Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pre-Teaching Through Parent Engagement

When looking for ways to increase parent engagement we see many options.  Some promote short-term involvement, and allow parents to drop out somewhere around the next bend, like when their child moves up a grade.  Other programs or ideas build parent engagement progressively, making it a part of the expected family dynamics each year. 

One idea that leads to an increase in parent engagement is pre-teaching at home.  If parents are given the upcoming curriculum standards, they have a chance to be the one who teaches their child some of what is to be learned.  This increases their knowledge of the path ahead, but also gives their child a memory of their involvement. 

For example, if Kindergartners are going to be learning about “Scissors Safety” the practices can be sent home just after registration and the parents can ease into the concept in the safety and calmness of home.  The child will always remember the lesson coming from their mom or dad, and when the teacher asks them to demonstrate their safe technique in class they’ll come off as prepared and confident.  This builds esteem.

This type of parent-inclusion can become part of the year-in-year-out expectations; this is the new norm and what we do each grade level.  It can help parents to re-learn or remember what they learned in school long ago, or maybe the parents are learning it for the first time.  Some parents are less proficient at English than their children, and getting them to help the child learn vocab terms can also help the parents.  Maybe it can lead to involving other siblings, too, raising the level of knowledge in the whole household.  It can also give the parent a chance to teach things a bit “their own way” so they can create a family context around the lessons.  

For example, sex education is a very delicate and personal process for any family.  Most parents want to be the ones who open up this topic and discussion.  For some families, their beliefs around this topic would be respected by pre-teaching it at home by creating a context consistent with their family beliefs.  It takes courage to enter into these topics with a child whose innocence you have been protecting, so having a nudge by the school can help parents have “the talk” before losing the opportunity to bring it up first.  Some parents will discount their ability and chicken-out, leaving these things “to the professional” instead of giving it a try.  That's fine.  But for the parents who want this type of education kept within the context of home, family, a loving marriage, and preventing society from becoming the role model, being enabled to teach the content at home is a great chance to be involved.  The school may even allow the student the option to “test out” of the classes on that content, giving them a privilege to learn something else for those few weeks. 

There are many ways parents can be drawn into their child’s education.  By becoming part of the “lesson memories” that will forever remain in their child’s mind, the parent/child relationship is actually strengthened -- helping them to survive many bigger upcoming challenges that all families will face.  These types of solutions to parent engagement are more available than ever before, and don't cost much.  It just takes being a bit creative, thinking outside the box, and building on other good ideas.  

For example, most schools have adopted online learning management system (LMS) platforms that allow cloud-based communication, distribution of content, testing, and many administrative functions.  Going forward we will obviously be seeing more of this, not less.  So, why not develop a “take home” content section for parents to be linked to after registration.  Once developed, these online lessons can be stored and distributed at almost zero cost. 

One district who develops a “take home” course can sell it to other districts -- covering their cost and allowing other districts to have it at a lower cost than developing it on their own.  Since state standards are often the yardstick for all schools, having the state develop the take home content and provide it at a nominal cost makes even more sense and can create a statewide increase in parent engagement.  Wouldn't that be a good thing?  With the cost savings of digital reproduction it is possible to distribute tremendous amounts of content at virtually no cost.  The expense is in the development phase and in the annual editing work, but these costs can be easily distributed over a large market so each user pays only a fraction of the cost.  Here is a simple equation illustrating the relationship.

If state laws prohibit the state department of education (DOE) from “going into the courseware business” then a non-profit can be licensed and contracted by the state DOE to provide the content to meet appropriate standards.  The content can also include lessons for the parents on good instructional principles and techniques. This could be a great way to improve parent/child relationships across the state by improving communications, as well as building mutual respect and familiarity.  All good things. 

The point here is that cost is no longer a reason to not provide parents a shot at pre-teaching their children.  By providing the opportunities, the state DOE can allow each community to opt-in and increase use of the program at their own rate. This builds community strength of participation.  But the biggest benefit comes in the conversations held between parent and child.  Anchoring the child’s associative relationship between their parent and the given lessons is a powerful asset to their future relationship.   Truly something worth considering.