Parents as Partners in Education

by Dr. Tim Jenney

As one who has been involved in education all my professional life, I know first hand how important it is for parents to be meaningfully involved in their children's education. I've seen children overcome significant learning disabilities because their parents cared enough to work in partnership with teachers on identified problems. Conversely, I have seen the tragedy of children whose parents have abdicated their helping roles and left their youngsters to fail alone.

In public service we talk about the power of "partnership" over and over. Nowhere is this partnership more important than in our schools. Schools work best when they work in partnership with parents and with their community. Currently more than 500 businesses, military commands, and civic organizations have joined the partners in education program in Virginia Beach. All of our schools have more than one partner. Projects and activities include mentorships, donations, scholarships, tours, and more. Some of these partners are parents; others are people who just want to a make difference in the lives of children.

Communication Tips

There are many levels of parental involvement, however. Effective communication with your child's teacher is the most basic and probably most important way to make a difference in his or her success in school. Here are a few tips for encouraging good dialogue with your child's teacher:

  • Take the opportunity to attend parent-teacher conferences, even if your child is doing great in school. This is a good chance to get a glimpse of your child's world and that alone is important to him.
  • Attend PTA meetings, and if your schedule permits, volunteer to serve on a committee, as an officer, or as a helper for special events. If your child sees you treating school as an interesting place to be, he is more likely to feel that way also.
  • Call the teacher when you have a pressing concern, or when it isn't so pressing, write a note. Teachers appreciate feedback.

Volumes of vignettes can be written about children who have found success in school because they were helped by someone special who may not necessarily have been a teacher. During my youngest son's primary grade years, he struggled greatly because of problems with his fine motor skills. My wife spent two or more hours each night, five to six nights a week during this time, working with him to improve his skills and overcome his difficulties. By the middle school years, my son did much better.

If it hadn't been for his mother's constant dedication and help for several years, he probably would never have caught up and been promoted. Even though he had excellent teachers, those teachers could not give him the time-intensive, one-on-one assistance he required to master his work. They needed a parental partner.

Parental Strategies

I would like to share some effective parental partnership strategies:

  • Make sure your child attends school regularly, show an interest in what is being learned at school, and communicate that education is important. Believing in the value of hard work, the need for personal responsibility, and the importance of education - all contribute to greater success in school.
  • Read aloud to your child often - every day if possible - and encourage your child to read to you. The best way to help children become better readers is to begin reading to them when they are infants. The more children read, both in school and outside, the more they will improve their reading abilities. And take your child to the library to get his or her own library card.
  • Supervise television viewing. Choose good programs and set some time limits - and talk with your children about the programs they do watch.
  • Be generous in showing affection, and effective communication with your child's teacher is the most basic and probably most important way to make a difference in his or her success in school.
  • Encourage children to draw and scribble stories at home. This will help them learn to write with greater confidence in school.
  • Take your child to new and different places, such as museums, historical sites, and nature centers. Talk about what you have seen.
  • Monitor how your child spends his or her time outside of school. Limit video games and television viewing, and encourage reading, hobbies, scouts, and other worthwhile activities that provide learning opportunities.
  • Be a role model for your child. Children imitate what they see their parents doing. If you read, your child will want to read.

In Virginia Beach we are proposing a strategic plan to encourage parent and community involvement in an organized and systematic fashion. The preliminary strategies we will be tackling during the next five years include: conducting research of effective parent and community involvement models in other school systems; developing a comprehensive plan for parental involvement, especially in the area of recruiting and training; and ultimately marketing the many opportunities we have for parental involvement. At this writing our proposed plan is undergoing minor modifications, and the board is scheduled to consider adoption at its January 21, 1997 meeting.

Finally, on behalf of the staff of the Virginia Beach Schools. I thank all the parents and guardians for their partnership in the all-important challenge of educating our children. If your business would like to become involved as a partner or if you would like to do individual volunteer work in Virginia Beach City Public Schools, please call Laynee Timlin, partnership coordinator, at 563-1262.

Dr. Jenney is superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Reprinted with permission from Tidewater Parent, the regional parent magazine of Southeast Virginia. For more information, visit the magazine's website at http://family.com or phone (757) 426-2595.