George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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?

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Jan Kasal's picture

Great post, great comments. Smart parents never considered school as a day care institution. Is their number larger nowadays?

Joshua's picture
Parent; Lead Advocate at Rochester SAGE

My background: I am a parent, IT administrator, engineering graduate, and leader of a group of parents whose children have special learning needs (gifted). I include all of those for a reason.

As a parent, I have a vested interest in my child's education. I realize some parents do not take the time to understand what their children are learning in school. I do. We switched schools because of teachers with an attitude of "I'm a professional. I know what is best for your children. Do not question my decisions." Thankfully, our new school's teachers see parents as partners and work with them. Sadly, our district still does not. Our Strategic Planning session, kicked off by Will Richardson, involved parents in creating three nebulous goals. However, parents have had no input in putting these goals into action and our district shows no indication of following Mr. Richardson's suggestions either.

As an IT administrator, I recognize when technology launches new ways of thinking and experiencing the world. I also recognize when old processes are shoved into new technology. Sadly, most of the technological upgrades in schools have followed the latter. Since the process remains the same, please don't count us parents out as ignorant. Even if some of us don't know PowerPoint or Google, we understand creating reports and researching. If it is something drastically different, providing this information to parents will help us guide our children and increase the value of the parent-teacher partnership.

As an engineer, I have a strong math background. I recognize that there are new techniques being used. It isn't a waste sending an email home to me or other parents with a guide to the new technique and why it is being used. Otherwise, we may inadvertently undermine you. Our goal and your goal is the education of our children. Working together makes that easier!

As a leader in a group of parents with gifted children, many of us recognize that much of the partnership and communication problem starts with the school district. When our district decided to use I-Ready to assess students, they left it up to individual teachers and principals to communicate to parents information on the program. Some sent it out. Others did not. When our district created a committee to look at interventions for advanced learners, not a single parent was allowed on the committee. We may not know educational techniques - although many of my group are former teachers and do - but we can certainly give input on the question "Is my child getting a proper education to compete and thrive in our world?"

We parents want to partner with teachers on our children's education. We don't want to be viewed as the party planners, fundraisers, and homework enforcers, but as parents interested in our children's education. Sometimes we do need to be educated, but that education and partnership pays off for you, for us, and, most importantly, for the children.

Robert Schuetz's picture
Robert Schuetz
NBCT - Technology Coordinator, Innovation Coach

Your passion for your children's learning is evident. It would be a pleasure forging an educational partnership with you. Just as there are educators who are the exception to the rule, you are the exceptional parent. You are correct, communication and collaboration in communities of learning are the keys to improved outcomes.

forced2homeschool's picture

I'm sure the author means well. But as far as I can tell, the quality of teachers, broadly speaking, has never been judged by the amount of homework assigned.

Quiet and complacent kids were never "necessarily" signs of students engaged in learning.

All learning has never been limited to the classroom.

A teacher's content expertise shouldn't be "the controlling or limiting factor in a student's education," but it is unavoidably a limiting factor in what a particular teacher is able to teach.

We may not need "rows of desks to insure attention" (sic), but we don't ensure student attention by having them sit around on the floor like hippies in a commune, either.

But I am nitpicking. Please forgive me, but the major problem with this article is the underlying assumption that parents are stupid and just need to be "educated" about education. Parents know better than anyone whether their children are learning basic skills, particularly in elementary school.

Unfortunately, we have a whole generation of young elementary teachers who do not measure up to parents' expectations. For some reason, this generation of teachers has come to the conclusion that technology makes it unnecessary for young children to learn anything, really, other than how to hunt and peck on a computer keyboard.

Cursive handwriting is just one among a long list of basic skills that this dimwitted and arrogant generation of educators believe is beneath them to teach, on the grounds that technology makes it unnecessary for them to bother with anything so basic. Parents disagree, and rightly so. Instead of "Educating Parents About Education," a more useful and relevant article might be one bringing teachers up to speed on the expectations of parents.

TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

I found out pretty quickly, even though I tried, that you can't fix a kid's learning, behavior, or emotional disorders right there in third period while you're talking about the Battle of Gettysburg. I got some good advice from Principal Lurlene one time on that one when she said...Fix the behavior; not the kid. You don't have time to do any real fixing, she said, although we're all trying anyway. That's the job of their therapist. If their parents care enough to get them one.

So you want to become a teacher? I'll bet you're good at telling stories; you like to inform; you're probably real organized and real well read; and you're probably pretty decisive and confident in yourself. But how will you handle yourself when a kid is rude and disrespectful to you? Every day? Sometimes six or seven at a the same time? How about when a parent is rude and disrespectful to you when you've done nothing to deserve it?

