What do you hold sacred about your children’s education?
Of course, it varies among parents. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in high regard?
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical overarching features of a quality educational experience. I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education.
The previous six articles in this series have focused on care/connection, mission, communication, optimal conditions for learning, great teachers and opportunities. This seventh article argues the importance of community.
Engagement is Everything
A professional acquaintance of mine conducts independent school constituent satisfaction surveys for a living. Surveys that ask parents, staff, and students numerous questions regarding their satisfaction with all aspects of school functioning.
Being a data maven myself, we have had a number of discussions surrounding the usefulness and import of data. During one conversation, my friend indicated that if he were to draw one overarching conclusion from the hundreds of parent surveys that he has conducted over the years it would be summarized as “Engagement is Everything.”
In fact, that would be the title of his book.
I wondered what he meant. He explained that on absolutely every survey he has conducted, across a huge variety of schools including parents of students in kindergarten through to seniors, he could demonstrate statistically that the most highly satisfied parents were the most highly engaged parents and/or the most highly engaged parents were the most highly satisfied parents.
The lesson for schools is simple: engage your parent body in the life of the school.
Now to be clear, there must be rules of engagement. Teachers do the teaching, etc. I am referring to meaningful, well-managed and appropriate engagement. Whether helping the classroom teacher as an aide, lining fields for the athletics department, fundraising or serving as a board member, there should be a place for every parent who wants to be engaged in the school … and generally when they are, they’re happy.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
Most schools — public and private — utilize, endorse and enjoy parent engagement in its various forms. I have found more room for improvement across schools, however, when engaging parents meaningfully in the educational process of their children.
You might interject that it is the school’s job to educate my child. Yes, absolutely it is.
But educating even the most typical students is a massively complex endeavor and one thing that I have seen be very useful is for a school to take steps to ensure that the educational messages delivered at school are understood, supported and even celebrated at home. When there’s this kind of alignment between school and home, the message to students is unambiguous.
A pillar of our program for all of our 50 years at Currey Ingram has been to intentionally and systematically involve our parents. We know we have to do it this way due to the complexity of serving students with learning differences. However, I would argue there’s tremendous benefit for all students.
The most important way we meaningfully engage parents is by providing feedback on educational progress. Our process includes:
● Academic, social-emotional & executive functioning goal-setting;
● Systematic and thorough diagnostic testing;
● Ongoing and in-depth classroom observations;
● Four detail-rich 45-60-minute parent/teacher conferences each year.
Moreover, all the information is housed in an ever-evolving Individualized Learning Plan (ILP). Of course, we use this process to demonstrate our accountability to our parents, but we also use it as the most important communication vehicle with parents. We educate parents about their children’s educational process and progress. Over my years at Currey Ingram, hundreds of parents have extolled the virtue of the process.
Added to this individualized approach to engagement it is also an incredibly important element of our mission to provide thorough and ongoing educational opportunities for our parents. Our Annette Eskind Institute of Learning runs upwards of 20 sessions a year on topics relevant to educating students with learning differences. Typically with over 100 attendees, these sessions are not only well-attended by our parents and staff, they have become very popular in the community at large. They are free and quite useful. I encourage you to look at our line-up and attend.
A Thousand Fibers…
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us…” – Herman Melville
Schools are a reflection of the many fibers that connect us. The fibers that connect parents to their children’s schools are made strong through meaningful engagement.
When schools intentionally involve parents and parents sincerely engage with the school, like an entwined rope, the result is stronger than the sum of its parts.
Thank you for reading and I welcome your thoughts on the importance of community or any other Extra Credit topic.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy.