Parent Engagement in Early Learning
One of the most important classrooms is the home. Students learn from careful observation and paying close attention to what life lessons parents have to offer. Parent engagement in early learning is important because it helps students develop skills that will benefit them in life, and education, according to the December 2019 paper, “What is Parent Engagement in Early Learning? Depends Who You Ask” by researcher Deborah Gross.
Parent engagement is both important and misunderstood by parents and school staff. While experts agree that parent engagement is critical to early learning, there are different opinions about how significant it is, and what it looks like. Some models include: school-based involvement, conferencing between parents and teachers, or activities parents do with their children at home to support learning. The question is whether these models help parents get involved in their child’s education.
Defining Parent Engagement
If parents and teachers cannot reach an agreement on what parent engagement looks like, then how do schools and parents work together more effectively? This lack of consensus has brought low expectations from parents, less motivation among teachers, and inefficient use of school resources, according to Gross’ article.
Gross explained that “oftentimes parent engagement was described as a value loaded term.” In other words, there is no clear definition of parent engagement, but Gross does provide research that helps paint a clearer picture.
Differing Definitions of Parent Engagement
Using what they called “a qualitative descriptive design,” Gross and her team interviewed parents, teachers, principals, district leaders, and community leaders from Baltimore City Public Schools to better understand how each defined parent engagement, and what parent behaviors they believed showed involvement in child learning.
According to Gross’ research, the most general definition of involvement was “parents being actively involved in their student’s life and education.” This definition was cited the most by teachers, parents and district or community leaders.
One great grand-mother of a kindergartner that participated in the study said, “Parent engagement I just define as parents that go to PTA meetings, parents that check your homework. Or see what you’ve even done. Parents that read flyers, and notes and things that are sent home. It’s just not sitting there in your bookbag. Parents that read to you, talk to you, answer questions if they can.”
Getting Parents Involved in Education
Whatever parent engagement looks like for your district, how can you get parents more engaged with their students’ learning?
In Edward Graham’s article 10 Ideas for Engaging Parents, Graham interviewed Susan Terlouw, a high school special education teacher, who mentioned a successful method that she does to help her students’ parents become more engaged with their children’s education.
“I have found texting to be an amazing way to get connected with parents,” Terlouw said. “After not having calls returned, I tried texting and got immediate responses.”
Terlouw explained further, “I have been able to move past it to actual conversations, face-to-face meetings, and a trusting relationship.”
When parents and teachers build trust through meaningful communication, it increases parent engagement which leads to student success.
How teachers communicate with parents also affects their willingness to engage in their child’s education.
Graham mentioned this insight during an interview with a middle school teacher, Maxine Taylor, “By focusing on their child’s successes, Taylor is able to equate parental interaction with positive news, ensuring that parents will be more willing to hear her out when there’s an issue.”
Other Ways Teachers Can Increase Parent Engagement:
- Share each child’s school experiences with their parents
- Ask parents about their child to show genuine interest
- Include students in parent-teacher conferences
- Offer workshops for parents at the school
- When appropriate, do home visits to talk with parents directly
As you use these ideas to create and implement a plan to increase parent engagement, you will see a difference in your students’ academic performance.
Make it easier for parents to get involved in their child’s education by creating Parent Accounts in Studies Weekly Online. Learn more
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