Parental engagement is such a crucial component of our students’ educational success, yet it seems to be relegated to back-to-school night, quarterly parent-teacher conferences, and twice-a-year school concerts. I know many of the students that I’ve taught over the years have parents who worked a lot — often two, sometimes three jobs. I remember one year, about seven of my students’ parents were correctional officers who couldn’t have their cell phones on them while at work, making it difficult to engage them in their child’s education in real time.
I know other parents who complain that the school’s schedule of parental activities and theirs just never seem to match up. I know that it’s impossible to please everyone, but getting parents to interact with our students academically is something that teachers highly value.
I think the go-to thought when parents seem to not be as engaged as we would like them to be in their child’s education is that they don’t care and are negligent. Sometimes that’s true. More often it’s not what I’ve found to be true is that parents are either ill-equipped to help their kids with their homework after a certain grade or they just don’t have the time, between trying to keep a roof over their heads and make ends meet, to be as involved in their children’s education as they would like. For example, I can’t tell you how many parents of elementary school-aged children I know who struggle to help their kids with his/her Common Core math homework.
(Anyway, according to an article in US News and World Report, studies show that “children from low-income families start out school 12 to 14 months behind their peers. Homework, for many of these kids, won’t help them catch up – it will only put them further behind.” )
I believe more good than harm comes from including parents in their children’s academic assignments which is why I felt such gleeful surprise when I read this post on my colleague and fellow teacher Carey Ma’s Facebook page all about how he recently got his students’ parents involved in a recent homework assignment. He teaches seniors, so at that age, parental involvement is usually non-existent beyond college entrance activities. Still, a way was made to keep home and school connected.
Here is what Mr. Ma had to say about his recent student-parent assignment, along with some comments from his other teacher-friends:
Carey: Okay… So in a recent assignment, there was a portion where I wanted parents to comment on the progress of their students. And MAN, did some of them ever. I think I’m going to make this more of a thing.
Friend: Now that’s what I call parental engagement! Go Ma!!
Carey: I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before… It’s so easy. My next assignment which I think will be a project grade is for a student to interview their own parent/guardian. They can only ask questions, they cannot respond, only take notes. I’ll leave room for follow up questions.
When I submitted this piece to my editor for publishing, she commented “In all honesty, it’s a little thin. I mean, it’s a great idea to have students interview parents in order to get more parent engagement but I don’t think that’s a new idea. (I remember my own kids getting assignments like that.)”
She’s right. It’s not a new idea, but as teachers, too often we try so many new, innovative, cutting-edge strategies and fail to incorporate simple measures that have stood the test of time and garner the results that everyone involves desires — a home-school dynamic that is mutually beneficial to students, their parents, and their educators. As Concordia University aptly points out, “[e]ducation is everyone’s business, not just that of educators. Encouraging the contributions of families is one more way to help schools work for the betterment of the entire community.”
A seemingly innocuous assignment asking parents a few question may be just the nudge needed to create and environment and foster a conversation between parent, child, and teacher that might not have happened otherwise. There is value in that. That’s what I got from Mr. Ma’s assignment. I hope you find encouragement and value in it, too.