Parents as Meaningful Partners in Education

This post was originally written for the White House Champions of Change series and was published last week by Parenting on the Mom Congress blog.   As I prepare for my speaking gig at the #140 Conference on Education I thought I’d share what I’m working on and what I plan on talking about…

How many times during the year are you in your child’s school?  How many times have you been invited inside the classroom to celebrate the good, as opposed to deal with the bad?  Could you articulate what your child is supposed to learn this year?  Do you know the academic goals?  The discipline procedures?  The expectations being set for your child – or more importantly if any expectations are being set for your child?  These are the questions I grapple with every week along with my fellow Parents Association (PA) CO-President, other leadership parents, our administration and our teachers as we try to figure out how to create a strong bridge between home and school and engage our parents in a real way.

One thing I’ve learned since being involved in my daughters’ large NYC public school is that there is a disconnect between the amount of information teachers think they are giving parents and the amount of information parents feel they are receiving.  After attending the Parenting Magazine Mom Congress and meeting women from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, I know that our school is not unique in trying to figure out this dilemma.  The common theme is that parents want concrete, clear goals for their children.  They want to understand how material is being presented – particularly in math – and they want to know how to help at home.  It’s impossible to be a partner in anything, let alone your child’s education if you don’t what you’re working toward.

What do parents need from teachers and administrators to be effective partners?

  1. Clear curriculum goals for the year.  Just like in college when everyone gets a syllabus why shouldn’t elementary schools kids have the same framework for their learning over the course of the year?  Of course teachers should have wiggle room, and the ability to update as the year goes on, but seeing a roadmap for the year gives everyone a plan they can refer to when goals seem elusive.
  2. Celebrate the positive.  Invite parents in the classroom for end of curriculum open houses so parents can review their child’s body of work, see the work of all the kids, connect with each other, and feel a part of the classroom.  Tell parents when kids are excelling or do something special rather than just the bad behavior or struggles.
  3. Curriculum mornings or evenings on a grade wide basis to talk about literacy and math.  Put materials in non-educator speak, demystify acronyms and take questions.
  4. Monthly parent newsletter or email from the teacher for curriculum updates.  Clear, short and to the point.  Teachers seem to think that kids tell their parents everything that is going on in the classroom – they don’t, not by a long shot.

It’s not a bridge unless both sides are willing to meet halfway.  So parents – don’t come in angry, defensive and entitled.  I’m not talking about when things have gone very wrong and a child was harmed – I mean stand up and have a conversation about issues before they turn into debacles.  Articulate what you need and where you are coming from without boiling over with anger.

Engagement works both ways.  We throw a huge teacher appreciation dinner midway through the year as well as provide dinner for the teachers during parent/teacher conferences.  These events are filled with homemade food, a lot of thought and hours of volunteer time, but it’s important to let teachers know we value their time and hard work.

In the end it always boils down to clear communication.  The more parents know the more they can help.  And if the grownups can’t figure out how to talk to each other how can we ever expect our children to do better?

Parental Involvement in Schools – How Thomas Friedman Missed the Point

This past week Thomas Friedman wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times, U.S.G and P.T.A, about parental involvement making a difference in student achievement.  When I first read the article I yawned.  Tell me something I don’t know.  Kids do better when parents are involved?  Of course.  Kids do better when parents lay down boundaries, set expectations and create study spaces and structure?  Obviously.  None of this is new or interesting to me.  I’m not sure what his point was other than to say American parents have become lazy while first generation parents are way more effective at encouraging and pushing their children to excel.  Again – snore.  What was actually interesting to me in this article was how off the mark and off point it really was when trying to talk about the role of the P.T.A.

