Parents and teachers are natural allies with common interests in promoting healthy development in children and young people. It must be acknowledged, however, that we can also be natural adversaries, in that our roles in some measure differ and our goals occasionally diverge. The Massachusetts Department of Education’s publication of a new framework for supervision and evaluation, with one of its four standards focusing on family and community engagement, gives us occasion to consider how we can be more successful in working together and more open in communicating our different perspectives.
We are both former teachers and parents, and writing from that second vantage point, we ask teachers to consider parents as a significant source of information and history about the children in their classes. We know that teachers have valuable information to share related to our children’s behavior, attendance, homework record, and test scores. In turn, we know keenly how we came to give our child a particular name and how we see their distinct approach to life in our family. Our parental perspectives can be incredibly helpful nuggets for educators. While a call from a teacher sharing a concern about our child’s behavior might be warranted, it cannot compare in its impact to an authentic inquiry into a child’s strengths and needs.
School staff may complain about the lack of parent participation, on one hand, or parents’ over-involvement, on the other. Behaviors at these extremes certainly exist, but parent support for schools can be seen as a ‘ladder’ starting with participation and moving through involvement, engagement and empowerment, finally to leadership. While not every parent needs to take a leadership role, certainly all parents can be expected to take some part in school activities. If educators offer us a means to strengthen our parenting, our collaboration will become a two-way street.
As parents, many of us would rather support our children’s learning directly than bake cupcakes or sell raffle tickets (although we will, usually happily, contribute that way as well). How can we strengthen our children’s love of books and help them overcome their anxieties about math, art, sports, or any other subject? Can educators help us become more effective not only in supporting our children’s learning but in our parenting as well? We believe they can. The understanding they have of ways to develop children’s capacities can help parents better understand how to help our children reach and exceed their potential.
We urge teachers and administrators to look for creative, low-cost ways to provide parenting resources, specifically in parenting education, thereby acknowledging and supporting our essential work on the home front. For some educators, this will feel as if schools are once again taking on responsibilities beyond their original scope. Such programs may at first seem hard to defend in a time of dwindling budgets and increasing responsibilities.
A recent article in Pediatrics communicates the urgent importance of helping parents do better in our essential role. The article calls for universal interventions aimed at promoting the type of parenting that is recognized as necessary for optimal child development. Schools have an important role to play in this effort.
For one teacher, striving to help her students read, write, calculate and create, all the while developing their social and emotional competencies, the task is daunting. When that teacher gains the support of well-informed parents and community members, the collaborative effort will, in the short term, help our children succeed, and, in the long term, strengthen the community that benefits us all.
Eve Sullivan is an education fellow at Northeastern University and founder of Parents Forum. John D’Auria is president of Teachers21 and author of “Ten Lessons in Leadership and Learning.”