Involving Parents

Parent involvement is a key component in an effective school. Unfortunately, many struggling schools do not get the type of support from the homes of their students to support the initiatives that they would like to develop. This creates a dilemma since parents are not subject to the school’s authority. So, what can schools do to boost this very critical component of student development?

First, schools can be flexible in their outreach efforts to parents. Traditional methods like PTA meetings held on the same night of the week every month at a time that fits educators schedule may not fit the diverse needs of parents. Parents who do not have post-secondary degrees may have to work “shift” jobs that may not allow them to attend this critical meeting. Also, moving critical parent meetings to alternative sites like community centers and local churches, etc. may boost participation.

Successful schools operate under the assumption that parents want their children to be successful. Problems arise when parents do not know how to create this positive outcome. The problem is exacerbated when the parent themselves had a negative experience in school as a child. So, simply gathering a group of parents for school events may not address the critical home/school partnership issue. My research has found that schools that focus on precisely what they want parents to contribute in this partnership, and organize their efforts to educate parents on strategies that they could use at home to support their children, get great returns.

Forms of Predetermination

Low expectations for student performance have a crippling affect on schools that serve students from underrepresented achievement groups. The work of researchers like Jerry Brophe, Larry Lezzotte, and Robert Green has provided scientific evidence of the effect of adult expectations of student performance. In my research I have found three powerful forms of “predetermination” that cripple the educational potential of children: Perceptual, Intrinsic, and Institutional.

Perceptual predeterminations are preconceived notions about the actual or potential achievement of children based upon stereotypes that are by-products of the socialization of the adult educator. This form of predetermination varies from individual-to-individual based upon their socialization. Unless a person grew up in a vacuum, this form of predetermination is hard to avoid. This obstacle can be pretty easily addressed by an instructional leader who provides his/her educators with evidence contrary to the predetermined obstacle.

Intrinsic predetermination is the self-defeating attitude that students transport to school from their homes and community. If a student is not surrounded by academic role models and evidence that performance in school leads to success in life, they are very likely to conclude that school is not important and people who look or live like them are not expected to do well. This form of predetermination can be countered by providing disenfranchised students with real experiences that send messages contrary to those outside of school.

Institutional predetermination is locked into the very structure of traditional schools and guarantees a normal distribution of achievement. Examples include rigid master schedules that predetermine the number of students who take rigorous, regular, and remedial courses before the students ever step one foot onto the school campus and summer school programs developed before grades post in anticipation of a certain amount of student failure. This form is more difficult to combat due to the fact that most people do not even recognize its existence. Once recognized, the fix is pretty simple, make your system fit the needs of the students instead of making the student fit the need of the system.

School Culture Players

Resistance to change is a reality in many schools, especially those schools with traditionally underperforming students. The pressure to change and improve student performance through the mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) make this an even more difficult task. In order to understand how to tackle this complex issue, school leaders (including teacher leaders) need to understand the dynamics of school culture. Schools have three major categories of players in the school culture arena; Believers, Tweeners, and Fundamentalists.

Believers are educators who are predisposed to the ideas and programs that support the egalitarian idealism of education. They are willing, and in fact seek, the best models to support the universal achievement of their students.

Tweeners are those educators who are new to school culture. These educators are given a probationary period of two-to-five years to pick sides in the school tug-of-war. Unfortunately 50% of new educators leave the field in their first five years of employment and this number jumps to over 70% in urban areas. This group is critical to school improvement because if high-risk schools do not retain qualified staff members, school reform because nearly impossible because long-term initiatives become impossible and there is no organizational memory.

Fundamentalists are educators who are comfortable with status quo and they organize and work against any viable form of change. There goal is to be left alone. They have many tools that they use to thwart reform initiatives, and without the proper leadership, they are generally successful. The interaction of these complex groups of individuals make school reform difficult at best and only disciplined and informed leadership is qualified to untangle this web and focus the school professionals on the singular goal of total student success.

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