Improving Parental Involvement in Children's Education

DAY THREE SUMMARYYesterday's contributors included the head of a teachers college, a school principal, two PTA executive members, a teacher, a parent, and the two discussion moderators.  The dialogue was very stimulating and a challenge to summarise, but here are some of the key points I drew from the exchanges:1.   When the school leadership, or even just one teacher, shows interest in individual parents and seeks ways to engage them, there are "win-win" outcomes--children do better, parents feel valued, and the school benefits from greater cooperation and participation.  Both research and personal testimony were used to underscore this point.2.   When teachers listen to what parents have to tell them about their children, they can learn how best to deal with individual children's different learning styles.  Parents often do not have the confidence to express what they know, but teachers can encourage this and learn from it.3.   Home visits are great ways for teachers to get to know the background and families of the children in their classrooms.  As one contributor said, "I got my students to do so much more.  I made them accountable because they and their parents realised I was deeply interested in their welfare".  I heard a school principal recently assert that her teaching staff MUST do home visits regularly as part of their job; parent participation in her urban school is very strong.  (So Christopher, it's not only possible in "ol' time rural Jamaica!)4.   Parents who "neglect their God-given responsibilities in taking care of their children" (as one contributor put it) can be very discouraging to teachers and school administrators.  However, experience demonstrates that "shaming and blaming" parents (e.g. treating them like children) rarely has positive effect, but rather pushes them away from cooperating.  Instead, appealing to the strengths or aspirations which all parents have in some degree can go much further in engaging them in dialogue and cooperation on goals for their children.  Parents in all strata "want the best for their children"; finding a way to connect positively with that aspiration is the challenge.5.   It is unfortunate that to date few current classroom teachers have waded in on this discussion.  This is a very busy end-of-year period for them, so it is understandable.  It would not be surprising if some didn't feel defensive at some of the suggestions in this discussion that school climates often discourage parent participation.  Some might say:  "But we are overworked as it is!  And underpaid!  What more can you expect us to do...take on the parents as well?"  While we can empathise with this reality for our teachers, there is sufficient evidence within our schools that when teachers DO engage with parents in relation to both their children's and the school's goals, their own work can be eased--both because they get concrete help from the parents, but also because the children respond better to this expression of personal interest.6.   It was very encouraging to read the day's exchanges between two PTA executive members from two different schools.  From the examples they offered of ways in which parents can become engaged, it is clear that the teachers do not have to carry the responsibility of parent involvement alone.  A vibrant PTA can go a long way in assisting the school administration and teachers to engage parents in a variety of meaningful ways.  It was most encouraging to read that these two schools plan to have dialogue on ways to broaden and enrich the parent school engagement opportunities, and that they commend to the National PTA organisation some of the ideas which have been proffered within this four-day discussion.7.    Finally, we were cautioned against generalising about parents, as is often done in public statements.  There are deeply engaged and concerned parents at all levels of society, and there are too-young or unprepared or overstressed parents overwhelmed with the requirements of their children, and there are many variants in between these extremes.  We do well to avoid generalising about the parent populations of our schools, and instead seek ways to know the personal situations, as well as the individual talents and interests which every parent body offers to a school, in order to design avenues for more and more parents to feel a part of their childrn's education and personal development.Grace and I are enjoying the discussions.  Today we hope there are more specific ideas and experiences shared that can re-inspire us to take up the challenge of aiding parents in their investments in their children.  We can only gain from such endeavours.  Have a great day!   

Comments (22)

Grace-Camille_Munroe's picture
Grace-Camille_Munroe

Janet:Thank you for this succinct summary. Like you, I am encouraged by the contributions so far; however, disappointed that teachers have not waded in on the discussion. I hope today that will change. I am looking for the somE vibrant inputs, especially concrete strategies/best practices being used in our context to promote parent involvement.

Grace-Camille_Munroe's picture
Grace-Camille_Munroe

Mrs.McLean:Thanks for participating. 

Carol Williams's picture
Carol Williams

Last night  I stumbeled on a discussion on television about the performance of the education system. As is ineviatble, the discussion turned to parents and their role. The Executive Director of the Jamaica Lifelong Learning Foundation spoke about the importantce of  adult literacy to improvements in parental involvement. She mentioned the work the Foundation was doing in schcools to help parents to feel better about their own abilities, give them a voice, help them to be able to ask the 'right questions' about their children's progress and guide them as to how to assist their children at home. This is very very encouraging as one of the real barriers as we have discussed, is the confidence of parents to engage schools in meanigful assessments of their children's progress. This is a far greater barrier for low-literacy parents and it is good that the adult literacy machinery has made this important connection between parents' own 'educational confidence' and their involvement. Are literacy classes for parents something that we think can eventually become a common feature in our schools? Does this seem like a workable and desirable strategy?

Pauline M. Bain's picture
Pauline M. Bain

Mrsdouglas 's picture
Mrsdouglas

Schools can be used in the evening for Adult Education (please do not tell me about violence) City and Guilds do level one basic basic English for Office and English for Business which is very good and not like literacy for non readers at all. Some of the 'at risk' cash mountain could be channelled to the parents as some of them are already in that category.It seems like such a waste to see schools close down each afternoon when adults want to learn. Some brave high schools downtown already have this programme up and running in the COP or is it CAP programme , it is possible. The Jamaica Association of retired teachers are available as well as others who are no longer allowed to work in schools due to the age factor, all you have to do is ask.

Mrsdouglas 's picture
Mrsdouglas

Well done Janet Brown all there is to do now is to get this out to every teacher, in every school. it will make their day at school so much better.

cecille young's picture
cecille young

I'm a classroom teacher. I've been following this post and here is my contribution. I currently teach grade4 at an inner city school. recently we've initiated a wave of parental involvement activities:Parent seminars (literacy focus)Parent and child spelling competition parent and child writing workshopshome calls and visits and our new principal has included a parental involvement component to our report reform. The activities are well supported by both fathers and mothers. Parents are eager to support their children. Schools just have to see parental involvement as part of their responsibilities.Keep up the good work.Regards,Cecille

Janet_Brown's picture
Janet_Brown

I think this last contributor (at almost midnight!) is a fitting closure to the four days of conversations. More still may come in after Friday, but they will only further enrich the discussion. Cecille Young sums up very clearly what can happen when the whole school takes on the challenge of engaging parents more meaningfully. And the results tell the tale. Congratulations on this effort; the more examples like this that are out there and working, the more swiftly others will be convinced that "climate change" is a win-win solution to parent involvement.Janet Brown

Mrsdouglas 's picture
Mrsdouglas

HELLO I just read your post Janet I was preaching a whole school approach to parents as partners, towards individual needs and differences and behaviour change since in 1998. Why am I unable to work, even part time, because I am 62? All the best.

Janet_Brown's picture
Janet_Brown

Mrs. Douglas,You never have to stop working--you just may not get paid!! I think you're a perfect enlistee for the new Parents' Place initiative of the MOE. Parenting Partners is the consultant/driver for that strategy. I'll attach a one-page intro to the idea and then, if you are interested in learning more, let me know.Janet B.P.S. As Thomas Edison is credited with saying: Opportunity is often missed because it comes dressed in overalls!

Pages