Developing Parent–School Partnerships (page 3)
Roles for Parents in the Child’s Development and Learning
Parents have always been active in the schools. When my father was an elementary school student in the early 20th century in Austin, Texas, mothers took turns going to the school to prepare lunch for the children. Parents have traditionally helped with school parties and volunteered in the classroom. Parent–teacher organizations have raised money to provide needed books, equipment, and other materials that are not in the school budget. The idea of a partnership with parents goes beyond helping with school programs. The National Association of Elementary School Principals has developed standards for early childhood education that denote the relationship with parents as a partnership. The indicators for this partnership describe new dimensions of parent–school relationships. In the standards, the following statement is made (National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1998, p. 22): “Parent involvement is of basic importance to the success of all elementary school programs. For an early childhood program, it is crucial and should be a high priority for the principal.” Standards descriptors for the partnership include the following (National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1998):
- Parents share development of the school’s educational program, and so understand and support it. In meetings, newsletters, conversations, and other ways, the principal and staff provide information about the developmental philosophy of the program and its goals.
- Parents are helped to increase their effectiveness in working with their children, both at school and in the home, through their involvement in the school’s work and their participation in classrooms, meetings, and conferences.
- Parent concerns regarding parenting and their individual performance as parents are addressed both formally and informallythrough conferences, newsletters, workshops, and in personal conversations.
- Parents are actively involved in the school site council, making decisions about the program.
- A reciprocal relationship is formed and nurtured. Teachers recognize that parents have valuable information to share about their children. All parties seek to make both school and home places where young children feel secure and enjoy success.
The last descriptor declares that parents have valuable information to share about their children. This includes active involvement in the assessment of children’s progress in development and learning. Communication with parents is not limited to reporting to parents, but also includes them in the information-gathering process when children are assessed.
Establishing Relationships with Parents
The importance of a partnership becomes more evident as we learn more about how children benefit from a strong teacher–parent relationship. All parties in the partnership have an equal role. School staff members are not inviting parents to be participants and provide input, but rather they have a vital role as true partners. The quality of the partnership affects the child’s security and maximizes the child’s potential for learning. This quality partnership includes frequent two-way communications, interest, and acceptance of the views of the other partner. The partnership grows through mutual consultation on important decisions, and working through differences with mutual respect (Keyser, 2006; Lightfoot, 2003).
Parents and teachers are not the only beneficiaries of a partnership. Children also benefit. When their parents and other significant adults in their life have a positive relationship with the teacher, children feel that they and their family are honored and respected. The better the relationship, the more the children feel that they, too, can have a trusting relationship with the teacher. They learn how to conduct social relationships by watching adult relationships. They notice all the nuances of language, body language, and tone of voice that the adults use. They use these positive models to develop their own relationships with others (Keyser, 2006).
One of the most effective ways to establish a relationship with a child and the family is to make a home visit prior to the beginning of school. When the teacher visits the home environment, a context for understanding the child and family is established. When I was a young teacher, I made home visits at the beginning of every school year. It was very educational for me to learn how and where the children in my classroom lived. I taught in a bilingual program; as a result, most of the children in the classroom were Hispanic. Many of them were children of migrant workers. A majority of families I visited had a very low income. One family lived out of two cars several miles from the school bus route. The children were dressed and ready to leave by 5 a.m. so that they could walk with their older siblings to the bus stop. In the afternoons, it was almost dark before they reached home again. Another family lived very near the school, but in a very old wood frame house with bare wood floors. The mother had to get water from the tap outside for cooking and cleaning. She had a history of being abused and beaten by her husband. When I visited, the house was very clean, and the mother proudly showed me the room where three of the girls shared a double bed. Later in the year, when the child in my classroom appeared at school with a broken arm, I was able to notify the school nurse to work with child welfare authorities to investigate and assist the mother if needed. The families I visited were pleased that the teacher would come to their home and visit. The children were always dressed in their best clothes and on their best behavior. We discussed family pictures, the children’s toys, and often the plants in the yard. Because I spoke Spanish, those initial visits were vital to the parents’ feeling comfortable with me, and they were able to overcome their hesitations to come to the school for meetings and conferences. Many times parent conferences were conducted at a parent’s place of work because they couldn’t leave their job or didn’t have transportation to the school. Home visits continued in some situations when the parents or I needed support from the other.
Continuing conversations and other forms of communications are a second step in establishing a partnership. Again, it is important to maintain communications as a reciprocal process. At times the teacher initiates the communication, but at other times the parent initiates the contact. Parents have different ways to engage in the partnership. The continuum from relationship to partnership is different from family to family. The teacher needs to be sensitive to how best to communicate with families. Written newsletters to parents are not effective if the parents speak another language. They may also be very intimidated by requests for them to give information through written notes. My years as a teacher of children from families in which Spanish was the home language provides another example of how we must be sensitive to the parents. The principal decided that all our newsletters and information sheets would be communicated in both English and Spanish. It took some reflection and awkward interactions before we understood that the Spanish-speaking parents in our school community could not read in Spanish either. Patience and goodwill are necessary for both parents and teachers as the partnership develops during the school year.
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