Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Parent Involvement- What's your advice?

So now that I've written about all the practices I know to do in order to reach out to parents, I've got a long list of questions I'm utterly stuck on when it comes to parent relations.

A few years ago we worked with a parent who wanted worksheets. Nothing we could do or say would convince this parent that worksheets were not the way to go. Despite the data we'd collected and being able to show that everything we were doing was considered best practice and research based- this parent wanted worksheets.

It got ugly.

We weren't going to change our instruction to meet this parent's request, not when the child was benefiting from our instruction, as was the rest of the class. (If the child had not been making progress it would have been a different story- we gladly would have tried something new if we felt it would be in the best interest of the child). We tried to explain to the parent why we did what we did, we brought in resources, experts from our building, and spent hours going over exactly what our reasoning was. Nothing worked. Worksheets were all the parent wanted, for what appeared to be no justifiable reason. When asked why worksheets were requested we were given the "it worked for me" answer.

As we declined to put worksheets in place of centers the relationship deteriorated. Suddenly everything we did was awful. Every action we made was met with a phone call and a complaint. None of our normal parent relationship-building practices worked. At  some point we'd stepped over the line of no return and we seemed to be destined to continue the year in a permanent state of conflict. Complaints were registered above us. We documented every step we took, every moment in the classroom being backed up and defended in case the parent came after us. Although everything we were doing was supported by best practice and research, we still needed to be able to prove what we were doing was right when asked by those above us.

It wasn't fun.

In fact, it was the opposite of fun. We got through it, but instead of spending time and energy to improve our practice we spent a lot of time on paperwork and in meetings. While we could have been teaching there were substitutes in the room so we could sit in meetings. Ironically, sometimes we'd leave worksheets with the substitute. And as expected when you give kinders worksheets, it didn't go well.

What should we have done differently? Should we have given some worksheets just to make the parent happy? Or would that have become a slippery slope of giving in to whatever the parent wanted, despite what we know is best for kids?

How do we de-escalate parents so we can have meaningful and productive conversations about children?

A parent once shared with me that she felt it was her duty as a parent to be "on" the school at all times. It's what her mother did for her. She didn't feel that she was being a good parent if she just trusted what the school said- arguing with us at every step of the way was part of her parental duties.

I wonder how many parents feel that way. Especially parents who come from a cultural background that inherently do not trust public schools (for what are probably justifiable reasons).

How do we rebuild that trust? How do we work with parents who want to advocate for their children and "on" the school at all times, while managing to maintain a productive parent-teacher relationship that best meets the needs of the child?

What do your schools do to work with parents? How do you help parents understand that what you are doing is best for their child? How do you create a team mindset between parents and the school instead of a contentious one? I would love to hear what other schools and teachers do to create and maintain productive relationships.


Karen said...

Would the parent in your story have been willing to do worksheets with the child at home? I teach middle school, but I've had similar issues with parents demanding we "kill and drill" math facts, despite trying to convince them that isn't what will be successful in class (or else believe me, I'd do it! So much easier than activities!)

In those cases, often times if I provide a packet of drills with answer keys (and links to pages or videos showing how to do the problems), parents are satisfied that they have the resources to drill their child at home.

The problem is that since my kiddos are 13, they very clearly express to me that they don't want to do worksheets, so their parents forcing them to do it at home just makes them hate math all the more. It's a vicious cycle.

Most often recently parents have been demanding a textbook. They want me to teach the way they were taught--"Today is lesson 6-4, we are going to learn to find the y-intercept of a line from a graph and an equation. Look at sample problem 4, then try 6-8 on your own". That's just not the way it's done anymore. I find many parents acquiesce when I send home a textbook for them to look at, even if we don't use it in class.

I don't know if either of those really solves the problem, or if it's just kind of brushing it under the rug.

organized chaos said...

Karen, that's a great idea. We'll do it our way, you do it yours... I think we'd contimplated that and decided it would be too much work to put the packets together, but maybe 30 minutes at the copying machine would have saved us all a lot of stress.
Isn't it frustrating that what parents think they want so often goes against how we are taught to teach? How do we get past the 'it worked fine for me so why can't we keep doing it that way?' attitude?


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Worksheets for kindergarten children is not standard, but I don't think it could possibly be harmful unless the parent is using them in a "taskmaster" sort of way. But there is also the reality that children are arriving
in high school without many of the basic skills; I have to say that "that's just not the way it's done any more," with respect to the use or non-use of textbooks, is not an acceptable response to parents. When schools ditch textbooks, it's not just the parents who feel out of the loop; it can be the students too, because they have no resource to give them an overview of what they are learning, to use for review, or even to skip forward and see what's coming up.

