Engaging Parents

parent-teacher_communication1While I was thumbing through the intermingled stream of information as it shows up on the web, I came across an article that was proposing a different approach to communication with parents.  The post itself was rather deplete of any new ideas on how to build a stronger bridge between parents and schools.  What I found remarkable was not the content of the post, but some of the comments that were hosted at the bottom of this page.  As most of us know, there are more than enough ‘haters’ willing to offer their vitriolic and divisive ‘words of wisdom’ in this section.  The level of anonymity that the comments section provides allows people to spout off just about anything that comes to their mind and transcends itself, without thought, into nasty and often regrettable words.  

One of the posters made a comment to effect that some parents simply “do not care” and no matter what we do they never will.  I usually passively discount posts in the comments section and neglect to reply, but I needed to shed light to this misinformed individual.  The presence of knowledge, empathy and love are some of the only tools that we have to bring light to the darkness and drive out hate.  The chance that this individual or others see what is said and move a little closer to recognition and understanding, is worth the 5 minutes that it took me to respond.

My reply is as follows:

We cannot say that parents do not care.  Nearly every parent cares about the wellbeing of their child.  When people say ‘don’t care’, it is incorrect.  What  is being said is that ways that they care might not show up in the context of what the culture in power deems as caring.  We must realize that parents who might fail to be directly involved with their student’s education might be coming from a place where they have had bad experiences of their own with the educational system.  They may not feel that they have a voice in system.  In many cases, they may be correct.  We need to move away from thinking about the different ways that we can reach out to parents through social media, e-mail, etc and move towards a system that starts in the truth of the relationships of students, parents and stakeholders to the system and the people in the system.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

I chose to use this platform as a way to shed a little more light on this issue and further expand on my thoughts as to why we need to begin with understanding the truths of the populations that we serve.  Throughout my years of education, I have never found a parent who simply did not care about the success and wellbeing of their child.   The way that parents show that they care varies from culture to culture.  As educators, we must realize that it doesn’t always show up in parental engagement in schools.  Although, at times, it may be more difficult to recognize the ways in which a parents show that they care, one thing that I know to be true: They care.  

It Starts in the Classroom

Although we may have never met a parent, we can be almost certain that our names have come up in conversation and are familiar.  In this way, the narrative of whether we are doing what is in the best interest of their child or not has already been created.  Over the years, I have found that a person’s perception is reality.  Whether our name is one that is used positively is not always in our control, but it often is.  It starts with the way that we treat the young people who exist in our classroom spaces.  Do we start with kindness, empathy and respect or are mean, dismissive, and disrespectful?  Are we showing our students that we care and we are looking out for what is best for them?

I have had more than one parent conversation where the parent was immediately drawn to the tabled because of the way that their child described me as a teacher.  There are many ways of showing a child that you are looking out for their well-being. No matter the way that we choose, we need to be sure that we are making our best attempt to do so.

Honor the Truth of the Community We Serve

One of the things that we must do as educators is to constantly check our biases and the biases that exist within the institution that we serve.  There are a variety of levels of comfort with engaging in the school system that exist within the parent community.  For some parents, their own experience with school may not have been positive.  For this very reason, they may feel uncomfortable navigating the system and are far less likely to become highly engaged in the process.

Often schools are set up to serve the type of parent is already a part of the system. How are we working to make a space at the table for all parents?

Additionally, many schools only make time during work hours for parents to come in and meet with teachers.  This very system is based out of inequity.  There are many parents who may not be able to come in during these times and are therefore unable to attend important meetings.  If we value the voices of our parents, we must look for better options for parents to become engaged in the process of education.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I have heard many different people pointing to the fact that some parents do not show up to school in an effort to show that parents simply do not care about their children. This statement couldn’t be further from the truth.  In order to begin to create a bridge between parents and the school, we must first begin by listening to the truths of the people who we serve.  If we do not first acknowledge their truths, then we risk widening the divide and rather than narrowing it.  We must work to bring the parents to the table to build a coalition rather than pointing fingers and placing blame.  It takes a community to raise a child and we must make space at the table for all voices to show up.  That often times involves reaching out in different ways that go beyond the norm.

Finger pointing and placing blame is not a tactic that works to solve anything.  If we truly want to build a coalition that bridges the gap between parents and the school community. Doing this starts with understanding the truth of the people in the communities that we serve.  We must help parents build the tools to effectively engage with the school system.  The responsibility for fostering the growth of the whole child is one that we all share.

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