As the COVID pandemic began quarantining students and teachers I started a podcast series for parents, that I have been continuing, to support parents in a role of “learning coach”. I created blogs to encourage educators to invite and assist parents in a partnership for maximizing student learning. (Here is another post.)
The Harvard Family Research Project identified that school districts with parent engagement programs that truly impact student learning “…move beyond the traditional notion of family engagement, which focuses on parents attending events at the school, to recognizing that sometimes schools cannot “see,” but can still support, one of the most important parts of family engagement: what happens at home.”
As a new school year is beginning with many different teaching and learning scenarios in place, from total virtual to mixtures of students in school and at home to some schools teaching in classrooms and with the concerns of teachers, parents , and students impacting emotions, focusing on partnerships with parents is critical. A school leader shared the diagram below with me, and I found it to be helpful in exploring possibilities and assessing current parent-teacher communication practice. (You can download The Parent Engagement Curve and an accompanying white paper from One Green Apple here.)
As the depth and the complexity of the engagement increases the positive impact on student success increases.
At the one-way spot information may flow from the school to the parent. If that information is clear and moves beyond a general report on “what we are doing at school” to include specific information on what and how a learner is doing a parent may be triggered to ask some questions: “About how long would you expect Cheryl to need to spend to complete the writing assignment?” What kind of help might I provide?” (Questions move the process to bi-directional.)
As a teacher responds to a parent’s question, the opportunity for a dialogue can occur. “Helping Cheryl find a place and time where distractions are minimized might be an important first step. What are you noticing as she starts the task? How long does she seem focused? Understanding emerges for both the teacher and the parent as they are engaged in dialogue. The One Green Apple white paper noted that theses dialogues need to respect teachers’ and parents’ privacy and time and could occur in short messages almost like a text conversation back and forth.
Understanding is critical for both the teacher and the parent to provide the best support for learning. The parents understanding the teacher’s expectation, especially as it applies to their child, helps guide questions they should ask and information they should share. “Oh, so it’s not necessary for Cheryl to finish the assignment in a single work session?” The teacher understanding what’s happening at home helps her support student and parent. “It sounds like Cheryl is unclear about the next steps. Let me schedule her into my office hours spot for tomorrow. I’ll drop you a note after that.”
Through the understanding by parent and teacher a plan or strategy of learner support might emerge. (Collaboration) Teacher: “I am so glad that you spoke to me about Cheryl’s writing assignment. After meeting with her today, I could see she needed help in breaking the assignment into pieces and steps so that she can feel more successful with making progress. She and I mapped out a plan during our meeting today. I think she is ready to focus. It would be helpful if you could support her setting aside several half-hour blocks of time over the next three days for uninterrupted writing. Let me know what you see as she moves forward. Parent: “Will do”
The partnership level is reached when the plan is executed, assessed, and a feedback loop leads to adaptations. Teacher: “We are starting a new writing assignment and I asked Cheryl to send me her ideas on breaking it down to steps before she begins. I’ll give her feedback on it. Keep me posted on what you notice. I think she is more interested in this topic so persistence should be easier. Thanks for all your support.”
I think The Parent Engagement Curve can provide a structure for communication among teachers and administrators. It can be a reflective piece for coaches to explore with individual teachers. I’m sure the time invested in progress on the curve will benefit everyone. Dr. Susan M. Sheridan, director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families & Schools, University of Nebraska-Lincoln shared, “Research shows that when a partnership approach between parents and teachers is evident, children’s work habits, attitudes about school and grades improve. They demonstrate better social skills, fewer behavioral problems and a greater ability to adapt to situations and get along. And parents and teachers benefit, too. When working together as partners, it’s been found that parents and teachers communicate more effectively, develop stronger relationships with one another and develop skills to support children’s behaviors and learning.”