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Get parents on the education bus

By Sandi Downs

Published: Thursday, Nov. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Students exit a bus at Indian Hills Elementary in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Recently Timothy Clark wrote a leadership article in the Deseret News about "Getting the right people on the bus" (Sept. 16). He focused on surrounding ourselves with the most capable people for the job. In the case of teachers in education, the right people are not just the kids heading to school, but also their parents.

Teachers need to be the leaders in the classrooms who surround themselves with parent volunteers who are committed to the future of the kids on the bus. Parents' passion toward the success in the classroom can make a significant contribution if the teacher will artfully lead the way.

Beyond a doubt research has proven that quality connections between home and school are the most critical elements to a student's success. Parental involvement is not only the most significant predictor of a child's academic achievement, it also directly impacts students' positive attitudes about themselves and helps establish quality relationships with their peers. Therefore, it is essential for parents and teachers to work together to create an environment conducive to critically needed parent involvement for student success.

My suggestions for parents: Ensure the relationship with the teacher remains positive. Begin by realizing classes are crowded with many kids besides your own, and the teacher must juggle the needs of the entire class. Lend a hand or be patient as the teacher works toward individualizing instruction. Be careful not to confuse helping your child to actually doing the homework for your child.

It is detrimental for teachers to grade papers written by parents, creating a lose/lose situation for everyone. Don't push so hard your child resorts to cheating in order to gain approval. Allowing your child to accept the grade that he/she earned builds character, increases personal ambition and teaches ethical responsibility. Never pit your child against the teacher over an issue by consulting with the teacher then asking your child if what the teacher said is true.

My suggestions for teachers: Research suggests continuous and open communication is the best way to keep parents involved with their child's education. At Back-to-School Night or in simple emails, let parents know how much they impact the personal, social and educational needs of their child by being involved in their education. Find ways to involve parents in their child's behaviors, interests and activities. Emphasize that this kind of involvement will show how much they care for their child and contribute to their child's self-esteem and scholastic achievement.

Some research suggests parental involvement in the curriculum planning process. Whatever ways you find to involve parents in the classroom, be specific with requests for their time and what you would like them to do. Finally, tell parents how much you appreciate their help.

Although students benefit modestly from having parents involved at school, what happens at home matters much more. In 2005, Time magazine author Nancy Gibbs reported research from a study of 25,000 8th graders indicated that of the four main areas of parental involvement — home discussion, home supervision, school communication and school participation — home discussion was the most strongly related to academic achievement. Make the events of child's school day a family topic at home over dinner together.

And don't forget the importance of fathers in these conversations. Research also claims it is the father figure that forges the firmest conviction in children to do well in school.

Today, the parent/teacher alliance is more important than ever. At my school we have an army of parents who work countless hours to make a real difference in all aspects of the education process. With proven research in mind, it is time we begin to better understand how to develop quality connections from home to school, parents to teacher and invest our efforts toward these connections. Teachers cannot do it alone. We must surround ourselves with great people whose own vested interest is more intense than our own, and we will see finer success in our classrooms.

Sandi Downs will graduate in April with a master's degree in Educational Curriculum and Instruction from UVU. She previously taught 12 years in Jordan School District and currently teaches 6th grade at Westfield Elementary in Alpine.

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