Monday, July 30, 2012
Parent Involvement- Meeting parents where they are
From my experience the best way I've found to reach out to resistant parents is to meet them where they are. Appreciating the fear and anxiety that coming to school can cause for parents I've seen that home visits, coming to their children's birthday parties, running into them at kiss-and-ride and talking to them about things other than their children's progress can begin to build a relationship you can build on.
When I was a first grade classroom teacher I had a child whose mother hated me. She hated all teachers and I'd heard stories about how she abused the kindergarten teacher. When her child was in my room she refused to call me by my name, but instead by the kinder teacher's name (who she'd refused to call by the correct name when she was in the class). Then one day I ran into her in the grocery store. It wasn't anywhere near my school- it was near my house where I never saw parents. I was buying beer. Not just a little bit, but a big case of beer. As I got into line with my arms filled with the massive case I saw her and wanted to run. 'She can't see me like this!' I immediately thought. But before I could hide she saw me and immediately got the biggest smile on her face. She rushed over to me and greeted me with kisses on both cheeks. She didn't speak English so we couldn't have a conversation, but the next day she wrote me a note in Spanish that was addressed to me- with my real name. Seeing that I was human changed her perception of me. After that we had a great relationship, and the following year she didn't abuse the second grade teacher.
Clearly no book or any seasoned teacher would recommend buying beer with a parent, and it wasn't a situation that could be planned. But it was a great reminder that some parents need to be reminded that we are human.
Many times it is little things that make a difference. I usually like to look professional for my meetings with parents, particularly for IEP meetings. I have suit jackets and nice skirts. I want to send the message that I take their child's education very seriously. But I've learned that with some parents it's too much. It can send the message that I'm on a high platform and can't relate to their needs. With one parent my relationship totally changed once I started wearing jeans to our meetings.
Home visits allow you to literally meet parents where they are, and can make all the difference. Of course there are families that would rather not have you visit, and it's important to respect and understand that as well. Home visits are time consuming but pay out for the rest of the year. Many times you get a much greater sense of the family dynamics and where the entire family is coming from. It opens the door to relating with parents at a whole new level.
One of my favorite ways to connect with parents is through birthday parties. Not many of the children I teach have birthday parties where they invite their friends, but I make it a rule to always go to them if I am available and am invited. I had one parent who avoided me like the plague, and would suddenly have bad phone reception whenever she happened to pick up and I was on the other end. I went to her child's birthday and as we talked about the craft projects she had around the house she slowly melted. When I left she followed me out onto the sidewalk and yelled across the parking lot that she wanted to come in and meet with me.
Some parents are intimidated by schools, particularly if they are not originally from America. Parents who cannot read in their native language are going to be even more hesitant to come in and meet with us, even when we offer a translator. Some parents might not have been able to go to school themselves in their native countries for various reasons. I know many of the parents I've worked with who are from El Salvador were kept from school because of their civil war. Unsure of how to act in a school and having no background experience to pull from, these parents avoid school. It's our job to help them feel comfortable and open the path for encouraging school participation.
We have to break down the nervousness and intimidation the parents feel toward school and the system. We need to send the message that we want them to be a part of their children's school experience, and that we are not judging them. And sometimes we have to be creative in order to do that.