The “Real” Power of Parents in Classrooms

16 Sep

It’s not revolutionary to say that for a classroom to function well, teachers need parents to be partners. We need parents to support us and back us up at home, to make sure that students arrive at school on time and ready to learn, and to make sure that learning is reinforced and continued outside the classroom.

But something happened this week that reminded me that parents can often provide an alternate perspective on students that’s valuable to me as a teacher. Parents know their children more completely than teachers do, and by paying attention to this we can better understand students and help them learn.

During the first few weeks of school I spend a lot of time establishing routines and getting to know students. As I went through this process this year I noticed that one student was particularly withdrawn and un-cooperative.

He  was sullen, un-communicative and reluctant to share or participate in even low risk activities. The academic expectations are intentionally low during this process  so that students can experience success, but he wasn’t meeting even these low standards. As the first few days passed I encouraged him to take more risks and in response he began to “shut down” and withdrew more .

Things deteriorated to the point where one day he refused to participate at all and began disrupting others. I intervened, and with administrative support, we found somewhere else for him to learn for the rest of the day.

I asked his mum to come in to discuss what was happening and fortunately she was available and came in right away. She told me lots of facts that informed me better about her son, but it wasn’t what she said that helped the most.

What I didn’t expect was how the student was “changed” around his mum. He became open and expressive, willing to discuss what he’d done and why.  He was insightful and honest and could explain what was happening so we could ‘problem solve’ together.

Before, I’d seen a defiant, obstinate student who refused to co-operate. Now, by seeing this other side of him, I saw he was mostly just scared. I understood that what he needed was to feel safe and supported.

Since that meeting things have been better. I’m not suggesting we’ll never have problems again, but I feel I have a better chance of reaching him and helping him learn in our classroom. I couldn’t get this insight by talking to other teachers, reading his student record or watching him in class. I could only learn it by watching him with his mum.

That’s the “real” power of parents in the classroom. The power to wipe away the layers of coping strategies that students build up and allow us to glimpse the real person in there.

I’ll be watching much more carefully at “Meet The Teacher” this week for more insights into students by looking at them through their parent’s eyes.

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