it is important to make meaningful dialogue with them. When I talk with them on their level and share personal stories that they are able to connect with, they are more willing to connect with me as a teacher. Thus in turn, creating a loving relationship.

Thanks for you blog!

Lacey Cruddas's picture

I enjoyed reading your blog. This particular subject really made me think. I as a parents, am aware of a teacher's qualifications, but I am much more attentive to how my child is treated. I agree with your comments that a parent will remember how a child is treated. Do not get me wrong, the skills are important as well, but I want my child to feel safe, and loved in his classroom.
Any teacher can have a list of credentials, but unfortunately, not all have the natural ability to love and care for their students.

I

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Let's say you are my child's teacher and I attended BTSN. My initial impression would be that you are well intentioned but typical of most Gen X/Yers consumed with pop culture inspired trends and all their attendant false values (of which you likely were not aware). As a teacher of 16 years, I am leery of those that feel it necessary to intellectualize their approach to teaching as if that's what's naturally expected by parents or admins. Really, what matters to parents is LOVE, or do you actually mean that parents want you to duplicate the post-mod trophy child dynamic practiced at home when little Johnny and Susie are "special" and are essentially blameless in times when consequences for poor behavior must be meted out? It's not your job to "love" your kids. Your job is to represent a formidable and responsible role model from which they can acquire and internalize necessary skills to grow and eventually prosper on their own. What could be more quintessentially American than that? That cuts through all the pop psych folderol and strips the mission to its bare essence. People need to understand your mission succinctly and without flowery feel-good bull---- language (i.e. 21st century innovative educator-speak).

Personally, I have my own children at home to love, plus my wife and my own flesh and blood kin. I think this is a common pitfall for young many unmarried teachers who have no children of their own to bestow emotion upon, so this surplus is transferred to their classroom population. These are the teachers that are most prone to burn-out for a variety of reasons, but that's another topic for another time.

The bottom line is that what most impresses people is that you sound articulate, knowledgeable, self-confident, and look good doing it, no matter if you are teaching or selling BMWs.

To many teachers do not grasp that teaching is a performance. No amount of trendy tech or so-called "21st century innovation" is going to help you if you aren't a naturally entertaining and engaging individual.

This is an unpopular view but it's the truth. What makes it unpopular is because too many teachers working today have heads full of great theory and knowledge but have no clue how to get it across to kids with compromised attention spans and "here we are now, entertain us" mentalities. I think you get that Nirvana reference, Gae.

In closing, I'll make another comparison you'll appreciate. When Hendrix played, he didn't think about his technique or method as he was playing. He let his feeling, based on his blues and R&B training, flow through his hands, through his axe, and through the amps, but still followed a basic form in sync with the rest of the band. It may have sounded chaotic at times but it was still meaningful and magical. This comparison isn't an attempt to over-intellectualize, because having an intuitive instinct or feeling for what you are doing versus having to carefully think about every step of your method as you are working is something completely different. The latter approach is very inhibiting, don't you think?

Sondra's picture
Sondra
Virginia

Thank you for your blog post. I heartily agree with your overall message that what parents look for in teachers is that caring and connection with their child. There's an old adage that my professors and mentors in my education program kept repeating to me that states "people won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Though they often used that saying in terms of students, I think it is even more applicable to the parents of our students. Three degrees don't concern me if the teacher fails to make a genuine connection with my child.

However, I can't help but agree with some points raided by the latest commenter. Even though that caring relationship (love) is important, technically it's not our job to love our students--our job is to educate them. And were I a parent in the classroom, I would want to ensure that the teacher at the head of the class is the best person for the job... and perhaps I will be able to see that competency in the "credentials, routines, and marble jars" that you disdain.

When it boils down to it, it's not an issue of simply showing parents that you love their children or boring them with information about yourself that they don't really care to know. It's about the transference of trust. Parents want teachers to show that they deserve that trust by loving their students; teachers want parents to see that they've earned that trust by their education degrees, experience, and smooth talking.

I suppose my goal as a future teacher, then, is to find the happy medium between the two extremes. Make those connections and relationships, while being articulate, knowledgeable, and self-confident. That way, no matter what type of parent you meet at BTSNs, you're covered.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

Thank you, thank you, thank you, MA Hauk. Very inspirational. You can write, my friend. And boy you can cross-examine.

