Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Relationships/Communication

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How can families and schools better communicate?

It is hard to believe that in today’s world we have a breakdown in communication on any level. We have the ability to be connected with each other 24 hours a day seven days a week. Cell phones, pagers, and Internet are all devices we use on a daily basis to stay connected, so it is not surprising that the communications between the families and the schools the children attend are in sync more than ever. There is a real effort to include families into the school environment, and in some ways the programs the schools have for our children could not take place without the effort of the parents and guardians. Communication with our children's teachers is right at our fingertips, but without getting the information out to parents on how to access this information, it is a resource that is wasted.

Staying in Touch[edit]

When parents are involved in their children's education, studies show that students generally have higher grades and test scores, and are more likely to go to college.

—(pta.org)

It is important for those parents who may not be able to take time out of their busy lives to volunteer within the school to be able to communicate with the teachers and have information on what is going on in their children lives as well. This has become extremely easy with the introduction of technology into our everyday lives. Teachers are just a mouse click away. Parents are able to email directly to their child's teacher any time day or night, schools have direct voice mailbox for parents to leave messages for the teacher, and the use of cell phones for immediate contact. No longer do we have to hear about a situation after the fact, but we now have the ability to know immediately. As your child becomes older, they are less likely to bring home the everyday paper that has been graded. The days of parents unaware of their child's progress until report cards is in the past. Now, parents are able to access their child's grades using the Internet. Parents are able to see what is going on within the school on Internet based School Web Sites and even have homework and daily announcements sent right to their home computers or hand-held devices. Staying in touch with your children’s teacher and school has never been as easy or more accessible. Technology is not the only answer to keeping the communication lines only, School Systems across the nation are setting days on their yearly calendars for personal conferences. Our school system here in Virginia Beach, has devoted several days of teacher-parent conferences staggered throughout the year. This is where the teacher and parent can meet during the day, at a time convenient for both parties. The meeting is spent discussing the progress the child is making. They can talk of strategies and the teachers can give parents advice on what they need to work on at home in order to assist the student in making sure they stay up to date with their studies. This allows the parents to meet the teacher and put a face and personality with a name. The teacher in return is able to speak directly to the parent and form a relationship. It gives the link needed to help the child succeed, as one principal of a school said, “In order to run an effective school, there has to be that link between the home and the school. If you don’t have that link, you’re spinning your wheels. You never make a dent in education unless the parents are involved.” (2007, The Record) Gone are the days of putting your child on the bus and seeing them when they arrive home at the end of the day. Today’s schools encourage parents to become a familiar face inside the school.

One problem however is the fact that not all parents have access to email, don't have cell phone or pagers and a lot of single parents work hours that make it almost impossible to come in for a conference unless it is planned well in advance. One way to overcome this is through SchoolCall. This system makes it simple for schools to report student absences to parents automatically, set up web interfaces that allow teachers to set up call groups, and even voicemail for faculty. This system should be taken a step further to allow calls to a teachers room to be forwarded to their home. This would allow parents who can't call during school hours to contact the teacher without the teacher's home phone number. Often these are the ones, single parents working crazy hours who need to be able to get in contact with teachers and can't always rely on the child to bring messages home, who need this access. While email and cell phones are great, they don't work for everyone and we as teachers need to be aware of this and find ways around this problem.

Getting Involved[edit]

Statistics show that there is a “positive and convincing relationship between family involvement and benefits for students, including improved academic achievement.” (Henderson and Mapp 2002). When it has been shown to improve test scores with increased parental involvement schools, school boards and states have come up with ways to make sure that the parents have an opportunity to play a role in their child's education. It is no longer just the teacher’s job to make sure your child is learning we are now in an age where the parent’s role has become increasingly important in the type of education your child is receiving.

There are several major groups that play a large part in bridging the communication gap between parents and their children’s school. The PTA has become a powerhouse for all individual schools over the past several years. The PTA (Parent Teacher Association) is an organization on the front line of any school when it comes to parent participation. It organizes volunteers who are responsible for in school and after-school programs that have branched out from carnivals and field days to educational programs such as math and science night. In December 2003, a campaign was designed to “increase awareness of critical benefits of parental involvement and to provide parents with practical, easy ways to help their children succeed in school and in life.” (pta.org) This advertising campaign is a tool that is used to inform parents that it is vital to become involved in their children's education. Directed by actor James Woods, the ad states that you must “Know what really matters, know about your kid’s school, and know about your kid” (pta.org) it follows with a phone number and web site that you could use to find your schools information on its PTA organization. One example of how far the PTA has come over the years is the Reflections Contest held every year. The Reflections Contest is run by local PTA volunteers within each school, which bring together teachers and parents to entice students to enter into a contest displaying their talents in many categories such as music, art, poetry and drama. Winners are judged and chosen on a local, state and then national level and each year the students are able to compete to come up with the theme for the following year. This is a great way families can become involved, work with and begin the process of communicating with the teachers and the school.

Another organization is the School Planning Council. This is made up of Administration, Teachers and Parents who meet together at the beginning of every school year to go over the curriculum. This is a very important organization that allows parents to have a voice in what their child is learning. The opportunity to participate on the Council is offered to every parent of the school their child attends. This is another bridge to enable parents to become involved with their children's education.