As Co-President of the Parents Association of my daughters’ large NYC public elementary school I have seen the benefits and limits of parental participation.  As budget cuts have slashed every cent of our school budget down to the very core – teachers and staff only – parents have had to pick up the slack to pay for everything from paper and supplies to substitute teachers to professional development for teachers.  Our parents are in our school everyday – helping in classrooms, overseeing a new healthy school lunch program, raising money, coordinating assemblies, dealing with overcrowding and rezoning issues – the extent of the involvement goes way beyond the normal into areas that used be covered by actual Department of Education employees but now have to be done purely by volunteers.  Yet, with all of this involvement the one thing Thomas Friedman harps on is perhaps the hardest to achieve – the extension of the school into the home rather than the other way around – and this cannot fully lie at the feet of parents.

Parents can only be as effective as a school lets them be.  A parent cannot help with homework if they themselves do not understand it.  Parents cannot help a child reach academic goals if those goals have not been clearly defined by administration and teachers.  Parents cannot be the regulators of technology in the home unless they have a thorough understanding of how that technology needs to be used for classwork vs. fun.  All of these aspects of helping a child succeed take some teaching from school to parent.  If schools truly want a partnership with parents then they have to be willing to put in the time and thought to let parents know what is expected of them, and the tools to make it happen.

Yes, there has to be some parental responsibility.  I am constantly working and talking with other bloggers about social media and technology in our children’s lives.  I often find myself repeating the same mantra, “Parenting doesn’t stop at the screen.”  So no your kids shouldn’t have their cellphones near them when they work at home, and there are endless ways to track your child’s online activity.  But, in my mind, while parents need to be pushing their kids to excel academically they also need to do something bigger – VOTE.  Vote for candidates that actually have a plan for education, not just charter school mania and Race To the Top.  Show up – at parent teacher conferences, at PTA meetings, at community board meetings – and make your voice heard.

Hold people accountable.  Your kids are a good place to start but don’t stop there. Hold administration and teachers accountable for providing clear and consistent academic goals and curriculum information (we’re still working on this at our school).  And hold yourself accountable for providing a space where your child can do their work, for making it clear that you expect your child to do their best, and to impart to your kids that school is important and that learning is something that never ends.   But, most of all, hold your elected officials accountable for funding schools properly, for giving teachers professional development funding instead of just putting all the money into evaluation systems and for giving our kids and parents the resources to learn at school and at home.

That’s the true power of PTAs – banding parents together to create a deafening voice that cannot be ignored.  Thomas Friedman may be sounding the bell of laziness and apathy (which is ironic since every other day we are told there is an epidemic of helicopter parents) but everyday I see the tremendous efforts of parents to enrich our school, thank and encourage our teachers and make public officials take schools seriously.  I don’t think we need the Education Secretary to tell parents how to get involved, I think we need the Education Secretary to look at successful PTAs and learn from us instead.

Live Blogging My Call With Katie Couric

Katie CouricI am on a conference call with Katie Couric, discussing kids and the recession:  Children of the Recession.

So far introductions all around.  CBS News is concentrating on how the recession is impacting children. 6:30pm Evening News, and the Early Show.   Go to cbsnews.com to view all of these insightful and important stories launching this week.

In LA abuse and neglect cases on the rise, ER visits are up – is it better reporting or is it a true social crisis?  Most experts say it is a direct increase related to in home stress.

How are kids manifesting the psychological impact of their parents’ stress.  The schools are taking on the job of grocery store, psychologist, office supplies, wardrobe supplier.  Kids know what is going on.  They need to talk about it and be a part of it.  Can kids learn effectively with this kind of stress going on?

This focus by CBS News is really important because there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to kids and family and the recession.  For example, 20% of families are forgoing medical care or dental care because of the economy.

11:29 am:

Healthcare:  Huge increase in families going to free or mobile clinics who never thought they’d use one, but now they’ve lost their job and/or insurance.

SCHIP medical insurance will only cover about 1/2 the eligible children.

Are small grassroots efforts making a difference?  Safe Families is one example of a small group which has grown to seven cities.  They take in kids on a temporary basis while their parents get on back on their feet.

