Abhilasha Pandey is an educationist and a teacher for the past 14 years. She has been working with Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) since 2014. Currently, Abhilasha is posted at KV, INS Shivaji, Lonavala, Pune.
An avid reader, Abhilasha is interested in educational psychology, pedagogy and neuroscientific research pertaining to teaching- learning.
“He doesn’t bring his copies.”
“He can never sit still at home, how does he during class?” “Do not hesitate to scold him.”
“Please check his work at home.” “He never completes his homework.” “He never tells me anything about school”.
“She’s always studying at home, but never scores well in exam.”
And the most common in COVID times:
She said she needs the phone for studying because “everything is on phone”
Do these statements sound familiar? Some of these are from teachers to parents and some vice versa. How often have we teachers heard similar remarks of parents during parent -teacher or informal meetings? And how do we answer these? Are our remarks generalised or are they different for individual students? Do we find ourselves lost or we have a guideline on our interactions with parents? Is there a schedule, an agenda?
The answers to these questions may vary marginally, but irrespective, the aforementioned statements summarily describe our Parent Teacher’s Meetings… all of them. And this is a major loophole in our academic culture. A void that is easiest to fill warrants multifold improvements in student’s academic performance as well as attitude towards the school system; and yet remains completely ignored. It is my aim in this article to address this parent teacher interaction and reframe the paradigm of this exchange from mere interaction to parent involvement, and then to parent engagement. Parents being the second most significant stakeholder (next to the student) in this equation; must be encouraged, motivated and guided to remain engaged in their ward’s academic life.
As teachers, our aim is the evolvement of our students. The sole aspiration of parents is the accomplishments of their wards. I have often found it intriguing that the two key players in the child’s life have so little interaction & negligible coordinated efforts to plan the learning curve of the child. In fact, these two partakers tend to observe the child from two entirely different vantage constantly speculating about the nature or extent of engagement of the other party.
Before proceeding further, how do we define the levels of interaction between the parent and the teacher? Level 1 is when the parent meets the teacher solely on two occasions- either on the result day, or in case of a severe misconduct. While prior is a hectic and chaotic event, the latter is perfervid affair. It is needless to say that these interactions address an unalloyed agenda.
Level 2 is parent involvement. Parents come to school periodically on a preassigned date and time. The agenda is open, and feedback based. While both agree on focal agenda,‘progress of the student’, but both are completely clueless on the benchmarks for the same. How do you assess the progress? Grades of assessments? Class Interactions? Peer Group Roles? You compare it to class average, or to previous performance? Probably all and none in particular. And therein we come across the statements at the article commencement. Effectiveness of this type of interaction can be chimerical at best.
What we need to implement is Level 3 or parent engagement. And this is what I intend to focus on in this article.
The first step to parent engagement is the cognizance that parenting may be a crucial part of educational paradigm, but imparting education is much more than parenting. These are two subsets of student growth with rare shared chunks.
While each parent has the best interest of his/her child at heart, that interest usually needs a lot of guidance where academic growth is concerned. I reiterate that while educators are trained to guide and oversee academics, parents are not. In fact, most parents that I collaborate with, have either never received formal schooling or are too hustled to extract time for the child. Some may not even be able to make time for the parent teacher meets. Having said that, it is our responsibility as trained educators and architects of academics to help them manage time, optimize the involvement without compromising on its efficacy.
Level three is for children of such parents, but not so exclusively.
What is Parent Engagement?
Parent engagement is ensuring the following constructs.
01. Ensuring parent’s physical presence in school building. This involves scheduling visits, organizing trips wherein the educator becomes a tourist guide, a curator; and makes sure parents are able to experience the daily presence of their child in each department/room the child visits during school hours. Physical association has a manifold impact, the two foremost being understanding the learning process of the child and creating awareness of school’s commitment, which further leads to appreciation & faith in the educator and the educational institution. As significant is the physical presence of parent in school premises, at par are the differences. In order to address the issues of coordination, it is essential to build a determined and dedicated parent teacher association, with each member of the association committed to a singular target; to ensure learner optimal performance. To address issues of cultural and language barriers, it is imperative that the educator has assimilated the essence of local culture. From a family point of view, entrusting an outsider with the growth and guardianship of their ward is more difficult than adjusting to poor academic performance. Building trust is a continuous and at times a strenuous process…. But isn’t all of teaching?
Finally bridging the perceptual gap. Striking a balance between your comprehensive understanding of every nuance of a filed and outcomebased perception of another individual, is an art. At every point of interaction, an educator must remember that the parent/family is a genuine and committed stakeholder in the learning equation. The stakes for the parent are much higher than either the learner or the institution. More the stakes, more are the insecurities and apprehensions, and with these is enthused every communication. It is crucial to address these insecurities and build a relationship of faith.
02. Construct 2 is determining the frequency of teacher-parent communications. Research has shown that a regular weekly communication in form of brief, individualised messages to parents acts as an effective measure in ensuring parent engagement and support. While these messages may not provide a detailed report of the student performance, they do determine the frequency and context of dialogue between parent and child. It provides an insight to the riveted parent into a world where despite being absent, he/she is the cardinal element; thereby helping address the aforementioned insecurities.
03. The third and another critical construct is the content of the communication. The ideas, the substance and the lexicon. Foremost, the content should be constructive, action based. The object is not to provide a chronicle. Conveying what the child is doing right leads to complacence and has zero or even negative impact on student growth. An adverse remark highlighting poor performance antagonizes the parent. Though often overlooked in researches, a child has multidimensional impact on parent psyche. Child is an extension of parent, not just genetically but in every domain. An adverse remark is never against the child alone. It oppugns the parent, and the parenting, garnering resentment that finds justification in the insecurities and skepticism.
Then what should the content be? The content must be action based. Rather than phrasing the fizzle focus should be on appropriate strategies. Areas of improvement should be precisely listed, trailed by a road map for identifying and overcoming the lacunae. To reiterate, parent’s field of expertise is not teaching. Merely stating the flaw will lead to a consternation, but streamlining a course of action, will infuse a sense of hope and positivity. Academic performance is not a hill scaled; it is a gradual climb suffused with stalls and sprints.
Learning as we know it has undergone transformation in the year 2020. The school premises have become and will remain secondary learning centres. The plethora of virtual learning platforms are here to stay. As learners spend more time at home, the role of family is further augmented. Family engagement now is critical in achieving learning goals. Finally, individual situations require a microanalytic view. Technical advances in means of communication guarantee easy regular communication, but the content, mode and frequency should be carefully constructed. It is imperative to anticipate and plan for likely impediments.
‘It takes a village to raise a child’, says the African proverb. We may not have the luxury of village for our children, but we can definitely provide them a well-orchestrated society of parent-teacher, working harmoniously and meticulously in their interest.
This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine September 2021 edition.