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Judith Baenen: Connecting with parents

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Judith Baenen speaks about the importance of valuing learning as a partnership and making opportunities to share this with parents.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

In this interview, Judith Baenen states that:

"The research shows that students learn more, retain more, like school more, graduate more, and altogether get better grades if parents are involved with them in education."

Consider this statement in your own school context. As a school, where are you at now? How can you get to a place where your school is more effectively connecting with parents and whānau to encourage a higher level of involvement in their children's learning? 

Have you seen?

Engaging parents, whānau, and community
This resource has relevant research, discussion questions, tools, and school stories that address the engagement of the parents, whānau, and community of middle school students.

Transcript

Hello I’m Judith Baenen. I’m visiting from the United States because I’m talking with teachers and administrators here in New Zealand. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me and I hope we have had a good time with the teachers and administrators I’ve visited with so far.

One of the things I’m talking about is characteristics of kids between the ages of 10 and 15 – that’s my whole background. But the other thing I am talking to them about, because it is equally important to understanding the kids, is understanding how to connect schools with parents; schools with families. We have said all along that we have a partnership going – that schools and families are supposed to be partners – yet often we find that they exist in parallel lives. The schools go on and do what they do and the parents go on and do what they do, and they only come together, perhaps, for parent conferences every now and again, and unfortunately when there is some sort of a big issue that goes on. I think this is a crucial connection. I think if we don’t connect parents with schools, we are missing out on something very important.

The research shows that students learn more, retain more, like school more, graduate more, and altogether get better grades and like school more if parents are involved with them in education. This doesn’t mean that parents come up to school and go to meetings. It doesn’t even mean that parents come to parent conferences. It means that parents show an interest in their children’s education, talk to them about their education, and let students know that education is important in their lives. Lots of parents do this automatically – of course they are interested in their children’s education – but there are so many things when you think about it that we can’t really teach if the parents don’t help us. For instance, I’m an English teacher – it’s very hard for me to teach children to love reading and want to read if there is nothing to read around the house. Or talk about social studies - it’d be hard to be a social studies teacher and really share social studies with kids if parents don’t talk about current events, or they don’t understand the political or civic lives they lead. The same is true of maths – if numbers aren’t used, if kids aren’t called upon to measure or count money or do anything with numbers, then how can we really teach maths. We can teach them the skills but the real learning goes on at home. Parents are the first educators of their children.

More than that, parents teach things that we can’t teach at school - they teach respect for authority. I can make the students in my classroom do whatever I want them to do – schools can manage kids – but to teach them real respect for authority, that comes from home. Habits of Mind – that comes from home. The ability to appreciate the arts – that comes from home. We really need to connect with parents because they are the first educators of their children.

There are lots of ways to connect with parents, without having them come up to school for a meeting. There are lots of things parents would do if their children could be involved. So I say, if you are going to do something and you want to get parents connected, then do something the whole family can enjoy. For instance, I suggested to the principals today that schools offer something perhaps every third Wednesday, like a gallery walk or an exhibition. This isn’t an exhibition of the best stuff the kids have ever done, it’s everyday work. Parents are just interested in the everyday work that their kids are doing, and of course at intermediate school, kids never talk about their work. If you ask an intermediate school child what happened at school, they are inclined to say nothing. Well there is lots of stuff that happens at school, but there is no way for parents to know that. So if you had a gallery walk or some kind of exhibition and you just put regular work up, parents could come in, there is no talk, no programme, you can just look at all the stuff on the walls; see what the kids have been doing. Maybe offer a coffee or tea – that’s a nice opportunity. Siblings can come - that lets them know about the school as well.

Another way to connect with parents is to have just real conversations with parents. You know often the only conversations that teachers and parents have is when teachers have something negative to say about a child. Well that’s unfortunate! So many things that happen everyday in an intermediate or middle school are absolutely wonderful things. I suggest that teachers communicate with every single child at least once every 10 weeks. You can do that by having a list of labels with every child’s name on it. Make sure that in the course of the 10 weeks that you have sent something to that child – a note that says what a good job you did yesterday or I really appreciated how you answered that question. Parents need to know that you value their children, because you do! Your relationships with children aren’t negative; your relationships are positive. So you should have an opportunity to let parents know the things that are happening in the classroom are wonderful.

Another thing is to have student-led conferences. I know that some teachers think that it’s a difficulty – it’s not a difficulty! It’s easy to teach kids how to run their own conference. It gives parents a wonderful opportunity to hear what their kids have to say about what/why they have learned, what they haven’t learnt, and to set their own goals, so the parents and teachers together hear the students setting goals for the next 10 weeks, or the next semester or whatever - this gives parents the opportunity as well.

We have to get over the idea that if we have a bunch of parents come up that numbers mean something – numbers isn’t what’s important. It’s about each individual parent connecting with the school and having an opportunity to know what’s happening in the school and with their child, and it’s giving the school an opportunity to be welcoming and to actually want the parents there to share in their child’s education. Again, we say this is a partnership, but often we don’t really want it to be a partnership, we want to do it all as educators. Sometimes parents worry that they would like to do it all too. But together, particularly with intermediate school kids, we can make their lives so much better because they are wonderful kids and wonderful for both of us to work with.


Published on: 01 Oct 2010


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