I want to ask every educator in primary and secondary sectors, the following questions:
What exactly is the expected role of parents in your school?
In your classroom, what specific part(s) of each child’s education do you want parents to be involved with?
How do you deal with parents who do not behave as you want them to in your school community?
What avenues exist for those parents who want to do what you are asking them to do, to be part of your community?
Think about it. If, like me, you concern yourself with more than the content you want your students to learn or the experience that your teaching offers them then, as Graham Nutall’s book clearly states, there are ‘Hidden Lives of Learners’. If, like me, you truly believe that education is as significant in the home environment as it is in the classroom, then not only will you be adhering to strong messages from the ‘oh so delightful’ MacArthur Foundation (see video), but you will be concerned with parents.
Yet, in my experience as an educator and as a parent, many schools are confused with what they want from the parent community. Or maybe that’s a little harsh. Many schools are not confused but perhaps they are not telling the complete truth. Ask senior leaders in many schools what they want from parents of students and they will talk about active roles in their child’s education; support for what the school is trying to achieve and in many cases, opportunities for extension of the learning happening in the school environment. However, it seems that when parents don’t do exactly what is expected of them, then their foreseen role get’s kind of complicated. I am sure there are many educators out there who know the parents who are ‘pushy’. the ‘complainers’ but are some of these just doing what you want them to do and others struggling from a lack of clear guidance as to what role they are supposed to be playing.
So. let’s get to the last question regarding the avenues you are offering parents. And to me, this is where the parental portals that exist as part of many VLEs,really do fall very short of what is actually required or indeed desired. But then again, the primary school that invites parents into the classroom at specific times to play a part in a child’s learning – that can be as ill-conceived. The problem with this approach is not the concept or the idea but it’s the flexibility. It is only when the terms are exactly as stated and the plans go according to what the school and the teacher expects that such schemes seem to work. As already mentioned, when parents don’t do exactly what is expected of them, then these systems struggle. I think Seth Godin’s take on customer service has a good message for all of us in this regard.
I think it is time to be honest in each and every school community and make it clearer than clear as to what the role of parents actually is.