Rearrange the letters in “PARENTS,” and what do you get? PARTNERS!
Of course I’m cheating a little bit; you have to add another “r.” But you get the point I’m trying to make: Aside from the relationships we build with our students, the connections we establish with their parents or other caregivers are the most important partnerships we forge.
Those relationships can make the difference between a student who just coasts along on the breeze, and a student who—because we’ve learned what motivates and makes them tick—soars to new heights.
If you count up the hours, we spend more time with students (at least during the hours they’re awake) than their family members do. It just makes sense to connect with those who love them. (It takes a village, after all.)
November 14-18 is American Education Week (AEW), founded by the NEA in partnership with the American Legion 95 years ago, and I find myself thinking of the many solid relationships I had with parents back home in Utah. Some could be volunteers in my reading program or on a field trip; some couldn’t. But all of them wanted to help their children, and they all wanted to help me. Like every educator, I am grateful for those parent relationships.
NEA’s Parent’s Page provides information for parents who want to partner with educators for the benefit of their kids, but it has a new look and additional resources to help our relationships flourish, just in time for AEW—which is now sponsored by NEA, the National PTA and several other education organizations.
I think all educators would agree that family engagement is important, but we also know it isn’t easy.
There’s the sheer number of hours—or lack of them—in a day. And the fact that our days are already so jam-packed that it’s hard to find time for our own families, let alone reach out to our students’ families.
There’s the reality of pouring our hearts and souls into the job when we’re at work, and then bringing a ton of stuff home with us.
There’s the advocacy work we’re engaged in to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline, or to pass the ballot measure for schools in our district, or to make sure the Every Student Succeeds Act really does benefit all students.
There’s the debate club or pep squad we advise in our “spare” time.
Cultivating solid relationships with parents can seem like just one more item on an already overflowing to-do list.
And of course, our students’ parents have their own extraordinarily busy lives. The balancing act in today’s families qualifies them to join the circus as high-wire performers. No one’s saying that it’s easy to create or maintain the connection between home and school.
But we know how important these relationships are to the growth and development of students, particularly those who face special challenges. Some schools have parent coordinators onboard who specialize in engaging families. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) even contains a provision that focuses on parent engagement and requires schools receiving Title I funds to have written policies on parent and family engagement.
The more information we share with each other, the better off our students are, and you are clearly the experts on what works.
But here are a couple of suggestions for connecting with parents in case you’re looking for something new.
- Share the good news! Call or email them when there is not a problem to pass along a bit of praise, or just to say hello. One family per school day equals about 20 positive connections per month.
- Encourage your school to take part in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools walk-ins, when parents and educators rally together to demand the schools our students deserve.
- Who has time for lunch, right? But if there’s a pause in your day when you snag a nutrition bar or some trail mix, invite a parent to join you. Throw their names in a hat or pick some other random method of choosing.
- And if you can, try home visits. These can help us become more culturally aware while also showing parents we are serious about engaging them in their children’s education.
We’ve heard this many times: Every child in your class is someone’s whole world. Which means, we’ve got to inhabit that world, too.