Would Michelle Obama want to take this up as her mission as First Lady?  In this rescession, if she is focusing on family wouldn’t this be a natural extension?

Tomorrow on the Early Show they are going to be covering how to talk to your kids about the economy.

11:40

What’s your local idea?  What’s going on in your home/school/region?  Do you have a resource you want to share?  Are you in need?

11:45

How is the economy impacting nutrition and grocery shopping?  21% of families are buying more generics and cheaper food.  Are they buying less healthy food?  More fast food?  Or is this an opportunity to get back to healthier eating at home?  More vegetables and fruit?  Duke University says that cheaper food usually means fattier, less healthful food.  Will this also effect school lunch?

11:52

I get a question in!  How about our public schools bearing the brunt of the impact on children?  Record number of Kindergarteners in NYC public schools.  Huge increase in kids leaving private schools for public.  Can the schools be expected to deal with this influx of kids and yet have the same budgets, keep class size down, and not lose what makes a school special – an art room, music, science, etc.  There’s a story there…

Now we’re talking about the other side of fear – shame.  What is the support available for parents?  How can they not be isolated or feel like they personally failed.  Will people be willing to talk about it?

The childcare case workers that are now overwhelmed?  Are there services being provided for them?  Some regions are actuallly cutting these workers because of budget cuts just when more of them are needed.

12:00 pm

Check out the Evening News with Katie Couric for all of these stories.  On cbsnews.com you can find the links and stories and follow the series, Children of the Recession.  Get help, get resources and get involved.

How are Katie Couric and her staff dealing with covering these stories?  She feels like now more than ever this kind of journalism is necessary.  This is the work she is truly proud of.  They are trying to tie it all together with bloggers and local resources and form a plan of action.  In my opinion, this is why network and big journalism is necessary.  Who else can do this?  Who else will relentlessly pursue these issues and tie all of these resources together?  Right now, it’s Katie Couric and CBS News.  So, good for them, good for us.

This is an original beccarama.com post

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Am I a Bad Mom for Not Worrying About Swine Flu?

swine_flu_pig

Today a fellow mom in my daughter’s class told me that her doctor husband wanted to keep their daughter home from school. She’s not sick.  No one at the school is sick.  Our school is nowhere near the schools that have been closed.  Yet, the cloud of Swine Flu mania hovers over the city.  The media keeps talking about the Pandemic, and pushing the fact that New York City is a hotbed of Swine Flu victims.  And of course the fact that it is children who seem to be the victims only heightens the fear.  The news coverage is so intense that my grandmother in Michigan called me because she said Larry King announced that New York City schools were closed.

Our school has not joined in the hysteria, as I’m sure most haven’t.  We got the obligatory letter home from the DOE informing us of the symptoms and what to do if you think you have contracted Swine Flu.  There are over 900 kids at my daughters’ school.  As far as I know there was no survey done to see who had traveled to Mexico during Spring Break.  I’m sure the school nurse is on alert but spring lice checks have begun so combing through all those heads of hair is taking up most of her time.  And yes, lets get real, my child is more likely to get lice than the Swine Flu so I’m glad that we hire an outside “Lice Lady” just to deal with this icky task.

Other than the few people I passed on the street today wearing surgical masks,  its pretty much business as usual.  But this mom got me thinking – maybe I’m too laid back about this.  I enforce hand washing when we get home and before eating, but at school germs are passed from child to child like secrets.  There’s been an influx of Purell into the classrooms.  That brings up its own set of controversy and getting the kids to use it is another matter.  In the end you can’t keep your kids in a bubble.  Even if they were to close the schools my kids would be out on the streets, touching elevator buttons, getting on a bus or subway, eating in a restaurant, riding an escalator, playing in a playground.  There is no way to avoid other people and their germs in a city.  So, I’ll send my daughters to school armed with wipes and a lecture about not picking their noses and hope that this panic will pass just like all the others before.

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