Some parents hold their kids back academically, socially, athletically, recreationally, and philosophically through narcissistic reasons I will never understand.

I'm not a sex therapist, but I guess I look like one. In a parent-teacher conference, parents generally want to hear all you're willing to tell them about their child. But I think I speak for all teachers when I say that we don't really want to hear everything a mother wants to tell us about herself. Her very private sexy self. One time, in a conference, when it got a whole lot creepy and seemed like it was going to get even creepier, I finally held up my two hands and formed the "time-out" sign at the mother. And then I said to her...T-the-heck-M-I! The lady looked at me like I was crazy.

In another issue of "Just Busted" I spotted a picture of a mother of a former student. She used to come to conferences geeked up on prescription pills and wobble around in her chair and say things no one could understand, but we just kept on talking anyway so we could get it over with and get the heck out of there. She was a good looking gal; real rich, too, who dressed in some mighty sexy clothes for parent-teacher conferences. I was always legitimately fearful that one, or both, of her big boobs were going to flop out of her blouse and knock over her enormous water bottle. She was arrested for destruction of public property.

Manners! One day, right in the heat of a parent-teacher conference, it finally happened: a mother answered her cell phone and started yakking into it as if she was the only person in the room. We all looked at each other, dumbly. I finally said to the mother, with a wave of my hand...Please. Take your time. She did.

My parents, I'm fairly sure, don't believe the stories I tell them from time to time about my school day.

This would be a great place if it weren't for the fascinating crazy people. In another school there was an exasperating mother who roamed around the building during the school day, sometimes carrying around her little dog. Sometimes she wore her pajama pants. She never paid attention to her hair, but she did her son's homework perfectly. Nobody could do their jobs because she'd demand a parent-teacher conversation right then and there. We'd often find her aimlessly rifling through her son's locker. Sometimes she'd complain in detail about her husband to you. She repeated all of her stories. I got the husband story one time, two days in a row, word for word. She never knew when to stop talking. You literally had to walk away from her. It was finally time for action. We agreed that the first teacher to see her walking around the building would e-mail all the other teachers that she was in the building. I learned at lunch one day where everybody hid or what they'd say to her if they got caught out in the open. If you were a fly on the wall when that woman moped into the building you would have thought all the teachers had horrific urinary or bowel afflictions.

I never had a parent complain that their child wasn't getting enough homework.

The parents who complained about homework were the parents doing the homework.

Sometimes I gave out homework just to see, usually through handwriting and grammar and punctuation analysis, the sneaky ways parents who did the homework would try to make it look like their child did the homework. Other teachers did the same thing and it gave us even more fun things to laugh and cry about.

Parent trap. I'll never understand how a mom or dad would never attend--not one--of their child's basketball or soccer games or track and field meets. I will never, ever, ever, ever understand why.

Amy Peach's picture

The educator in me wants to shout "YES" in enthuasiastic agreement. The parent in me wants to roll my eyes. As a professional, I would like to know what my kids are doing in relation to the questions Will posed above. What I have to remember, though, is that the vast majority of parents don't know what to ask OR don't want to know.

Those of us in education have to be aware that our lens is playing a significant role in recent conversations about "parent involvement" or "parent education". I can't make the mistake of assuming all parents care about these paradigm shifts. What I do need to do when meeting them is keep my mouth shut. What are the issues that concern them most? It's true (as many here have said) that some parents just don't know what they don't know. But rather than provide a monthly 2-hour workshop (which I think everyone will find is sparsely attended), start with just one question: what was your best/worst memory of school and how do you want that repeated/stopped with your son or daughter? Listening carefully to the answer will drive the creative genius in you to connect the dots and use that as a catalyst for a conversation about one specific change in education that this parent would find useful. No time for individual conversations? Try social media.

Edith Ekun's picture

I particularly support the idea of keeping parents informed about happenings in the school. This is because it puts the home and school at par with the school in achieving the goals and objectives of the school. In my school, we hold parent-teacher conferences which sometimes include the students during which parents are enlightened about what the children do in school. This gives them an opportunity to display their confidence and knowledge. Also, we hold PTA meetings and welcome back programs for members of the school community. In addition to these, newsletters are also sent to parents on a weekly basis.

Amy Peach's picture

I like your comment about parent conferences. My daughter is in middle school and this is the first year she will be running the "student conference". While the teacher will be there, she needs to outline which objectives she has met and what she has to work on. A great way to empower kids to take care of their own issues.

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