I totally enjoyed your Hendrix section. Yes, I agree with you about "feeling" your way through a song or a lesson, totally feeding on the audience, the students, right? Listening more than playing is what I think you're getting at. The music happens between the notes. Of course Hendrix had technique. He was the first person to put pedals in-line, which gave him a unique sound. Fuzz Face, Univibe, Octavia, WAh (not in that order) It was like he was doing a dance up there on stage. He wanted a certain sound, which he achieved through plexi marshal amps. And then after that everyone wanted to sound like him. He became popular (According to you, I would assume, that's why he probably died ).

I respect your opinion on pop culture. It surely can be the devil. I grew up on Star Wars and G.I. Joe and Smurfs. I played with every single toy I could get my hands on. "Stuff" made me feel good. Just like your blog firebombs. But that's the truth. And that stuff has made me what I am today--which I would call successful. I see myself in a lot of kids I teach. They struggle. They don't care. They would rather be at home sipping on pop culture until they are bloated with greed. How can I approach teaching such a crew? You can throw Hemingway at them and watch them choke. You could hit with Dickinson and watch them laugh. Or you could harness the power that's already there and have some fun doing it.

The number one factor for student achievement is teacher/student relationships. If my little blog about caring about your students came off as a hippie revival, I apologize. It's not all flowers and tie-dye in my class. If you don't love (maybe I should use "care") your students, nothing you say or do will motivate them. I remember the teachers who cared about what I valued. Not the ones who forced me to memorize Poe because of its literary merit. I could care less. The teachers that cared tried to engage me on level playing fields, not in their world.

"My initial impression would be that you are well intentioned but typical of most Gen X/Yers consumed with pop culture inspired trends and all their attendant false values (of which you likely were not aware)."

Well, the false values of pop culture taught me....

How to write a story.
How to draw.
How to organize a book for print.
How to write a screen play.
It taught me that there's stuff out there that I could do
It taught me that I'm not worthless.

"To many teachers do not grasp that teaching is a performance. No amount of trendy tech or so-called "21st century innovation" is going to help you if you aren't a naturally entertaining and engaging individual."

Totally!! I totally agree. Teaching is a performance art. Sadly, that cannot be taught in college.

That's why...

"Teachers working today have heads full of great theory and knowledge but have no clue how to get it across to kids with compromised attention spans and "here we are now, entertain us" mentalities. I think you get that Nirvana reference, Gae."

You make a great point here. However, if you are so passionately against pop culture, how do you get that theory and magic across to kids with compromised attention spans? Entertaining, right? It's a performance art. Knowing your kids is the only way to entertain them. And you need to get into their world to achieve this goal. Don't you think, Hauck?

Thanks for post.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]Of course Hendrix had technique.[/quote]

The important thing to take away from his example is that he was a true artist with "soul." I've provoked the ire of many in our profession who don't believe teaching is an art form.

[quote]They would rather be at home sipping on pop culture until they are bloated with greed. How can I approach teaching such a crew?[/quote]

Provide them with a convincing argument that 95% of it is brain-dead tripe that they'll be embarrassed to admit liking when they grow up. It's up to them to take it to heart or not.

[quote]You could hit with Dickinson and watch them laugh. Or you could harness the power that's already there and have some fun doing it.[/quote]

Personally, I couldn't have fun with what I despise. You can watch them laugh and at the same time, suggest what fools they are for not appreciating Hemingway or Dickinson.

[quote] I remember the teachers who cared about what I valued. Not the ones who forced me to memorize Poe because of its literary merit. I could care less. The teachers that cared tried to engage me on level playing fields, not in their world.[/quote]

It's not supposed to be about "you."

I believe in the traditional teacher/student or master/apprentice model that successfully served civilization for centuries, where the student listened, absorbed, and internalized until they could equal or surpass the master.

The Asian cultures perfected this austere and highly self-disciplined model, which is why they surpass Western civilization on every level. We could learn a lot more from them if we tried, but the West is too preoccupied with self-centeredness and instant gratification.

