Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bring Your Parent to School Day!

The other day, I had the good fortune to read a great article by Katrina Schwartz for, "How Opening Up Classroom Doors Can Push Education Forward."  She wrote about how giving parents a glimpse into our classrooms would add transparency which would benefit teachers, parents, students, schools, and education in general.  I really like her ideas of using social media as a modern version of the classroom newsletter, which I am definitely going to adapt for my classes (and I'll let you know how that goes).
However, I really feel that if we get the parents to physically enter our classrooms while their students are in there, we all gain a great connection to each other and our roles in the educational process.  Which is why I think we need to turn the tables on the parents.  Let's have "Bring Your Parent to School Day!"
I think it's great that kids go to work with their parents from time to time, but what if we brought the parents to school?  They could see, as kids do when they go to work, what a day in the life of their students is like.  What and how they learn would be the main focus, but just getting from class to class and juggling workloads and dealing with their different peers and teachers would probably more illuminating.  What about lunch time?  Don't get me started on school lunches!  (I do have to say my district, Chawanakee Unified has made great strides in school lunch quality.)  That's a blog post for a different day.
From early in my career, I have invited parents into my classroom to let them know how we, their students and I, do what we do.  If they have been in class and seen the real issues, concepts, and ideas we're working on and how we do all of that, the parents can be a much more active participant in the learning process.  They can avoid as Schwartz put it in her article, "asking the generic, 'What did you do in school today?'”  Very few parents have taken me up on my offer.  Many laugh when I mention it, but then I explain that I have had parents visit and hang out and engage in our lessons.  It's really happened and the parents love it.  On the other hand, the kids don't really like it...  But that's actually attractive to lots of parents!
However, just imagine how that dead end conversation would go at the dinner table that night!
"What did you do in school today," would become "How did you like that infographic on credit cards you guys worked on during economics today?"
The kid would HAVE to respond and explain what he/she had thought of the lesson and then very easily the conversation could become "real world" as the parents and children discuss the use of credit cards in the real world and how they really work.
We will truly have taken learning outside the classroom!
When parents ask what they can do to help their students, I always ask them to ask their kids to teach the parents what they learned.  As all teachers know, you have to understand it to explain it.  However, most parents don't know what to ask, but if they've been in the classroom and learned how the students and the teacher communicate, the parents can ask the right questions and get much better answers.
My own children are in first and second grade and I have been in both of their classes over the last few years and parent involvement is a normal aspect to the early primary grades.  I love seeing my kids and their peers and their teachers interact.  I can definitely ask them much more pointed and focused questions and I also get a much better feel for the classroom and their learning process.  The problem is that much of that great interaction and connection ceases as our kids and students grow older and the parents stop being an active and knowledgable part of their children's learning experience.
"Bring Your Parent to School Day!" would be just the tip of the iceberg.  As I mentioned above, I'm going to pursue social media as a classroom newsletter.  I know many of my colleagues have used it to great effect.  The opportunities for real, connected, multidirectional communication would be endless.  As Schwartz noted in her article, there are also all sorts of other benefits including, not the least among them, the ability for parents to understand the qualitative aspects to learning and instruction that can not be measured by standardized tests.  Another issue came up the other day when a parent asked me to explain her child's grade.  I was able to explain the grade through the rubrics and evaluation forms we use in my class, but that conversation could have been much more meaningful had I had a more substantial relationship with the parent had she been in my classroom at some point during the school year.  Like I said the possibilities are endless!
In the end, Schwartz mentioned that by letting others into our classroom, we will have to explain what and why we do what we do.  For many of us, that will take a great leap into a vulnerable place we have never been.  However, like I said earlier about the students teaching the parents, in order to explain it, we have to understand it.  We will have to be fully aware of why and how we conduct our classrooms.  If we can reach that level of understanding in our pedagogy, we can't help but be better teachers and our students by extension be better learners.  That can only help, right?
"Bring Your Parent to School Day!" 
What do you think?  Learning is my Business!