Parent Voices Parent Voices


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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How are teachers working on improving the partnership between them and parents from low-income backgrounds who may not have the free time or transportation to volunteer in the classroom?

There are many parents who have to work multiple jobs to pay the bills, so they may not have the time or resources to volunteer or be more involved in the child’s schooling. I understand that it is important for parents to be involved in their child’s schooling, but for low-income parents that is much more difficult than for wealthier parents.

I found the comments of Erika Sanzi to be very insightful. Often times schools want teacher engagement in a specific way or for certain programs, but are not always as perceptive to hearing critiques from parents. What would it look like to instead encourage parents to engage school administrators on an ongoing basis with their questions, concerns and helpful ideas?

I wholeheartedly agree with the central premise that “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.” For far too long, I have been discouraged to see high-ranking school administrators and policymakers maintain the mindset in which they believe they know what is best for these students and their families. What I’ve learned through my time at SPP is the need to put the ‘public’ back into public policy, and I believe this sentiment captures that precise goal. Building genuine trust is the only way this country will begin to see improvement in our engagement with one another, and I hope that more leaders will share this conviction.

Michelle Riddell comment of creating a symbiotic relationship between parents and teachers is definitely one approach to improving educational excellence. The reinforcement of a parent can go a long way to improving a child’s drive to learn and do better in school. Unfortunately, not all parents are as able to be involved in their children’s education as they would like to be. Different approaches should also be explored to make up this shortcoming when necessary.

An important consideration here is the idea of prioritizing. Does the education system need to reevaluate its priorities for its teachers and students? Do teachers need to reevaluate their priorities in the classroom? Do parents need to reevaluate their priorities as parents? In each case, the student(s) is/are the focal point. If something needs to give in order for students to excel, individually or as a whole, then SOMETHING needs to give.

This article about parent involvement made me think about the parent/teacher dynamic in LAUSD during the school year of 2020. Parental involvement in this specific case has never been more at the forefront of student learning due to school being remote for fall in LAUSD.

I appreciate hearing from Rebecca Latham, I think that there are many parents who do not have the ability to help their students to the extent that her sons teacher is asking. For example, when I was growing up my Mom was not able to help me with homework because of a language barrier. All of my work was in English and she primarily only speaks Spanish. How can we expect a parent to become responsible for supplimental teaching of material that students wont be tested on or if their child falls behind? We should also teach parents how to take on that kind of task if we will be requiring it to happen outside of the classroom. Or, if a parent is not able to suppliment, they should offer addtional support for the child outside of the home or after school.

Parental involvement plays a huge role in a child’s learning. The teacher could only teach the child in the classroom, and if the child’s parents choose to work in tandem with the teacher it could be highly beneficial for the child. However, it is important to recognize that although this may be an ideal situation for the child to learn at their best, this may not always be possible. In cases that the parents could not collaborate with the teacher, other ways must be introduced to help the child succeed.