How Teachers and Guardians can Work Together

This morning, the entire faculty and administration of South Greenville Elementary School in sweaty North Carolina walked through the projects where most of their students live. People stepped out onto religiously trimmed lawns to wave and smile.

“What are y’all doing here?” shouted one parent.

“Visiting,” a teacher hollered back. In fact, the school personnel were doing far more than visiting. En masse, they were putting the community on notice that home and school partnership is critical.

Confirming parents’ perceptions, a majority of surveyed k-12 instructors revealed that they liked the idea of guardians donating materials, tutoring, grading, or volunteering for field trip duties, but didn’t see the value of welcoming guardians’ input into their practices. The implicit message from that decade-old study: leave teaching to those with education degrees and classroom experience.

The problem with framing parent involvement as “assisting the experts” is that this notion fails to acknowledge that guardians hold expert knowledge about their kids. Another whopping problem: public schools serve at the pleasure of community stakeholders, not the other way around.

What are ways that parents can help teachers?

Parents can contribute to schools in multiple ways. For instance, they can help teachers understand what kind of instructional approaches, assignments, and communication most resonates with their children.

Another area of support addresses the fact that teaching is an emotionally concentrated and draining profession. To help instructors manifest generous hearts with all kids, parents might send a pack of Berry Pomegranate Clif bars with a note, like the one from Elizabeth Laing Thompson: “After a few months, you understood things about my kids that I thought only I knew: the way [my daughter] chews her eraser when she’s nervous” and you “…hugged [my daughter and son] when they fell on the playground, and I wasn’t there.”

How can teachers help parents?

Parents might not understand learning jargon and research without teachers providing that information. When they understand constructivism and “the” writing process, parents are better able to accelerate learning for their kids. Sending letters to parents about classroom procedures, fifth grade teacher Randi Finley supports her suggestions with research:

Please have your child read at least 20 minutes every night. According to former president of the International Reading Association, Richard Allington, “A fifth grader that reads an average of 40 minutes per day is likely to score in the 90th percentile on reading assessments. They read an average of 2,357,000 words in a year. A fifth grader who reads an average of 13 minutes a day is likely to be near the 10th percentile on the same test, and read only 51,000 words per year.” (Source: Haugen’s 5th Grade News)

Superpowers unite!

Finally, parents and teachers can help all students by coordinating campaigns to stop…

· counterproductive high stakes tests;

· the use of scripted curriculum;

· the school to prison pipeline;

· undemocratic school reforms that do not invite teacher and parent input;

· school cutbacks.

We’re on the same side. And we should act like it.

This is a far cry from ten years ago when a Parent for Public Schools survey of a nearby community revealed that most of the parents believed that teachers didn’t want their input about teaching and learning strategies—attitudes exacerbated by a history of classrooms trying to stomp out minority language and culture.

Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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