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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Parents as Partners

By Peter DeWitt — September 20, 2011 3 min read
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Children have the greatest chance of reaching their potential and becoming positive members of the school community if schools treat parents as partners" (Wood, 2011, p.98).

We all want to help our children be successful at school. No one wants to see their child struggle, because it leads to frustration and anger. Sometimes if a child struggles, it can lead to a sense of failure and negative attitudes about school which leads to disengagement.

During these times of increased mandates due to NCLB and the pressure of high stakes testing, the home-school partnership is more important than ever. Parents and educators must work together to get a better understanding of one another.

Parental involvement is a key element in a child’s success in school. There have been many studies on the importance of parental involvement (i.e. Parental Involvement Is as Easy as PIE!, Hopkings 2004, America’s Smallest School: The Family, Barton, Coley 1992). Students who have involved parents do better in school.

When parents take time to build vocabulary with their children through conversations, those children enter school with a larger vocabulary than their peers who lacked that experience (Rothstein, 2004). Many educators love seeing parents volunteer in the classroom, help children with homework by checking it to make sure it is correct and attend school events to support their children. That involvement helps to build a stronger school community.

The Home-School Partnership is About Balance
Some parents care so much about their child’s success that they can become too involved in the day-to-day routine. Too involved means parents who feel the need to do their child’s homework for them. That does not mean completing the last couple of math problems on a worksheet. It means completing a class project without a great deal of child input. When this happens, the child is being set up for failure, not success.

Small children need to have their parents check their book bags when they get home from school, and make sure they are packed correctly before they leave for school in the morning. However, many times educators see students who are in middle and high school not taking responsibility for items left at home. Sometimes parents want so much to be involved in their child’s lives that they end up enabling them so they don’t learn how to be responsible for themselves.

The home-school connection needs to be about balance. Children need to be allowed to make their own mistakes. Children often learn valuable lessons through those mistakes. It helps build resiliency and provides life lessons that will help them in the future when they enter adulthood. The following are some ways to help children negotiate their way through school:

Helpful Tips
Tips to Help Build Parental Involvement.

Number One: Allow your children to complete tasks on their own.

Children should:
Pick up their bedroom Have chores they need to be responsible for like taking out the garbage or helping with dishes. Work out their problems on their own first. If they still need help after that, then intervene. Do their homework on their own. If they have homework, make sure they follow through on the responsibility. Check their homework after they're done (However, if they are really having a hard time with it, then intervene). If they decide not to complete their homework, let them deal with the consequences at school. They may not make the same mistake twice.

Number Two: Praise your children when they show responsibility.

Statistic: For every one positive comment a child hears ten negative. Children can never hear that you love them enough. Let them know it everyday. No need to buy them a gift for completing a chore. A nice compliment is enough.

Number Three: Teachable Moments

When a child neglects a responsibility. It's a perfect time to teach them about responsibility when they make mistakes. Help your child find different coping skills for when they make mistakes. Coping skills will help them the next time they run into a problem (i.e. Taking a walk, with supervision, when they are angry, writing a list of pros and cons, talking their feelings out with an adult, etc).

Rule Four: You’re the role model.

No one makes a larger impact on their children than their parents. Spend some quality time with your children because that is what they really want from you.

Recognize that there will be times when your child will be frustrated by a difficult task. Resist the temptation to solve the problem yourself. Problem solving skills are a necessary skill for life. Your child will learn and grow from this experience and will emerge with confidence to face the next challenge.

What Parents Want
Parents want to know that the needs of their children are being met. Schools cannot always make changes to accommodate parents but they can take the time to listen to their input, especially when it affects children. In addition, they also want to know that their child is more than just a number (i.e. state exams, etc.).

Schools should consider the following when working with parents:

Communication is an ever-evolving goal because it can always be improved. Schools should use e-mail blasts, school websites, newsletters, PTA meetings and other avenues to build communication with parents. Work with parent volunteers on creating events for children (Book fairs, assemblies, weekend events, etc.) When parents contact teachers and administrators, no matter the issue, they should receive a response within 24 hours. Schools need to understand that, by offering input, parents are not telling them how to do their job, they just want to play an active role in the lives of their children.

Better Understanding

During these times of financial stress, defeated school budgets and major buget cuts, this is an important time for educators and parents to get a better understanding of one another. Both groups share a common goal, which is to educate children, but there are times when educators and parents have different ideas on how that goal can be accomplished.

Communication is the most important element in creating a positive school culture between parents and educators. A successful school community includes students, staff, teachers and parents. All of those stakeholders have the opportunity to form important bonds that can last a lifetime. Just like any relationship, the one between home and school takes time, commitment and trust. However, the benefits of a strong relationship between school and home can outweigh the work it takes to get there.

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Rothstein, R. (2004). Class and Schools. In R. Rothestein, Class and Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wood, Chip & Babs Freeman-Loftis (2011). Responsive School Discipline. Northeast Foundation for Children. Turners Falls, MA.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.