Last time we analyzed the forces which pushed two important allies apart. Parents and public schools should be closely cooperating, but several trends have led to increasing distance between them. Both parents working has led to less parental time to spend on participation in their children’s schools. More parent-initiated litigation based on perceived student needs in special education and academically talented programs resulted in schools worrying anytime a parent called the school. Mandates and accountability demands from local, state, and federal governments have created gun-shy administrators who erect barriers to letting anyone into the schools. Even necessary safety measures have made it much harder for parents even to enter the schools, much less play any role in their children’s academic day. Outside of fund-raising and non-academic class activities (field trips and class parties), parents and teachers don’t spend much time together except at twice-a-year conferences when they interact for ten minutes per student.
Yet to improve schools, we need a group effort, a united front, a “there’s no ‘I’ in team” mentality so that our kids see that we all share common goals when it comes to preparing them for their futures. From nutrition to study habits, there are opportunities for the schools to interact with the parents in helpful, meaningful ways. And it should be up to the schools to initiate, promote, and encourage those efforts. While by no means comprehensive or as original as the collective ideas of a school’s teachers and parents, the following list of suggestions could start the ball rolling.
- Parent visitation days need to be more frequent. Actually, we should encourage parents to visit and shadow their children any time they want. Only when parents can see what’s going on can they appreciate their teachers’ efforts. There also need to be channels through which parental suggestions for improvements can be funneled. You can’t understand what goes on in the classroom until you witness it, and we need as many informed ideas as we can get.
- In a similar vein, the schools’ cafeterias could use a large dose of Mom and Dad in them. From the food selections to monitoring behavior, parents volunteering during lunch periods would do wonders to improve the current state of affairs. No, I’m not exempting high schools from this idea—the slovenly habits, dietary choices, and immature behavior would be severely curtailed if the kids knew they were being supervised by their peers’ parents. How could Johnny look Mrs. Jones in the eyes when he came to pick up her daughter at her house for Homecoming if he had acted up during Mrs. Jones’s shift in the lunchroom? I’m telling you; it would make a huge, positive difference in no time.
- Career counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and coaching all offer opportunities for parents and teachers to work together. Whether it is helping students to understand exactly what a specific occupation is really like or how to do their math homework, parents could provide useful additions to class activities. And that’s not even taking into account the psychological lift a neglected kid could get from one-on-one time with an adult who really cares about him.
- Decision-making committees should be populated more frequently with parents. And that population should be significant, not just a token compliant or hopelessly outnumbered representative. This, of course, assumes that the committee has real power to influence the decision and isn’t just a sham to showcase how the administration is including all “shareholders” and “customers” when the administrator in charge has already determined the end result. Yes, including significant numbers of parents would make the committees more cumbersome and could make it harder to come to a decision, but schools are a reflection of their communities and all parties should share in making decisions.
- Awards and recognition events should be more tailored to parents. When I taught high school, each year we had a seniors award assembly where scholarships, departmental awards, and athletic achievements were presented in front of the whole school. Needless to say, freshmen were less than enthralled in a ninety-minute assembly where brief introductions were followed by a smattering of applause while seniors walked up to receive their awards. In contrast, this was an event any parent would love, but it was (and still is) held around 9:00 A.M., making it difficult for most working parents to attend. Why not schedule it at night where many more family members could attend to see their senior recognized? Yes, that would be a bigger hassle for teachers and administrators, but we’re talking once a year to show appreciation to students who have excelled in the tasks we have given them. All events like that should be scheduled with parents in mind so they can share in the achievements to which they have contributed mightily.
As previously mentioned, these are just a few ideas from a single individual; I’m sure that given the collective creativity and insights of hundreds of parents and teachers, every school could come up with dozens more ideas that would help to bridge the gap that currently exists between parents and teachers. It’s in everyone’s best interests for that gap to narrow; it’s just a question of somebody taking charge to make it happen. The drift apart between parents and teachers has gone on for too long, and we should reverse that trend.
For more on school reform, see James Crandell’s website http://www.snowflake-schools.com/.