Anonymous said...

I don't know you and I am not the parent who told you that it was her job to be on the school.

However, I feel the same way. I have three children. I have had issues with the school with all three. The principal told me that there was no point in using resources for my oldest child, as she would ace the standardized tests even if they kept her in a cardboard box the entire year. The youngest has needed speech therapy since toddlerhood. When he was in kindergarten, the entire school did not have a speech therapist because it was too hard to hire one.

I knew enough about IEPs to know that the school can't just ignore them. But, parents do have to force the school to follow the IEP. We had file a complaint with the state, and had many meeting with the County Board of Ed. The meetings were basically to show the school system that a) we knew the rules; and b) we would not back down from getting our child the help he needed.

I have many more examples of how the school would harm my children if that was the easiest course of action.

I do trust the school system. I trust that they will do the least amount of work possible. My job as a parent (well obviously the best option would be to make enough money to send them to private school, but I can't seem to do that) is to make sure that they get an education. When the school is on board with that plan, I will work with the school. If they act against my child's interests, well, then we have a problem.

I am not the only parent who has had these types of problems. In fact,I only knew what to do about the speech issues because I have older siblings and friends whose children had similar issues.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the lack of text books. If a child comes home with homework and doesn't know how they are supposed to do it, if they don't have a text book, where do they find out the methodology?

Last year I had two kids in junior high. Every once in a while, they would come home with incomprehensible math homework, and no textbook to explain the methodology. I have a Ph.D in economics, I can do seventh grade math, but without understanding what the school was trying to teach I couldn't help them.

Textbooks are crucial.

organized chaos said...

Anonymous with three kids- I totally understand where you are coming from. If Baby Lipstick turns out to need an IEP God help those teachers and administrators- knowing what I know about the IEP process and how schools work I have a feeling I will be going line by line over those IEPs with a fine tooth comb demanding to see supporting data.
And parents should do that. You know your kids better than we do, and you should not settle for easy answers from the schools, "because this is how we do it now".
So how do we as a school build back your trust that we will do the right thing? Or is it too late? What do you want to see from individual teachers and from the school in general?
It horrifies me that any school would have to be forced to follow an IEP, especially if the school itself wrote the IEP and it wasn't a document transferring into the school or district. As a teacher my interests are what is best for the child, but I suppose that's not the same for everyone.
How do we repair a broken relationship?

Anonymous said...

I have somethoughts about repairing a broken relationship:

1) Be transparent and make information readily available in a variety of formats to parents. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying get info from the schools. School starts next week. I have gotten the school supply list for two of my three kids this week. I won't get the third kid's list until after school starts. This is information that should be on the school's website by the end of June. I am also trying to get info on when sports tryouts are, which is not available.

I know that back to school nights will happen in the next few weeks. I have only been able to find out when one of my kids three schools is.

2) Be respectful of parent's time. To get one kid's schedule, I had to go to a meeting Monday night and then return to the school Tuesday morning. If I had two kids at that school, I would have had to go Monday night, Tuesday morning AND Wednesday morning. To get my oldest child's schedule, I have to go to that school Thursday morning. Frankly, I resent having to burn almost a week's vacation to get schedules and buy school supplies. The schools could coordinate so that all the schedules are available on the same day. They could put the schedules on the online grade system. They just don't.

3) Minimize or eliminate the hoops that parents have to jump through to find out what is going on at the school. Use the web to put out information early, often and accurately. I attend parent's club because that is the only way to get info about what is going on at the school. This involves missing a morning of work once a month.

4) My children are going to school to get an education. Not to fundraise for the school. While they are there, they need to have competent teachers and an orderly classroom. They are not there to participate in fundraisers or gin up money thru ADA. Every time they are pulled out of an academic class to sit in an assembly, that tells me the school is not working towards the same goals I am.

Anonymous said...

Are schools perfect? Of course not. I have trouble with the generalized "schools". It is not all schools and I don't think it's even the majority of schools. In addition, it's often not the teachers or school, but the system that puts roadblocks in the way.

organized chaos said...

You're right, you can't generalize all schools. But the problem is the public DOES generalize schools- what one school does to lose a parent's trust will stay with that parent forever. Every other school they walk into will be faced with dealing with that previous lack of trust. So we need to understand what's happened and what we can do to prove that we are trustworthy.