[quote]Well, the false values of pop culture taught me....[/quote]

Gae, you didn't list values. You listed personal accomplishments, except for the last item, which is simply an affirmation of your sense of self-esteem, an attribute that many pop psychologists overstress and therefore, Gen X/Yers exhibit far too much of.

Too little is not good, too much is not good. Why must we work in extremes?

Values are aligned with personal morality and core beliefs, which are typically developed from the time you were a child by the people or culture you grew up in/with.

[quote]And you need to get into their world to achieve this goal. Don't you think?[/quote]

To some extent that is useful, but when you are dealing with a generation of kids who want it all (instead of being patient) and believe they are on the same plane with adults because of their overblown sense of self-esteem (by being reminded how "special" they are by the Purple Dinosaur), then you have to gently knock them down a few pegs when necessary.

The generation I grew up with referred to kids like this as "getting too big for their britches." But then, we've demonized those traditional parental values by feel-good hucksters in the medical field like Dr. Spock who said spanking your child was not an effective disciplinary measure. But yet, there's a clear line between "beating" children and purposeful, selective corporal punishment.

The bottom line is that a fundamental lack of respect for adults is the result of poor cultural influences and a generation of parents too preoccupied or too inept to properly do their jobs *as* parents.

You can't be an effective parent if you present yourself as your kids' "pal."

Again, we've gone to ridiculous extremes to make parenting less punitive. By not moderating our approach we've created from the baby boom (of which I am a member, unfortunately) onward that's quite immoderate in discerning between true "needs" and "wants." The "if it feels good, do it" mentality confuses the ability to tell the difference, plus selfishness and materialism present negative factors as well.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

NO way...teaching is absolutely an art form. That's why I also have problems at times discussing what I do in the classroom to other teachers. Good teaching is not standard. I'm worried about the standardization of American Education. What do you think about the CCSS?

"It's not supposed to be about "you.""

I 50% disagree. It's at least 50% about the kid. This is not Asia. However, we can surely learn a lot from the Asian Culture. And if they surpass us on every level why are they (china to be exact) running towards our old educational model and we (us) are running towards theirs?
Here'a an article of interest:
http://chronicle.com/article/US-Education-in-Chinese/130669/

There's really not one way to teach/learn because there's so many different learners and teachers. Teaching and Learning is so complex it's very hard to nail down to a board. That's why it's art. There's not manual for that.

Sorry, I do appreciate precise language. I should have been precise.

"Well, the false values of pop culture taught me....
How to write a story. (patience and honesty)
How to draw.
(Joy-should be a moral)
How to organize a book for print.
(Responsibility)
How to write a screen play. (Tenacity)
It taught me that there's stuff out there that I could do. (self-realization-or is that more religious?)
It taught me that I'm not worthless. (Self-Esteem)

"Gen X/Yers exhibit far too much of."

I'll take too much over none.

Isn't writing critiques and very opinionated blogs exhibiting a whole mess of self-esteem? The difference here is that you have the muscle to back it up. Kids don't. And if you cut them off with undesirable topics, they never will. Kids, of course, cannot have free reign, but should have some choices within the parameters teachers set.

Unlike musicians and artists, teachers don't have the luxury of inaccessible art. Great teachers are artists, but they need to be mindful of its accessibility.

"Personally, I couldn't have fun with what I despise."

I totally agree. That's why we will always disagree on something.

"You can watch them laugh and at the same time, suggest what fools they are for not appreciating Hemingway or Dickinson."

Although I do find this funny, I'm not sure if calling eight-year-olds fools because they don't like E.B. White, is in my best interest.

This discussion is really all about the lack of parent involvement and responsibly for "parenting." Yes, the lack of parent engagement with their own children has declined over my twelve years of teaching. The government has not helped this by basically degrading teachers, while at the same time, making it pretty clear that teachers are the single most important factor in determining the future of a human being (If not, no problem, we will fire them) And now with the accountability craze, which totally disregards the inability to quantify (on paper) the effects of one human being on another, the poverty problems, the social issues, and so on, parents can freely shoot at teachers, while slacking off on their end.

My mom and dad are responsible for instilling values, which then in turn I was able to recognize in the world (even pop culture, to your disliking) and strengthen.

I'm curious... What grade do you teach? Public? Private? Demographics?

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