At schools and as school leaders, we should be having an epiphany of sorts if we haven’t already done so. We should be understanding that instead of wishing our students’ parents were our partners, we should be working intentionally on our relationships with them to make it so.
The impact of school makes up about one-third of a student’s performance; another third comes from community influences and the final portion comes from the home. In this blog, we’ve examined the impact of that influence and how it can positively increase the level of effort a student expends at school.
In short, we’ve built our pyramid of interventions squarely on top of a goldmine of influence from home. We are working as hard as we possibly can to support students and their needs at school, but we need help from home. Wishing that “home” all looked like we would want it to be is not a strategy for success. Intentionally working on our relationships with parents, however is a critical and important way to improve student achievement.
This is one of the reasons that we have found ourselves where we are in our relationships with parents: we haven’t fully acknowledged or understood that working with parents CAN BE the most effective intervention we could ever come up with. If given the choice of working directly with students to support their work or spending that time with parents, we (teachers, principals, APs) would almost always pick to work with the students. (We love working with the students… why wouldn’t we?) Here’s what we have to realize: working with parents is high leverage work. If we can effectively partner with parents, we can extend our reach beyond the door of the school, beyond school hours, beyond the calendar.
How do we do this? One thing that is certain to fail is to merely keep “doing” parental involvement and engagement the same old way and expect different results. We need to be creative, we need to listen, we need to speak the language of the parents (even when that language is Facebook.) Before we can get into specific strategies, we have to begin at the foundation and that foundation is the way we look at parents.
Principals, you need to lead the way in how the folks at our schools look at parents. If you’re a teacher and you have a student that is hardly trying, misbehaving, and not producing in the classroom, it’s easy to be frustrated with the student’s parents as well. The problem with this premise is that can often lead to widening the wedge between school and home. We need to set our frustrations aside and treat every parent who comes our way as the most important visitor we’ll have all year. That’s a lot to ask, but it’s the winning hand. As the principal, you’ve got to work with your faculty and staff to get them to that place. Many of them will be there willingly and from the beginning, but if we can create schools that welcome parents just as we welcome students, we will be on the track to success.
How do we do that? It’s important that as a school, we adopt a standard by which we will treat others we come into contact with, including parents. If we can establish the standard and support each other in living up to it, it will change our school. It might change the entire community as far at that goes!
What if we pledged that whomever we see as we represent the school, we will respect, we will value, and we will listen to.
In my years as a teacher, coach, and administrator this is probably the most important thing that I learned. Everyone wants to be listened to. Not everyone wants you to fix everything… sometimes listening is enough. Everyone deserves to be respected. We do not know where someone is coming from unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Finally, we should value everyone and refrain from judging them. Who are we to judge anyway? Love more, judge less. If we do this, we are most certainly on the track to building lasting relationships with others, and in this case relationships that can help build a partnership in a child’s or adolescent’s success in school.
This sounds so simple, and in a way it is. That’s why it evades so many.
There’s more to building the most effective partnerships with parents than this, but there’s nothing more important, and nothing that you can do to supplant it. Look at all the parents who come in with the same excitement, enthusiasm and encouragement as you reserve for their children. That will lead to success.