Families: Allies or Foes? Part One

There is this belief that if more parents and families were actively involved with their student's education, more students would do better in school.

Hmmm?  I have some questions about this statement.

First, do we, as educators, understand who our parents/ families are?  I continue to use families because we must redefine, within ourselves, who our parents and families are.  Families are not what we have 'traditionally' defined them as - a mother, father and children.  Our families are so diverse today.  We have children living with grandparents or extended family. Some children live in foster homes.  Some children have two moms or two dads.  They way we define families will help us to break down barriers (our personal biases, stereotypes and perceptions) that hinder our ability to truly engage them in the learning process.

Second, what does "actively involved" mean?  We are constantly throwing that term out when we set schools goals for our parent involvement / family engagement components of our school improvement plans.  But how do you quantify "actively involved"?  I will admit that if I define my status as a parent by the current definition of schools about being 'actively involved', I would be consider an unsupportive parent.  I can probably count, on both hands, the number of actual parent meetings, school events or programs I have attended for my children beyond the honors ceremony.  My job as an educator and building leader, didn't afford me the flexibility to be present for all the family activities their schools coordinated.

So does that mean my lack of attendance at school functions make me unsupportive or not concerned about my children's academic progress?  Absolutely not.  This applies to the families we serve as well.  If our families are sending their students to school on time, they are actively involved.  If our families have their students in uniform and provided breakfast and/or lunch for their students, they are actively involved.  When families spend time together at home to complete homework or projects, they are actively involved.  Families who request information about their student's progress outside of the PTC day via email or phone call are actively involved.

We must change the way we think about how our families are involved in the learning process. This form of involvement or their family structure is unfamiliar to us and that creates friction with our traditional views.  Our families definitely want to become our allies.  We are want our students to be successful, in school and in life.  

The issue is we are so entrenched in traditional thinking that we forget to extend an invitation.  

Antoinette PearsonComment