Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Parent Engagement

As part of our Kettle Run edcamp (read: prior posts) , we created a hour-long parent-teacher roundtable. As the organizer of the roundtable, I tried to include a diverse parent panel. The roundtable was well-attended by approximately 2 dozen teachers. Although we only had an hour together, I learned a lot and I believe the others in attendance did as well.

Four Take-Aways

1. We all want what's best for the students/children. 
Teachers want their students to thrive in their classroom and beyond. Parents, of course, want the same. One teacher put it simply, "We're in this together. We need your support."

2. Communication is a shared responsibility. 
One parent sheepishly admitted she wasn't sure if it was OK to email teachers with comments and concerns. Reflecting the views of all the teachers present, a veteran teacher begged, "Please, please email us. We want to communicate with you."

Another remarked, "If you have a concern, please let us know. We [want an opportunity] to address your concern and fix it if necessary."

Expressing the delicate nature of the balance between communicating with parents and allowing students to learn on their own, a teacher commented, "I want my students to take responsibility for their actions. You (parents) won't always be there and it's important for students to learn on their own from their own failures."

3. We have the same concerns. 
While parents want what's best for their children, they also want what's best for all of the children. During the roundtable one parent brought up the widespread cheating that seems to occur, a sentiment shared by most of the teachers present. As a result, at least partially, cheating was brought up in later edcamp discussions and administratively we're looking at what actions we should take. Parents thanked us for creating a safe and nurturing environment and they expressed a concern/understanding over high stakes testing and their impact on learning. 

4. Parents want to be heard. 
Well over half of the parents I invited couldn't attend the parent-teacher roundtable because of prior commitments. Almost every parent who declined the invitation encouraged me to invite them to future parent-teacher roundtables and many took the time to email me their concerns and feelings.

Moving forward with the goal of increasing parent engagement
While none of the points above is earth-shattering, the conversation reaffirmed my beliefs that we must actively engage parents.

I'm hoping to offer future parent-teacher and parent-administrator roundtables in the future because this truly was a valuable experience for all involved. While much of communication between parents and school officials takes place informally (on the sidelines of children's games, at churches, at the grocery stores), we must find ways to ensure parents are heard.

Immediate ways to increase parent-school engagement:
  • Expand our social media presence (Remind101, Twitter, school website)
  • Friday Five: randomly call five parents on Friday to discuss school affairs 
  • Offer parent/community trainings (in person and online) once a month on what we're doing at Kettle Run. Possible sessions include: AngelLearning (our course management software), Twitter, book clubs, bullying, cyber-citizenship. 
  • Increase attendance at Parent-Teacher Conference nights by showcasing student work, staging live performances, etc.
Ideas for the future:
  • Offer roundtables and gatherings in the community (coffee shop, local Pizza parlor, etc.)
  • Create a school blog allowing parents to communicate with school officials
  • Community service day involving students, parents and school staff
Parents, teachers, administrators, what are your ideas for increasing parent engagement? 

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