Again, Let’s Not Blame Parents

An Indianapolis newspapers has just run an article about an understandably frustrated teacher who want the state to mandate parent involvement in schools using the “stick” approach (I’ve previously posted about the dangers of that approach in Teachers Have Got To Stop Blaming Parents).

Thankfully, the reporter also contacted renowned parent involvement researcher Anne Henderson. Here is that piece of the article:

Anne T. Henderson, a leading researcher on parental involvement in schools who is a senior consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said good outreach to parents — along with training that teachers like — are two of the most important factors in gains in student achievement.

But Henderson said parent involvement couldn’t effectively be mandated.

“I think we need to take a proactive, preventive approach, but not a punitive approach,” Henderson said. “I don’t think that would work, and I don’t think there’s any research that shows it would work.”

But, she said, there are things schools can do that don’t involve a big stick.

Teachers must reach out to parents and meet them face-to-face, either by meeting them in the afternoon car pickup line or going to their homes. They must stay in touch with parents when things are going well, not just when there is a problem. And they must send home learning materials that parents can work on with children.

“What’s important,” she said, “is that the culture of the school is family-friendly.”

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One thought on “Again, Let’s Not Blame Parents

  1. Anne Henderson is right. When working with others, approaching them from a caring space works much than better than approaching them from a blaming space. “Mandating” parent involvement assumes that parents are not involved in their child’s life. It assumes they are not doing what the “school people” think they should be doing–or else they would be sending the school “better” kids. Why not ask families what they are already doing to support their children and then validate and build on that before making negative assumptions? It would be more effective to work with families as valuable partners in their children’s education, rather than as adversaries to be forced into actions predetermined by school people.

    We need to pause and ask ourselves, “Do we want to be right or do we want to be effective?” To be effective requires empathy and reflection. It requires us to imagine how any message (no matter how accurate) will affect the other person? Will hearing it make them feel judged, defensive, reluctant, or will it make them feel informed and empowered to take specific positive steps? We also need to carefully consider the best manner and the best time to communicate our messages.

    How can we tell if we have been an effective communicator? Well, when a message has been communicated effectively, it will yield positive outcomes for everyone involved. The situation will get better for the student, the teacher, and the parent. Trust between the parties will increase not diminish. There will be an increased willingness to continue to work together and communicate with each other. The parties will feel supported not judged. Why bother with anything else?

    The bottom line is the outcome. The problem with simply mandating parent involvement is that if nothing else changes at a school other than parent involvement becoming “mandated”, what is the likely outcome? Is mandating people to be involved likely to encourage or discourage more involvement?

    Rather than issuing mandates, it would much more effective for schools to examine their traditional intersections with families and make sure each one is reinvented to be engaging, linked to student learning and FUN. Become a truly family-friendly school and mandates will not be necessary. After all, “if you build it they will come”.

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