• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2007
Parents present inter-disciplinary projects, students teach parents to use the Internet, families and teachers engage in dialogue, and parents and students testify at hearings. As they come together at these intersections, parents, students and teachers demonstrate how they engage assertively with verve and creativity. Here are a few examples.
A small predominantly-Latino high school that has the tradition of campuswide, interdisciplinary projects involves families in developing and co-presenting projects with students each semester. The principal describes: “Schoolwide portfolio assessments and projects involving teachers, students and parents complement project-integrated instruction… In one recent semester, parents contributed 1,195 hours of volunteer work to the school. Parents give volunteer hours by attending meetings, events, celebrations, schoolwide projects and trainings” (López del Bosque, 2006).
Students Teach Parents Technology
A community organization that is supporting parent leadership in education brings together students and parents in a locally-developed computer center to explore the Internet for information on schools and other education-related topics: “The Youth Education Tekies have had many successes. They hold monthly meetings and provide continued assistance for adults on the use of computers. Students do classwork while young siblings play math games online. The community center has a cluster of donated computers and has upgraded from dial-up to a high-speed broadband connection. The center is an added barrio technology resource. The city public library is five miles away and has a constant waiting list for computer use, so this center is a good alternative. Following are more successes the Tekies have achieved:
They co-planned and helped carry out a welcome for the newly-appointed Latina president of the largest public university in the area. In preparation for this event, the students and parents studied the structure and offerings of the university online.
Students who have been the language bridge for families who speak a language other than English are now also the connection to technology.
Several of the Youth Education Tekies are officially on the PIRC [Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center] advisory board.
Most recently, the Youth Education Tekies participated in a conversation about dropout prevention. And a co-founder and representative of the group addressed a major conference, Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada – Statewide Summit on School Holding Power, sponsored by IDRA and League of United Latin American Citizens. Alejandra “Maggie” Teran, a 10th grader, presented the views of the group on what schools need to do to increase their holding power. She received her first standing ovation.” (Montemayor, 2006)
Parents and Teachers in Dialogue
Non-English speaking parents and students participate in roundtable dialogues with teachers and other educators, and then parent-student teams report in English and Spanish to the group at large on the dialogues: “Instead of ‘training’ parents on parenting skills, educators assume the role of conversational partners who listen to parents and their children as they respond to focused questions about themselves, their children and their concerns regarding schooling. These conversations, or circles of engagement, with parents have great potential for promoting parental support for learning and strengthening the home-school connection.” (McCollum, 2003)
Parents and Students Present Testimony
Parents and students co-present at conferences and meetings on education issues: “The Texas hearing included four panels: student, parent, community and business. The largest panel at the hearing was the student panel, comprising college students and those from regular, charter, magnet and alternative high schools in different parts of the state. The recurring sentiment from students concerning NCLB [No Child Left Behind Act] was that they knew very little about it. Representatives on the parent panel expressed concern that they must deal with the stress standardized testing places on their children. Although NCLB mentions parents 240 times, panelists overwhelmingly felt that the federal government and school districts need to show, through action, that they respect and value parent involvement and contributions.” (IDRA, 2005)
Each of these examples is an activity that has brought students and parents together in meaningful, participatory activities requiring high level thinking skills. Each context draws on the assets of each participant and enables each participant to contribute in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
We have seen that there are several critical conditions for meaningful parent and student engagement:
- Situations where parents, students and educators each offer their strengths, experiences and dreams to the conversation or activity.
- Each individual is assumed to be intelligent, competent and with an important set of values and experiences.
- Tasks involve open-ended questions and tasks that require creativity and higher-order thinking to accomplish.
- Activities and tasks are comprehensible and doable regardless of the literacy skills, educational background, language proficiency and economic class of the participants.
- Facilitation of communication and small group task accomplishment is the norm rather than presentation through the transmission of information by an expert or the presentation by an interesting and/or entertaining speaker.
- Outreach and invitation is centered on personal communication and the establishment and nurturing of relationships between school personnel and families.
Whether students and parents are in a classroom, a meeting or a public hearing, they must be active participants. The context must presume them to be intelligent agents, capable of contributing important and essential ideas.
The current direction of IDRA’s student engagement and parent leadership in education work runs counter to the idea that the teacher/leader’s role is to present ideas to passive and probably unknowing recipients. The commonly held view that most poor and minority parents must be lectured to or that they are something broken that needs to be fixed, is permeated by the “banking” approach to education. This approach says the learner is a blank slate, and I, the educator/expert, must write information on it.
Students do need to learn but will learn most when their assets are acknowledged, drawn from and built on. Parents are not perfect, but they will flower most when their intelligence, experiences and work is validated and connected to.
Engagement assumes intelligence, creativity and dynamism. Engagement motivates and demonstrates motivation. Engagement is not the fascination or enjoyment by an audience of an interesting or stirring lecture. No matter how wonderful a dog-and-pony show may be, it pales in comparison to the sparks, sounds and movement of a group of humans, young or old, deliberating, interacting, presenting issues, debating, collaborating to solve problems, and just being the creative thinkers they are.
IDRA. “Texans Testify on NCLB,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2005).
López del Bosque, R. “Principal Shares Successes in Parent Involvement,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2006).
McCollum, P. “Circles of Engagement a Different Take on Parent Involvement,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2003).
Montemayor, A.M. “E-ruption! Bridging Language and Technology Educational Leadership,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2006).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed, is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2007 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]