Teaming up for kids: A parent and educator reflects on how teachers and parents can best help one another

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Three Ways A Parent Can Help Their Child’s Teacher

by Kerry Dunne @dunneteach

1. Advocate for all kids, not just your kid.

The truth is the squeaky wheel does sometimes get the grease– or more attention, or more resources. Commit to being involved in your child’s school and classroom in a way that benefits all children. Be the rising tide that lifts all boats. A teacher doesn’t always welcome requests for special treatment for a child who likely already has more advantages in life than others, but she or he certainly respects parents who give their time, energy, and resources to endeavors that benefit every child in a class, grade, or school. Want to go the extra mile, and really make your child’s teacher’s day Invite a classmate who you suspect has less resources at home than your own child along with your family the next time you go to a museum, hike, sporting event, or cultural event, or to your house to work on an upcoming project for school with your help and support.

2. Stay tuned to what is going on in your child’s school and district, and fight to keep the “good stuff” in the school day.

Sadly, we live in a time where educational dollars flow towards assessment and accountability, often at the expense of “extras” that should be a standard part of the school day. Our state tests usually only measure reading and math achievement and progress, and schools are increasingly reacting by teaching only reading and math– obviously critical areas for skill development, but few sensible people would think that a day of only reading and math provides sufficient opportunity, knowledge, or engagement for our students. Does your child get science and social studies every day?What about art? Music? Enough PE? Recess? Hands-on technology classes? The opportunity to learn a second language? If you aren’t seeing it– call the principal, write the superintendent, and write to your local board of education. Become an activist to ensure that your child and others like him and her receive the “good stuff” beyond the basics. These non-reading/math courses, subjects, and areas of enrichment are being squeezed out by school and district policies and practices focused only on test results in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. In cutting “the good stuff”, decision-makers rob our children of developing life-long interests and being prepared for an increasingly complex world. Not only that, but doubling down on reading and math at the expense of everything else often proves to be a losing proposition for schools, as accessing complex texts is aided by background knowledge of content, and, ironically, lower test scores are the result– and these scores are again lowered when parents pull high-achieving students to enroll them in other schools with more enrichment opportunities. So, help your school prevent that “only reading and math” death spiral by being an advocate for music, art, history and social studies, science, technology, PE, and world languages.

3. Talk to your child about school.

Communication with your child’s teacher is great! But communication with your child is even better! Ask him or her about what they are reading at school, the math skills they are practicing, the topics they are learning about in science or social studies, the games they are playing in PE. Ask him or her about the best and worst parts of each day. Ask how things are going socially– who is he or she enjoying spending time with at school? If you identify areas of struggle for your child, talk about it together and come up with some ideas for a plan to improve things.


Three Ways Teachers Can Help Parents

1. Make a class website, and post everything there.

My children lose pieces of paper like no one’s business. And… so do I. Apple. Tree. And my husband is the world’s most enthusiastic recycler, who bins it first and asks questions later. As the parent who gets home last most evenings, anything sent home in a backpack has been touched by a child, our after-school babysitter, and my husband who arrives home before me. With the exception of birthday party invites, which miraculously, and suspiciously, always seem to survive this chain of custody and end up magnetted to the refrigerator, it is the rare spelling word list, project rubric, or permission slip that makes it into my hands. Please, I beg you, post everything online on a classroom website.

2. Watch out for mean behavior, address it, and set up paradigms that prevent it.

One of our children struggles a bit socially and academically. She’s had years where we’ve had relatively smooth sailing, and years where we have been on the brink of homeschooling (OK, I jest. Hyperbole. I would never. Bluffing. However, you get my drift– some years are better than other.) The core difference is that some teachers are just highly attuned to creating a positive classroom community. They are no-nonsense in a way that discourages mean or inappropriate behaviour, they watch for this behaviour, and they put a stop to it when they see it. They also work with my daughter to help her make social connections with other students and to then to become less dependent on the teacher to facilitate these connections.

3. Fight, from the inside, to preserve experiential, well-rounded education.

I’ve asked parents to lean on school committees and district leadership to preserve educational priorities beyond just reading and math. Fight the fight from trenches- please! Fill out the 10,000 forms required to bring your class on a field trip to the aquarium. Ask the mom who is a police officer to come in to talk to your class about her job as a way for them to learn more, straight from the source, about civics and law. Have a class pet in an aquarium tank, even if it is a beetle or hermit crab. Get the stink eye from your principal when you question a decision to cut back recess, bury social studies in an ELA program where you know it won’t actually happen, or reduce PE from twice to only once per week. I hate to ask you to take these risks, but I hate even more that they are risks at all, and I beg you to use your voice as a teacher to ask be an activist for the “good stuff” that all of our children deserve.

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