Wednesday, April 17, 2013

partnering with parents

With spring parent-teacher conferences coming up for many of you, I've been thinking quite a bit about parent involvement in schools. I've always been a strong supporter of working with parents and communities to support student learning.

So I was interested in a recent article in the Washington Post, "Is Parent Involvement in School Really Useful" by Alfie Kohn, that really called into question some of my assumptions about parent involvement.While I don't agree with everything in the article, any time that I have to challenge my assumptions and think critically about my beliefs is a worthy exercise.

One of the points Kohn makes is that parent involvement as a benefit to students is a statement unquestioned. Schools and educators take this for granted, that this is a positive thing for students. And that when schools talk about parent involvement, the discussion is centered on a dichotomy of parent involvement: parents are either not involved or involved too much, which leads to perhaps an unrealistic ideal of parent involvement, some sweet-spot between "no involvement" and "helicopter-parent."But, for example, Kohn writes that research has shown that parents' help with homework does not improve learning outcomes. Interesting stuff.

What's often missing from the dialogue around parent involvement, Kohn argues, are the parent and student perspectives. And an examination to what kind of parent involvement really does make a difference in student learning. He's not saying that parent involvement is bad, but that schools need to reconsider how they work with parents to keep students at the center and therefore, to best meet the needs of students. And that's what it is all about, right, and what your PLC and PD and staff meetings are all centered on - meeting the needs of students in the most effective way.

Keeping these questions in mind, there are a number of resources to help you think about parent involvement in schools. There's a May 2011 issue of Educational Leadership that is stuffed with ideas about the integrated work of schools, parents, and communities (and several of the articles are available to anyone whether or not they are a member). The National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education has many resources at their site. The Harvard Family Research Project has a number of interesting initiatives happening, and I found their newsletter to be particularly relevant for teachers. Reading Rockets has more resources at their site. There's also twitter chat happening tonight (4/17) around this topic.

How do you work to engage parents in a way that keeps the engagement centered on the needs of students? What has worked for you? What is challenging?


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