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Collaborating with Parents as Partners Supporting Learners

Happy Mother and Daughter Cheering“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”
– Jane D Hull, Governor of Arizona (1997 to 2003)

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as schools began moving to virtual learning at home for students, I began a new podcast series for parents. My first trigger to begin this task was finding the phrase “home-schooling” appearing in news broadcasts and social media. In homeschooling in most cases, parents are signing on to be a teacher.

Homeschooling is defined as the teaching of children at home, usually by parents (Source: Cambridge Dictionary).

I thought it important to communicate that schools were open, as many teachers were reminding us. The buildings were closed. Educators were hard at work. Often with trial and error, discovering new ways to provide instruction (teach). For me, the better word to describe what was happening was home learning. With school buildings open, students are learning at school and at home, as well as in their community. In a quarantine, the learning was now all at home. In this environment the role for parents was supporting learning. I might describe it as a learning coach. Rather than instructing or teaching the content, the learning coach supports the student behaviors that will lead to the learning outcome being reach.

My thinking was reinforced in an Forbes article, Parent Involvement Has Always Mattered: Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Finally Make This The New Normal In K-12 Education? by Colin Seal. He states, “There is a powerful case for making meaningful parental engagement a critical piece of what K-12 education looks like during and after this pandemic.”

Seal interviewed Alejandro Gac-Artigas, the Founder and CEO of Springboard Collaborative, an organization whose vision is to close the literacy gap by closing the gap between home and school. Gac-Artigas proposes, “The only way to prevent COVID-19 from deepening the inequality for an entire generation of children is to equip families to support learning at home. This is especially true in the pivotal early grades, in which children’s learning requires frequent adult facilitation…there is no going around low-income parents. We must work with them and through them, otherwise the achievement gap will continue to grow with every passing day of school closures.”

For parents to be learning coaches, they need to know what the “learning production” behaviors are. Learning production behaviors are the actions that one engages in that produce the desired learning outcomes. I was with my granddaughter when she first came home from school with her new instrument, a flute. I could not teach her to play it. Fortunately, she could explain what the first learning production behavior was, that she needed to implement. Taking just the first piece of the flute from the case, she blew across the mouthpiece and informed me that she needed to create a noise that lasted 10 seconds. With that instruction, my coaching of her learning could begin. When there was no noise produced, I encouraged, “Try again and again.” As noise began, I tracked the time and cheered as the seconds progressed from 3 to 6 to 9 to 12. We celebrated exceeding the goal.

As I spoke with teachers and administrators during the first days of virtual teaching, I recognized the need to focus on learning production behaviors. Firstly, teachers needed to consider what learning production behaviors were needed to generate the desired learning outcomes. Then teachers needed to look at the design of the learning tasks they provided students. Where the tasks likely to generate the needed learner behaviors? As I explored further, this question emerged, Do the students know what learning production behaviors they should be implementing? (As my granddaughter did with her flute). For the younger students, the question was also do the parents know what the learning production behaviors were and how they could coach them.

Gac-Artigas shared a powerful example of coaching learning production behaviors: Approximately one-third of the parents they serve can’t read the book their child is holding, because of either a literacy or language barrier. Nevertheless, these parents can help (coach) their children by engaging them in dialogue, asking questions before, during, and after reading. Non-literate parents with only 15 minutes to spare can help their kids learn to read.

“Parents learn how to be effective home literacy coaches.”
— Gac-Artigas

The Springboard Collaborative resources for parents provides guidance in coaching learning production behaviors. In this video Feeling Frustrated? That’s OK! Parents are given strategies for understanding that frustration is often part of learning and ways to give just the right amount of support to keep the learner engaged in reading.

As we move to more “school site” learning, what is the partnership we want with parents? During virtual learning, I heard frustrated teachers unable to assess students’ work/learning because of “parent help” state we need parents not to help so much. I think our statement needs to be “we want parents to help as learning coaches.” In asking for that support we need to be clear on what learning production behaviors students need to execute and what suggested coaching behaviors will best support.

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