Open Door Policy[edit]

Today’s school has a variety of volunteer positions that enable parents to become a part of the school day. This has come into play on a major scale with the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” (NCLB) Title I of NCLB (Section 1118) “outline requirements for schools, districts, and cites to create partnerships between parents and schools. Under NCLB, schools are required to provide opportunities for parent involvement” (Vaden-Kiernan 2002-03) Teachers want you to come into the class and volunteer, they encourage parents to come in and help with all of the day to day activities and schools have begun opening their doors. Parents can come into the class and help out with tasks that take up teacher’s instruction time. For example, parents can help the teacher with copying papers, filing, and grading so that the instructional time for teachers will not be cut short with non-teaching tasks and enables the teacher to concentrate on teaching. Principals play a vital role in allowing open door policies within the schools so that parent involvement is able to happen. Principals give the face to the school as a friendly family environment. If a parent feels wanted, it is more likely that they will want to return to that environment. And studies showed that it is possible that “higher parent involvement encourages schools to communicate better with parents.” (Vaden-Kiernan 2002-03)

Conclusion[edit]

Today’s school systems are finding a variety of ways to improve communication between parents and their schools. Schools are improving parental information of how their child develops. Schools are giving information pertaining to the developmental processes and the expectations of the child, according to grade level, through literature available to all parents. Schools are keeping lines of communication open. They are making teachers available and more accessible along with incorporating technology, which enables easier access for parents to communicate with their schools and encouraging parent involvement with an abundance of programs for parents to become involved. Every child benefits when there is an established and comfortable line of communication between parents and the school.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

What is the major powerhouse that is spearheading the volunteer movement within our schools today?
A. Teacher-parent conferences
B. Parent teacher organizations
C. Friendly principal attitudes
D. Internet-connected teachers

B. Parent teacher organizations

What might an obstacle be that parents might face in order to become involved within the school their child attends?
A. Unruly children.
B. Teacher-friendly atmosphere.
C. No information on volunteering.
D. No car.

C. No information on volunteering.

How has the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) become a push for more parental involvement?
A. We did not leave a child behind.
B. Outlines requirements for schools to create volunteer opportunities.
C. Given more information for schools on how to involve parents.
D. Both B and C.

B. Outlines requirements for schools to create volunteer opportunities.

Studies of parental involvement within schools have shown to
A. Improve test scores.
B. Motivate parents to become teachers.
C. Irritate teachers and staff.
D. Become a distraction to the children.

A. Improve test scores.

he Reflections Contest held by the PTA organization every year...
A. Promotes drama among schools.
B. Helps to fill time prior to SOL testing.
C. Promotes parents and teachers to work together.
D. Does nothing and is a waste of time.

C. Promotes parents and teachers to work together.

Without any support from parents students are most likely to
A. Succeed
B. Not care
C. Try harder
D. Be grateful

B. Not care

Minnie received a C on her first test of the year. Her parents were still proud of her for trying. Because of this Minnie _____
A. Did worse on her next test because her parents were okay with Cs.
B. Gave up because Cs were not good enough in her mind.
C. Tried even harder to receive a better grade.
D. Didn't show her parents the rest the grades she received in school.

C. Tried even harder to receive a better grade.

(This lesson is incomplete. Click "edit" to provide an example.)

A. Volunteer at school events.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

With the vast resources the school systems have to include parents in the children’s education, do you see any reason why a parent is unable to become involved and if so what would you do to help that parent?

During the past two years of teaching, I have met many parents who are unable to become actively involved in their child’s education. Many parents because of their personal situation, such as divorce or economics (some work two jobs) do not have the time or energy to devote time to their child’s education. For example, I have met a parent who is in a very lengthy custody battle. She is always traveling to and from another state and it is very difficult for her to become actively involved. I have given her my cell phone number, exchanged email addresses, and told her that she can contact me on the weekends if necessary. She has made great strides in keeping in touch with me, but it has been difficult.

In addition, I have given other parents my cell phone number and will call on weekends and during lunch at school to try and keep in contact with them and inform them of their child’s progress. I have also (with their permission) called parents at work. If their child is not doing well (which is the case for many of these students) I will tutor them after school twice a week or refer them to someone who can better help them such as a math/science teacher. Contacting these parents takes a great deal of effort, however, it is vital to a student’s success in that they know that their teacher is making that extra effort.

Many parents are unable to attend Parent/Teacher conferences since they work late hours so I will give them my cell phone number or email address. They can contact me at their convenience. I also let parents know that they can go to the library to access the Internet if they do not own a computer. In addition, some students may be out of district so it is harder for the parent to come to school. Some of these parents do not own a car and must take a bus. For these parents, it is vital that I give them my cell phone number or email address. I will send home letters or notes informing them of their child’s progress if I do not get a response from an email or a call.

Unfortunately, there are those parents who just do not become involved with their child’s education at all. These parents are very vocal in letting you know that it is your job to educate their child. A few parents have even told me that they do not want to hear anything from their child’s school or teacher. In a situation such as this, there is not much a teacher can do except to let the student know that you are always available to help them. Therefore, it is extremely important that teachers give these students the extra support and guidance that they need. —Janice Utt

References[edit]