In too many classrooms in America, parents are often viewed as the adversaries of teachers. While this isn't true for every school district, even one is too many. The parent-teacher relationship is just one of the many factors that complicate our educational system, and it's a prime example. Why is this relationship such a variable? The parent's personal experience with education probably tops the list, but how the culture of the school accepts and relates to parents is a close second. Of course, every parent's number one concern will be: "Is my child getting a proper education to compete and thrive in our world?"
Things Have Changed
In the past, communication has always been a key factor in bringing teachers and parents together. Today, we might add transparency as a key factor in parents' understanding of what goes on at school.
The one thing most Americans have in common is an experience with our education system. As a result, almost everyone has an opinion on what is right and, even often more vocalized, what is wrong with the system.
What complicates these views further is the fact that most of us were educated by teachers who employed 20th century pedagogy and methodology, which means that the 20th century is the basis of our educational experience. Since we are now almost halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, we need to get everyone up to speed. This requires educating parents about the education of their children. For example:
- No longer can a teacher's quality be judged by the amount of homework assigned.
- Quiet and complacent kids are not necessarily signs of students engaged in learning.
- The teacher's content expertise should no longer be the controlling or limiting factor in a student's education.
- We do not need rows of desks to ensure attention.
- All learning is not limited to the classroom.
We are struggling today to bring teachers up to speed with all of the effects that result from our living in a technology-driven society. It has had a profound effect on many educators' pedagogy, methodology, and education philosophy. Education is a conservative institution that is slow to change, but make no mistake -- changes are occurring. As big of a struggle as it may be to affect the mindset of educators while they model and share those changes with their students, we must recognize that parents are left almost entirely out of the process.
Keeping Parents Informed
If we don't want an adversarial relationship with parents, we need to educate them about the education of their children. Technology provides a number of methods for keeping parents informed. Of course, the most effective way of all is a face-to-face meeting. In the past, Parents Night or Back to School Night was the standard way of informing parents about the teachers' expectations. It was one night set aside for parents to check out the mean teacher they had heard so much about at dinner. We probably need to make that a more collaborative process. These nights could be more effective if we allowed parents to pose sessions on topics that they had an interest in. Teachers could pose topics that they thought parents should be aware of. Back to School Night could be just that -- a night to learn about topics relevant to education in the 21st century. Sessions could be a hybrid form of the edcamp model.
A class website could be most helpful in creating transparency. Parents could access it at any time to see what is currently going on in class. Of course, this impacts a teacher as another set of things to do, so we should expect a great deal of support from the district in order for teachers to accomplish this. Effective websites often result in parent support, as well as an appreciation for seeing their child's work being modeled online. Kids respond differently as well, since they now have a voice and an audience that includes their parents.
There are apps like Remind that allow teachers to communicate via text to parents without revealing the phone numbers of the teacher or parent. Communication of both good and bad news can happen instantaneously in a medium that many people are familiar with. A text doesn't take two days to go through the mail to be possibly swiped from the mailbox by a mail-notice-savvy student.
Teachers can preserve students' work in digital files or portfolios. These can be instantly shared with parents. Grades on a report card are only subjective promises of potential, while the portfolio shows the actual work, which is proof of achievement and hopefully an example of mastery.
Parent Education Starts With Us
Today, educators are doing many things that are not in the education experiences of parents or teachers. We can't expect parents to understand these new dynamics of education if they aren't taught about them. Age may produce wisdom, but relevance needs to be worked on every day. In addition to the load that teachers already carry, parent education needs to somehow become a priority. If we want our kids' education to last, they will need models that both teachers and parents can provide. And we have to work harder at keeping parents in the loop.
How do you keep parents informed about and involved in what happens in the classroom?