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When it comes to parent communication, perspective matters

Parent learning communities

Every parent wants what’s best for their child.

Research shows that students do better in school when parents are enthusiastically involved in their children’s learning. But, as every school leader knows, there’s a fine line between positive parent involvement and disruptive interference.

At times, it can feel like parents and other community members take exception to everything that you do. Maybe they don’t like the way a certain lesson is being taught. Or, maybe they think their child isn’t making good progress. It could be anything.

No matter the issue, the objection can almost always be traced back to one thing: poor communication.

In a post on Education Week’s Finding Common Ground blog, instructional coach and former teacher Lisa Westman says it’s hard for parents to put themselves in teachers’ shoes.

Her solution? Professional development for parents.

Perspective matters

Westman’s post is in response to frustration she felt as a member of her local PTA and as an educator.

In her dealings with other parents, Westman found that many were simply unaware of the challenges teachers and administrators face.

Being able to see other perspectives is a powerful communication and leadership skill and undoubtedly also one of the hardest concepts for people to master. Unless humans make a conscious effort to see things from another person’s point of view, the path of least resistance is to point fingers and make the other party “wrong.”

Schools have changed dramatically since most parents were students, says Westman, especially when it comes to the classroom. But most parents anchor their perspective in past personal experience. This inevitably leads to a breakdown between their conceptions of what schools should be and what schools are.

Introducing parent learning communities

To broaden parent perspective, Westman proposes what she calls “parent learning communities,” or PLCs.

Based on professional learning communities for teachers, the idea is to provide parents with a better understanding of their role in their students’ education, common goals to collaborate on with fellow parents, and deeper insight into school strategy.

Think of it like a professional network, professional training program, and professional affinity group rolled into one and focused on the needs of parents.

According to Westman, each PLC should accomplish three overarching goals:

  1. Re-focus attention toward student needs and interests rather than parent expectations.
  2. Promote diversity and ensure parents’ perspectives are heard and considered.
  3. Be results driven (e.g. setting goals and measuring progress against those goals).

Understanding parents

Westman developed the idea for PLCs while brainstorming ways to improve the effectiveness of parent-led organizations in schools. She suggests that PLCs be used to give parents a better understanding of district policy and strategy, and to illuminate ways that educators and parents can work better together.

It’s critically important to remember that communication is a two-way street, she says. Parents need to understand the school’s perspective, but schools also must also do a better job of recognizing parents’ concerns.

That might mean establishing learning communities that work with parents to achieve common goals. Or, it might mean asking for parent input ahead of important school-based decisions. Whatever the approach, school leaders need to recognize blind spots when listening and responding to parent concerns.

What steps do your schools take to listen to and understand parent perspectives? Do you have any resources to help parents see school challenges differently? Tell us in the comments.

For more ideas about how to engage parents ahead of critical decisions in your schools, read Why parents are key to student success.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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