By Melissa Kicklighter, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Melissa Kicklighter is the Florida PTA incoming vice president for Regions and Councils and is actively involved in PTAat the local, district and state levels. She is a proud wife and mother of three children who attend Duval County public schools. She was recently honored at PTA Day at the White House as a “Champion of Change”.
Thomas Edison said, “If we did all the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
This quote reminds me of why parent engagement is so important. As parents we have to be willing to do everything possible to protect our children and assure their success. This begins with prenatal care, continues after birth to providing for a child’s basic needs for health and safety and expands very quickly to educational and increased levels of emotional support.
When discussing these ideas with others, they agree that prenatal care, health, safety and emotional support are part of the responsibilities of a parent, but they see the educational needs of a child being the responsibility of teachers, schools or school districts. Education is typically referred to as something that children “receive” rather than something they actively seek or that we as parents need to participate in.
But, that could not be further from the truth.
This is a simple formula for any parent when thinking about their role in their child’s education: Parent Engagement = Awareness + Action.
We parents are not the subject matter experts when it comes to curriculum or knowing specifically what our children need to learn in school at a particular grade level, but we are certainly critical stakeholders and no one knows our children better than we do. We need to position ourselves as partners with teachers and schools to make sure our children and all children are able to maximize their learning. It starts with becoming aware, but it must include the willingness to take action.
Awareness includes understanding everything from teacher classroom management practices and curriculum content to school policies and procedures. Your child’s teacher knows how he or she wants their classroom to run daily, what projects or programs will be part of the year, and what your child needs to accomplish to successfully meet their goals. Be familiar with classroom terminology, so you can ask your child or the teacher about different parts of the school day. Understanding the curriculum standards and content allows you to have constructive conversations with your child about what they are learning, and it send the message to your child and teacher that what they do in the classroom matters to you, too.
All schools and school districts have extensive policies and procedures that they follow and are required to make available to you. Take the time to familiarize yourself with those documents and ask follow-up questions as needed. There may be a time when a situation occurs at your child’s school, and you are not sure how it should be handled. Policies and procedures outlined in a school or school district handbook or online documents can be very helpful. School office staff and guidance counselors are there to assist, and your PTA leaders are another great resource.
Action means focused effort to make a difference, whether it is for your child or for all children. Minimally, we all have to make sure our children attend school each day and support their efforts. Action may be at the classroom level, the school level or beyond. There is no limit to what can be done, but it is up to you to take the first step to do it.
Here are a few simple steps to help you get involved in your child’s education:
Meet your child’s teacher and offer assistance.
This means attending orientation and/or open house. Introduce yourself, and be sure to state the name of your child, so the teacher can make the connection. Share your contact information and the best times to reach you. Find out how the teacher plans to communicate with you about your child’s progress throughout the year, and offer the teacher the opportunity to contact you if they have a specific need for help. Feel free to set limits on what you can contribute, so the teacher knows in advance. No teacher expects one person or family to do everything!
Get involved with your school, especially the PTA!
This action provides you the opportunity to build relationships within and learn more about the whole school including faculty, school programs and services, etc. As a parent, it also helps to be connected to other parents to share ideas and concerns as they arise. PTA is a great way to go beyond thinking about the needs of your own child to being part of the greater good in caring for all of the children at your school. For more information about how to get involved with PTA at your school or within your community, please contact your school or go to the National PTA website. High achieving schools have high levels of family and community involvement.
Be an education advocate for all children, all of the time.
This means realizing the importance of this time in the life of a child and being willing to take on the broader and tougher issues. At a local level, this might mean seeing an issue at your own school that needs to be addressed with the administration, the school board or the city, such as the safety of children crossing a road while walking to school. Tackling this or any other issue that needs attention starts with researching the concern, then taking the time to write a letter, send an e-mail or make a phone call to a legislative or governmental decision maker to share your thoughts and information. A visit to a local, state or federal office might also be helpful to connect with a decision maker in person.
More often than not, parents look at these steps, and decide that the first one is easy enough because it directly impacts their child. Many consider the second step a viable option because parents want to have a deeper understanding of how their school operates and meet other involved parents. Many parents are willing to help out with schoolwide events periodically and hold leadership positions with limited responsibility and time commitments.
However, the third step is the one that most people avoid because they do not feel that they have the ability to influence decisions. The reality is that parents are the people who actually have the power to make a difference.
Advocacy is the ultimate level of action and engagement that we need all parents and families to be willing to participate in today. Education is changing faster than ever. With new standards and increased rigor, more is being asked of all of us. Students must work harder and smarter, and as parents we have to be in step with our children and schools to keep it all in balance.
We must be willing to help with the smallest tasks in the classrooms, but also fight for the resources necessary to provide innovative and positive educational opportunities for all children.
As parents, it is time to do more than we think we are capable of and truly astound ourselves!
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Melissa Kicklighter.
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My son just started Kindergarten last week. He is already a prolific reader and writer and his math skills are 1st grade level. When he comes home from school the first thing we do is fix a snack together and talk about his day. I challenge him to tell me as many things as he can remember that his teacher talked about that day. We discuss his interactions with the other kids in his class and come up with solutions for any frustrations he has.
Kids inherently have the desire to learn. You don't have to teach them to be curious and engaged as long as you nurture that natural desire. As parents it is our responsibility to help our children thrive!
