Leading More Parents to Be Teachers’ Allies

teacherEvery now and then someone says something that really sticks with you. About a year ago, I had a conversation with Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the huge, nationwide teachers union. The foundation has made Milwaukee a major focus in recent years, giving more than $2 million to Milwaukee Public Schools, generally for developing the skills of teachers in low-performing schools.

Sanford was describing how things were going in other cities where the foundation was involved. She was enthusiastic about the impact in Seattle of a program in which teachers worked to get parents more involved in schools.  It was having documentable positive effects on how kids were doing.

I said that I thought a lot of teachers do what they can in school to meet kids’ needs, but basically throw up their hands when it comes to doing something about kids’ lives at home or motivating parents to do a better job of being allies of their children’s success in school.

Sanford said she was convinced that things could be done, that they didn’t cost a lot, and they could be as simple as having teachers pay visits to children’s homes, just to establish rapport and give some tips on what helps get a kid ready for school.

It may make me sound naive, but this really had an impact on my thinking about teacher-parent relations. I just had kind of written that off. But maybe we don’t need to despair about this, and maybe schools in Milwaukee that have been too passive about reaching out positively and firmly to parents.

All of which is to say I was very pleased to see the Journal Sentinel series this week, “Beyond the Bell: Making the Home-School Connection.” I am not objective on this — I was involved in the initiation of this project last winter while I was a reporter at the newspaper, and Erin Richards, the author, is a friend.

But I also know how important it is to play every feasible card in helping children succeed in school, especially those coming from homes where life does not offer much that is conducive to educational achievement. I think Erin did a very good job of showing that it is feasible to do more than most schools here are doing, that this isn’t a major financial issue, and that the pay-offs can be substantial.

In an ideal world, teaching parents to do their jobs better wouldn’t be an issue for schools or teachers. Parents should do the parenting. But this isn’t an ideal world. Just about any teacher in any community can tell alarming stories about things some parents do that are negative influences on children. That is especially so in low-income neighborhoods where many of the parents themselves did not do well in school.

I hope the Journal Sentinel series prods school leaders, teachers and parents themselves to focus more on ways to build connections between parents, kids and teachers. Applause for Erin Richards, her editors, and the people at the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University who provided support for Erin’s work.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ron Tusler

    During my undergrad, I was a student teacher at BayView High School. I had 125 students. At my parent-teacher conferences, three parents showed up. Think of the message that was sent to 122 of my 125 students.

    If the parents do not care, the students do not care.

    MPS needs an initiative that gets parents involved to succeed.

  2. Bill Henk

    Your statement about the importance of playing “every feasible card in helping children succeed in school, especially those coming from homes where life does not offer much that is conducive to educational achievement” is a powerful one. Anything schools can do to engage parents, guardians and caregivers in the education of children figures to have value. I applaud the Journal Sentinel for taking on this vital topic, and Erin Richards for doing such a comemendable job with the stories.

    I would rate parent involvement as one of the three aspects of schooling that could turn around our struggling urban school districts in this country. The other two center on principal effectiveness and the professional pride of teachers. For what it’s worth, I expect to be blogging on that combination of factors early in the new year.

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