Partnering with Families for Student Success
By Carol Osborn
(As first published in the Fall 2012 Issue)
Research on school success has been telling us for years that parent involvement in the child’s education yields more school success in the early years and increases likelihood of graduating from high school.
Why is this? What is it about parental involvement that helps children to stay in school and succeed? If we think about it just from a logical point of view, it would make sense that children will enjoy school more if their parents show an interest in what they do. They will succeed if their parents understand the joys and challenges they face in school and support them in attaining their scholastic goals.
Don’t we, as adults, feel good when someone we love and look up to shows interest in our activities? Of course we do. Doesn’t it help when we have a friend, family member or mentor support us in our endeavors? Of course it does. It’s the same for our children and their school-related activities.
Strong relationships foster success
The success we have in school and life depends on relationships.
“The relationships that occur among the important adults in a child’s life are as important as the relationships between a child and those adults,” wrote Janis Keyser in From Parents to Partners. In other words, the interactions between parents and teachers are as important as the relationship between the child and parent and the child and teacher.
Teachers from preschool through college know that each child they encounter is unique and each family brings unique traditions, knowledge and experiences to the relationship between teacher, child, and parent. The more a teacher knows about a child, the better the teacher can meet the child’s individual needs. The more the teacher knows about the family the better the teacher can meet the needs of the whole child in the context of his family, culture and community. When teachers acknowledge and respect the diversity of the children in their learning communities, they are better prepared to design curriculum that will meet individual needs and ensure educational success.
“When parents are involved in their child’s classroom, children feel valued,” said Laura Curry-Greene, a former preschool teacher and mother of three children. “They are able to share with their parents a side of themselves that sometimes their parents don’t see: their friendships, growing independence, and new responsibilities. Their parents are able to see them in a new light as part of a group, a member of a community.”
A strong foundation for lifelong learning
A partnership between parents and teachers also helps to promote strong social emotional development. When children can see their parents successfully navigate their world by interacting with other adults they learn how to do so, as well.
Children with strong social emotional foundations are better able to withstand the stresses that come along with academic expectations. They know they have someone who understands what they are going through when faced with learning challenges because their parents are informed about their school work, and know their teacher’s philosophy and teaching strategies.
When parents partner with the teacher they can share what they know about the student and support their successes and challenges together. Who knows the child better than their parent? Successful teachers recognize this and build strong relationships with families to support each child, thus leading to academic achievement and lifelong learning.
Partnering for success
What does it take to form positive partnerships between teachers and parents? The first step to any relationship is the willingness to understand. It takes the desire to want to get to know the other person and the time to listen to understand each other’s values, goals and dreams. Once a strong relationship has been established based on common goals, then the parent and teacher can work together to support the child in achieving those goals.
Partnering means communicating when things are going well and when they are not going so well. It means keeping each other informed when important events happen, big and small, that impact the child’s ability to stay focused on learning. Parents and teachers who communicate frequently and effectively form successful partnerships.
Some effective strategies that support parent partnership include:
Making a connection between home and school by bringing photos or family artifacts into the classroom and sending information about classroom experiences and artwork to the home.
Planning formal and informal times to communicate what is happening in school on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This can be by phone, email, newsletters, or quick chats before or after school as well as during scheduled meeting times.
Offering events that engage families in school activities like shared lunches, open house, concerts, sports, or family fun nights.
Seeking each family’s input about what they would like to do to engage in their child’s education, how much time they can share with you, and what the best times would be to come for school visits.
Helping families learn what their children are learning and how they are learning so they can help with homework, providing new learning experiences, and making discoveries at home and in their communities.
Take the first step
It all begins with you, whether you are the parent or the teacher. Be the first to initiate the partnership. Ask the other adult to become involved in supporting your child or student. A family can invite a teacher to your home or a teacher can invite a family to your classroom. Either way you can begin to know and understand each other to partner for the success of every child.
Carol Osborn is the Director of the Virginia Preschool Initiative with the Department of Family Services Office for Children in Fairfax County and Piedmont Family Magazine’s Parenting Matters columnist.