“For my kids, I want to be connected to their teacher. I want to be connected to their learning. I want to be connected to their school…I want to know what I can do at night to support what you do as a teacher.” – Chris Kennedy
I have taught children and adults for more than a decade now and all in high needs communities. At this moment, I work to prepare teachers for the realities they will face in the same classrooms that raised me and that I in turn served in as an educator. With that in mind, I know first hand how transformative parent involvement can be for kids and schools. I was raised by a single mother. My mom worked two jobs for the majority of my life. She had four daughters that she took care of with help from my grandmother and (when they moved in with us) my aunts. My mother instilled in all of us the value of education. Between her and my grandmother, I learned that it was important as a woman of color, that I be educated and then that I take that education and use it to help our family and community.
When it came to school, my mother dropped us all off and trusted that we were in good hands. She wasn’t familiar with how school “works” and knew only that she wanted us to have a good education. When I asked her about it later, she said that she enrolled us in schools based on feedback from friends and kept us there based on the grades we brought home. She wasn’t considered and “involved” parent and she wasn’t invited to become one. My mom did not attend PTA meetings and after third or fourth grade, rarely went to my parent/teacher conferences; still, she and my grandmother were huge influences on my life at school. What I came to understand as an adult was that after lower elementary, my mother felt uninvited into my school experience in a way that still impacts our relationship today.
I distinctly remember going to a high school debate tournament. My partner and I were going to win an award and I wanted my mom to come in and watch me use my words to whip my opponent. To my surprise she refused. She stood in the parking lot outside of school and told me that she didn’t want to embarrass me. My mother who worked to put herself through nursing school and worked the night shift to keep our home was embarrassed because she didn’t know enough about debate. She didn’t know my coach or my teachers or what was supposed to happen at the tournament. She felt that her presence could add no value so she stayed outside. That moment has stayed with me for years because in it I realized that not only did my mom not feel like she couldn’t add value at the tournament, she felt valueless in terms of my school experience as a whole.
Why am I mentioning my mom here? Because my story isn’t unique. As educators, we are the bridge builders. It is our job to create true classroom communities and make those communities where all parents feel welcomed no matter their work schedule or education level or cultural norms. It is our job to initiate the relationship with parents, listen to their needs, and create a partnership that works in the best interests of kids. Research supports what has been true in my life, parent involvement does nothing but increase student achievement. With that in mind, we need to do our part to let our parents know that they DO have value. We have to clearly communicate that not only are they wanted in our classrooms, they are needed there. Yes, I know this intentional relationship pursuit will not will the heart of every parent but I GUARANTEE that it will win more than you have now.
Here are three steps you can take today:
- Make a warm phone call: So much of our communication with parents is electronic. If you can, take the time to call a parent and introduce yourself. Seriously. Just reach out and let them know who you are, why you teach, and what you already know about their child. Ask them for any additional insights. I am SURE they will be happily surprised. FYI you should probably take notes during this conversation!
- Be flexible with involvement. What opportunities do you have (now that you have taken a step to build a positive relationship) for parents to be involved in your classroom? Field trips? Projects? Resources? Think hard here. Your parents are more connected than you may give them credit for. They may be able to get you in touch with the person you need even if they can’t be that person themselves.
- Ask questions to stay on track.
Listen to Episode 2 of the Fired Up Teacher’s Podcast for the scripted questions you need to ask to further strengthen your parent relationships.
If you are reading this blog it is because you are the kind of teacher that I was, dedicated to your students and looking for resources to improve your practice. Be sure to subscribe to the blog and podcast. I have a few new things coming for subscribers very soon! Until then, keep your professional fire burning bright as you do the work and remember why you joined this profession! We are partners in this work and we will make a difference together.
– Dr. Kia
Okay so NONE of you still email lol! No worries. Since we are ALL on social media, just continue to DM me on IG and Twitter if you want me to come out and see the work you are doing! Twitter @firedup_teacher IG: thefiredup_teacher