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One of the first things I saw on Facebook this morning was a question posed by a friend “Is parent involvement in schools, an interference or healthy intervention?”

And I was startled and dismayed to read many of the responses that it had elicited. Those responses made me feel like we were till in the dark ages! My immediate response was:

It’s sad that this is even a question…! 😦 We seem to be forgetting that that they are the parents… and it is their children we are talking about! They will be in each other’s lives FOREVER… and what happens to them will matter to parents forever… Once they are out of school, MOST children are GONE from teachers’ lives. We need to be thinking of effective and healthy ways of involving parents, NOT seeing them as interference.

But it took me back many years… to a time when my mother and I would regularly take workshops on enabling Parent Involvement in schools and I delved into old manuscripts and I came across several that I wrote over 2 decades ago. Nothing much seems to have changed. What a sad commentary… Yet it goads me to copy in one of those notes ‘as is’…

It is a note a I prepared for the Indian Association for Preschool Education [as it was known as in those days] Conference in Oct. 1998 Mumbai

Here it is:

HOME SCHOOL PARTNERSHIP –- A COMMENT

At the very start, let me express my feelings of gladness and satisfaction that we are using the word “partnership” in the context of home and school. The word partnership (in its true spirit) implies

~ a relationship amongst equals

              ~ having similar objectives

                       ~ and accountability for what happens

In this case the similar objectives would relate to the welfare and optimal development of the child; or at least we so profess! However, if the present scenario is considered in the context of the above three characteristics, I’m afraid we have a rather dismal picture in front of us. Let me however; also add immediately, that I am a diehard optimist. A dismal picture today does not mean that things can’t be changed. But it is going to require a fair amount of genuine effort that stems from a vision.

 Let me also at the outset make it clear that I am likely to come down very hard on my own tribe (teachers). I am choosing to do this very consciously. We have for too long rested the blame for all the evils and lack of change at the parents’ close minded attitudes. Let us for a minute forget about their capabilities or lack of them. What about our own? We are the ones that are (supposedly) trained. We are the ones that have a lot more power in the school situation and can without much effort get parents to “fall into line”! We are the ones, that tiny tots look up to and say, “But teacher said so”.

What is keeping us from using our strength, our competencies?  It would probably be safe to assume that all of us here are parents and/or teachers.  As parents we have perhaps faced some of these problems. Let us hold on to the sensitivity that is ours as parents to help us make a change as teachers. (I must admit, that if I were right now addressing a group of parents, I’d tell them to forget about the teachers and concentrate on what they can do!)

Let us begin by peeping into what goes in various school and home settings in the context of this all-important relationship.

Parents’ Anguish

 The scene was that of a typical PTA meeting / conference where parents had been called in to be told about their ward’s progress. They were standing in lines / queues waiting their turn to reach the teachers desk. They shared with each other their anxiety about why they had been called in. A parent was overheard commenting “Oh, I don’t have to meet the English teacher. She told my son he was doing okay. She was going to ask only those who were doing badly to come in”.

When a parent finally reached the teacher’s desk, she (the teacher) went through her register to identify what she wanted to tell the parent about her child’s progress. Almost never was there any word of encouragement or praise. Typical comments included “You must pay more attention to so and so’s studies. He never listens to what is being told. If she has to pass perhaps you should get her to have extra tutoring” – and more in the same vein.

 All this while the hapless parent is standing without being given a chance to share or ask questions; aware that the teacher didn’t even know about whom she was talking just by being given the name of the child. Only when the register was consulted did she get into her diatribe.

Think about what this means.

~ Who is called in?

~ For what?

~ What information is given?

~ In what manner is that information provided?

 Is it any surprise then that parents are often anxious, even scared at the thought of meeting their children’s teachers?  It is a sad commentary on our school system, but most parents find the system and the personnel

While it may not always be possible to involve the parents entirely or perhaps not a very large number of the parent population in the administrative details of the school functioning; there is certainly no excuse to not involve them at the other levels.

Quite apart from the benefit that would accrue to the child and his family (and that by itself is more than adequate reason) the involvement of parents is a rather practical way of dealing with the insufficiency of personnel in the school setting. We could provide more meaningful programs and activities, with a greater

that populate it unapproachable and closed to genuine sharing or anything that could remotely constitute a partnership!

The issue of home school partnership can be viewed from the parents’ angle or from that of the school. From the school or teachers perspective it may best be examined in the context of parent involvement.

If one accepts that parents can and should be involved in their child’s education one can begin to look at the possibilities.

 At one end of the continuum of involvement is the presence of parents at various school meetings, individual conferences etc. as a member of the audience. At the other end is when parents themselves choose to set up cooperative preschools and/or are completely involved in the administrative and policy making aspects of the school. In between is the possibility of involving parents as teacher aides or volunteers in classrooms, as resource persons given their particular competencies, having parents share instructional responsibilities and so on. (Kulkarni, S. 1988)

While it may not always be possible to involve the parents entirely or perhaps not a very large number of the parent population in the administrative details of the school functioning; there is certainly no excuse to not involve them at the other levels.

Quite apart from the benefit that would accrue to the child and his family (and that by itself is more than adequate reason) the involvement of parents is a rather practical way of dealing with the insufficiency of personnel in the school setting. We could provide more meaningful programs and activities, with a greater degree of individual attention if we gave parents the opportunity to participate in classroom/school activities. Not only does this provide the teacher with some much needed help but enhances the possibility and competencies of the parents to provide such activities to the children at home. Honig (1979) has indicated three aspects that have led to a realization that we cannot do without parent involvement, particularly in the context of young children. These three trends are

  1. the failure of intervention programs to maintain cognitive gains in the absence of parent involvement
  2. cultural and familial differences in the parents abilities to effectively `teach’ their own children and using involvement to enrich parent-child interaction
  3. beneficial effects of positive parenting on the child’s competence and academic motivation

Perhaps, given the vehemence with which we sometimes seek to keep parent out of the school system, we should question what we are trying to hide!