...and this is why homeschooled students tend to outperform public and private scool students. By the very nature of homeschooling, their parents are engaged more fully than any other schooling style. In some of the grad level education courses I took the professors repeatedly stated that the number one factor in student success was parental engagement. Bigger factor than money or socio-economic situation or anything else. The parents.
Obviously you skipped the day on spelling. I don't disagree that kids that are home-schooled don't perform better in some areas but you have to think of the one skill that gets everything through life....social interaction. I went to a public school and loved every single moment of it. My kid(s) will certainly be going to one. My wife is a teacher/counselor at a public school and she should have no other job because she loves seeing kids and helping many of them succeed opposed to just her own. Parents to need to remain involved; you don't have to over think the process of helping; just be inquisitive about the child's day, friends, etc. Simple thing to do.
The social argument really gets old. People who are going to homeschool in an attempt to shelter their children are still going to have sheltered children even if they are in PS. THey likely aren't going to allow their kids to interact a lot with those who have different beliefs, views, etc. The rest of us HS our children with them out and about in society. They play on sports teams with kids from PS, they are in clubs, dance class, co-op learning environments where groups of kids gather and parents take turns teaching subject matter within their expertise, etc. There are HSing park days, HSer gym classes at the Y, my library hosts a HS get together once a month, etc. They have neighborhood friends, friends from clubs/sports/extracurriculars, family friends, cousins, fellow HSer friends, etc.
Yes, there are folks who HS *and* shelter their children, but they aren't the majority. Folks that focused on sheltering their kids would have sheltered children even if they attended PS.
Parent involvement and action is absolutely necessary. I have a daughter that isn't very self motivated toward's schoolwork. She's more interested in the social scene and drama of who's dating who, and who broke up with whom. She's texting and facebooking constantly.
She will do her work and she will do it well provided we sit with her, discuss it with her, and help her through it. She is maturing and slowly becoming more independent, but if it were not for our action she would not be anywhere near as advanced as she is.
Many parents don't do this. There are scores of kids at our school whose parents I never see. They don't attend meetings, events, concerts, shows etc. The only parents that you see are those of the successful students. Yet , many of these uninvolved parents are the first to complain about the quality of the schools.
We pump tons of money into education, yet we are falling behind. The teachers can teach, and assign homework (which is simply practice). If we don't encourage the kids to pay attention and do it, they won't learn, except for the few that are just self motivated to work.
Of course, this is true, but what if you are a single parent, working to keep your family above water, or struggling in any other way- born into poverty, foreclosed on, doing drugs etc.? There needs to be a system in place to ensure a rich education at school for kids whose parents are unable to be engaged for any reason.
Amen to that. Some of us have to do it all. No one wants to hear about how they are magically at home making sandwiches. We do that AND bring home the bacon. And our kids still rock!
As a single parent, I take offense at the suggestion that single parents do not have the time to help our children. It's all about prioritizing your children and realizing that it is YOUR responsibility to facilitate their learning and support what is going on in school. Everyone has their own struggles and reasons why they are too busy, but none of that matters. If you are a parent, it is your duty to put your child first.
Thank-you for posting this... Especially, the last point. In our district many parents and administrators believe that special needs children are best educated in self-contained classrooms, away from typical children, because they are disruptive to "normal" children. We are a military family, we moved from OH to FL. My son was included in a typical classroom in OH. He was invited to birthday parties, the parents and students accepted him, the teachers loved him, he thrived in this environment. Fast forward to here. The first week of school, the teacher and administration opted to not include my son in a typical classroom. His behavior declined significantly– he went from being able to read at a pre-kindergarten level, to not being able to identify his letters and letter sounds. All the work that myself, the wonderful school in OH, and he put in went down the toilet. We are fighting now to get him back to square zero. Education is so important to all children, not just the typical ones. As it stands right now, 60% of adults with autism are unemployed, many are homeless. This could be my child after I'm gone. My child doesn't take away from your children. His presence teaches children tolerance and compassion. Children of differing abilities should not be separated from their peers.
Special needs kids need that advocacy and good for you for getting involved with the school to get him the appropriate education he deserves. When I taught (6th grade math in MD) I had students with autism and with Down syndrome in my classes. Far from taking attention away from the other students or being disruptive, they added something special to the environment. The other students were marvelous–helpful to and protective of the special needs kids. Every child should have the opportunity to interact with and learn from kids like your son. You should know that there are PTAs especially for parents of kids with special needs. You might want to contact FL PTA to learn more.
Special needs mommy schedule an IEP meeting and put in writing that the least restricted environment is alongside his peers and that you do not wish him to be segregated. "He was born included and he needs to stay included". Kathie Snow disabilityisnatural.com. Have you ever heard of partnersinpolicymaking.com...it is a great parent empowering program. Also, connect with floridainclusionnetwork.com they are a big asset. If you are not part of the PTA by all means join. I was lucky to meet and hear a seminar by Melissa Kicklighter at a leadership PTA conference and she was the highlight of the
weekend. She has a very strong voice and I really was captivated listening to her presentation.
Education With Vision
Education is something most people take for granted. We assume it is something one acquires after graduating from college. Yet the 20th-century knowledge explosion has done little to solve the problems of this world. What’s wrong with education today? More importantly, what is true education?