Parent Voices Parent Voices

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Parent engagement in education is crucial to student success. However, there isn’t a single, defined method for how parents and teachers may work better together on behalf of students. As presented in the next three essays, effective parent engagement can take form in various ways — it isn’t one size fits all. As Erika Sanzi suggests, it may be in the form of active feedback from parents regarding what happens in their child’s classroom. Another possibility from Michelle Riddell: parent volunteers in the classroom who can assist bridging the gap between educational needs and inadequate funding. Whichever way parents support their children, it’s imperative that parents not be “left behind” or out of the conversations, as Rebecca Latham writes.

“No one loves them like we do. But as we pursue this goal together, we must ensure parents aren’t left behind either.”

Erika Sanzi Parent
Erika Sanzi is a mom of three school-aged sons, a former educator and school committee member, and a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Her writings appear in a variety of outlets and she blogs at Good School Hunting. She is located in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
Parents know stuff too. Schools are huge proponents of parent engagement until that engagement looks different than the kind that the schools had in mind. They rightly want us to attend their presentations on Math Night or Writing Night. They just don’t want to hear our feedback when we express concerns about how the programs and strategies they’ve just introduced in PowerPoint form are actually playing out in our child’s classroom. Well, unless it’s all complimentary.There is no question that attendance at parent-teacher conferences and contributions to teacher potlucks fit neatly into the box of parent engagement, but so does asking questions about academic expectations, grading systems or what our children are — or aren’t — learning in school. Far too often, the more substantive and, yes, critical forms of engagement are dismissed as unfounded commentary by parents who don’t know
what they’re talking about, but whose baked goods and weekly visits to volunteer in the copy room are, of course, much appreciated.Partnerships do not work under these conditions. And the truth is that parent engagement as feedback can be a gamechanger in improving school culture and even in what happens in classrooms. Sure, some parents can be unreasonable. But others may hold the key to why something may not be working as well as it could be.A broader definition of parent engagement can be the foundation for much more productive relationships between school and home. Trust will grow and engagement in the smaller things will increase as parents begin to feel more like partners whose opinions are no longer dismissed but instead welcomed and valued.
Michelle Riddell Parent
Michelle Riddell is a volunteer advocate for education and a substitute teacher at the local district where her daughter attends school. She is an active member of the PTA, the Band Boosters and several community organizations. She is a regular contributor to an online magazine where she writes about parenting, education and women’s health. She is located in rural Mid-Michigan.
In the first issue of my daughter’s kindergarten newsletter, her teacher asked for a parent to run a literacy games station once a week for an hour. It was a specific request, for a finite amount of time, and it didn’t involve crafts or baking, so I volunteered.That was nine years ago.Since then, I have logged hundreds of hours in the school, sharing my particular skillset, getting to know teachers, staff, students and other parents — developing friendships and strengthening bonds in the community. I have participated in fundraising, reading interventions and extensions, hearing and vision screenings, as well as serving two years as PTA president. In my time, I have come to recognize two key components in a successful classroom setting: involved parents and teachers who are willing to incorporate volunteer help.
In a rural, underserved district like ours, where there is an ongoing challenge to maintain academic standards with fewer resources, parent volunteers can bridge the gap between educational needs and inadequate funding. Assigning parents detailed tasks — not just chaperoning field trips and providing snacks — that optimally utilize their time and talents can benefit all involved.Research shows that regardless of socioeconomic levels, students whose families are engaged in their education earn better grades and test scores, report fewer absences, show improved behavior, and graduate at a higher rate than students with less support. By inviting parents to volunteer in the classroom, teachers cultivate a symbiotic relationship that works towards a common goal with lasting positive impact.
Rebecca Latham Parent
Rebecca Latham, the 2017 National Mother of the Year, is the CEO of American Mothers Inc. Latham is the proud mother of two children and the daughter of a public school teacher. She is a strong advocate for maternal mental wellness and is in constant pursuit of work-life balance. She is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Two weeks into the school year on “Curriculum Night,” I was instantly smitten with my son’s fourth grade teacher. A lover of culture and technology, she rhythmically detailed her plans for the semester. When she proclaimed, “I won’t be sending homework because I don’t believe it actually helps children learn,” the classroom of parents cheered! Was it true? Was our role as nightly homework chasers a thing of the past?Reality set in, however, as she proceeded to describe the various things she simply wouldn’t have time to teach. Distressed, but nonetheless resolute, she said, “If they aren’t being tested on it, I won’t have time to teach it.” A Google search of “how to teach cursive handwriting” was clearly in my future.Additionally, she made it clear that instruction would move at a swift, pre-defined pace. Parents would need to monitor their child’s math or reading proficiency and supplement teaching at home if their child falls behind.
Interesting. The parent-teacher relationship must be evolving — from one where parents serve primarily as compliance partners with their child’s teacher, to one where parents are expected to be supplemental teachers of core subjects and untested skills/topics. Forgive my instant anxiety. Candidly, many moms (myself included) aren’t sure we’re prepared. Do I have the expertise to fill subject-matter gaps, so that my child’s education is well-rounded? And, as a working mom, troop leader, PTA member, team mom and volunteer, does the time exist to play the role I need to play?I understand how we arrived here, I don’t fault teachers at all (they work in a highly politicized, high-stakes system), and I certainly believe in the importance of engaged parents. But, I wonder whether parents have a strong enough seat at the negotiating table. To borrow an important cliché, we agree no child should be left behind because, well, they’re our children. No one loves them like we do. But as we pursue this goal together, we must ensure parents aren’t left behind either.

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