 

Let us, for a minute, restrict ourselves to the bare minimum level of involvement– where parents form the audience. As the initiators of such involvement we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. Does the PTA meeting provide merely a forum for a few select teachers (In fact, I have begun to wonder why we call it a PTA at all. Most teachers are not present at such meeting. Only the ones who organize it!) to rave at the parents about how they should be more concerned about their child’s progress and invite an `expert’ to lecture the parents on how they should bring up their children.

I think I have been fortunate (as I am sure are many of my colleagues) in having been on both sides of the table. As a parent I have often been frustrated at the teacher’s unwillingness to listen to what I, or other parents, had to say or share about our children. As a resource person at umpteen PTA programs it has been equally frustrating sometimes to convince the school that I did not want to lecture; but that I would prefer a dialogue – one on one – with the parents who had taken the trouble to come. Why are we so unwilling to acknowledge that parents do know their children? They spend more time with them and are going to continue to do so long after we have fed them with whatever doses of knowledge we can.

And the questions we need to ask ourselves are unending. Why are we so quick to blame the parents, why are we never willing to give them the benefit of doubt? Why are we never willing to admit that they do know their children? And why are we never willing to make allowances for (as well as arrangements for) genuine difficulties?

Another memory:

 I was conducting a workshop for teachers on creativity at a school in Mumbai. The conversation veered around the lack of interest parents showed in what the school was attempting to do. “They don’t even come when we arrange a meeting, They come up with some excuse about work or other commitments at home to not turn up”, lamented several of the teachers. I shared with them the fact that I was at that very moment missing out on a PTA meeting at my son’s school!

 

Fine. They are there as an audience. But what do we talk to them about? Have we really ever explained or shared the philosophy based on which the school runs? Have we taken the trouble to listen while they share their concerns, their ideas, their solutions? Are we willing to go along with the times and not throw out ideas just because they originate from parents?

Are we turning into KNOW IT ALL’S?

A friend had this experience to share: She wished to talk about the use of computers with preschool children since her child showed great proficiency and enthusiasm in using the one they had at home. She was shut down arbitrarily, because – “computers are not good for children (they’ll get addicted to them, like they have to television) and besides we are a poor nation we can’t afford computers”! Here was an educated mother speaking, wishing to share her ideas. Somewhere along the way I think the teachers missed the point entirely. She was not propagating the use of computers but a certain rationality and clarity of thought that computers could help develop. But she never got a chance to say so. We teachers know better!

What we need to create is an atmosphere of trust. Let us aim at complementing each other’s roles. As teachers we possess a certain aura that adds to our credibility. It is up to us to ensure it is used productively. We may have to step into advocacy to ensure that children and the fact that they are impressionable is not taken advantage of. This is particularly true as far as the establishment (institutions) and media is concerned. Take a look at the Johnson Kids soap campaigns. Even the ads stack it up against the parents.

And yet another parent Program
This occurred in a school in Pune. The enthusiasm of the teachers was palpable and hence invigorating. A sizeable number of parents were attending the program, which had been scheduled for an evening slot to take the parents’ convenience into account. I was thrilled. As expected, many had their children with them. As also expected, most children after sitting patiently for 30 odd minutes were running up and down the aisles of the `auditorium’ (!).

I am quite comfortable with that but several teachers were not. They felt that the parents should be taking charge to ensure that the children `behaved’ themselves. I ask you, it is our territory. If such a situation bothers us, should we not take the initiative and arrange the environment so that the children have something interesting to occupy themselves in the care of volunteers or teachers?

It really is difficult for parents to leave children elsewhere.

The need for involvement becomes even more critical when a special child is involved. We cannot expect any real change unless we (parents & teachers) are willing to work in tandem with each other.

Before I am attacked by my colleagues for heaping loads of additional responsibility on their already weary shoulders, let me remind them that I did say earlier; that if I were talking to a group of parents I’d tell them what they can do, irrespective of the school. For parent involvement is a two way process and parents can also engage in advocacy for their children and themselves. They can choose to constructively take a stand against malpractices. They can take a stand against sending children to certain schools; they can be assertive and yet understanding while asking for information or requesting that they be heard. They can take the initiative to work through for a like the PTA or other semi-formal structures to engage in a dialogue with the school. Where essential, parents may need to liaison with individual teachers or even the school system itself to deal with situations specific to them. (Although collective action is more likely to reap attention). Certainly parents need to be aware of the difficult situation that teachers are in and that confrontation per se is not going to help. But the bottom line is that they are more vulnerable then we are. They have `packed off’ their most precious person to be taken care of by us. It is up to us not to let the children down.

Acknowledgements:

Whenever I write or speak about this issue I am happy to express my debt to –

My son, Anand for providing many of the experiences that go into being a parent

My late mother, Sudha Kulkarni under and along with whom I learnt what parent involvement meant at both personal and professional levels

And the numerous parents and teachers that have shared their joys and woes, their failures and their victories in numerous parenting programs.

References:

Honig, A. S. (1979). Parent involvement in early childhood education. Washington D.C. NAEYC.

Lillie, D. L. & Place, P. A. (1982). Partners: A guide to working with schools for parents of children with special instructional needs. Illinois: Scott, Foresman & Co.

Kulkarni, S. (1988). Parent education: Perspectives & approaches. Jaipur: Rawat.

 

Well, there it is… When are we going to change?!!!

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