#TeachingIs listening — to students, families, colleagues and community members who are vested in public education. Colorado educator Kyle Schwartz recently reminded us in her powerful “I Wish My Teacher Knew” writing exercise that students are our best sounding board, and that the most important data we can mine is to simply ask questions and really listen to the answers they provide. Earlier this spring, I wrote about what students want (and need). In this guest post by Jen Fryer, the mother of one of my eighth grade students, she shares 5 things she wishes her children’s school knew from a parent’s perspective.

Over the last few weeks, I have been in touch with my children’s school with a variety of concerns and questions. As a parent, I am not always sure where to start or who to speak with first.

I had questions about how some academic standards were being addressed. Last year when my 5th grade daughter didn’t receive any health education, I didn’t think much about it. This year, I have another daughter in 5th grade. I was talking with some of the parents in my child’s class and who were wondering about health education and if it would be taught this year. I asked about it, but was told there isn’t time in the year for health education. I wasn’t really sure what to think, but I realized I needed to do some research on my own. I logged onto the Colorado Department of Education’s website and reviewed the different content area standards. I came across health education and decided I wanted to inquire and advocate further. Another staff member at the school helped point me in the right direction. A series of emails began, and eventually I was in direct discussion with the school principal.

I have spoken with fellow parent friends and realized I’m not alone. We discussed what we wish our children’s school knew from a parent’s perspective. Our top five include:

  1. Don’t make assumptions. Please don’t assume we don’t care because we aren’t involved during the school day. Sometimes we don’t know how to get involved. At the beginning of the year, if you need help in any way, send a note home with your students offering a variety of ways to get involved. I know many parents skim school newsletters and blanket communication, so if it’s something important you are trying to relay, it should be done separately. The more frequent the communication, the better.
  2. Family time matters. We understand that homework is important, but homework that takes hours to complete can encroach on family time. My children and my friends’ children have stayed up well past a reasonable bedtime doing homework, and that isn’t productive for anyone. Depending on the age, the amount of time should vary for homework. I would expect my 8th grader to spend more time on homework than my kindergartner. I think some students can handle more than others, and if we communicate with each other and work together we can adjust the amount of homework accordingly.
  3. Discipline with love and logic. Depending on the age and circumstances, lunch detention and/or loss of recess is not always an appropriate consequence. Chatty, active children need an opportunity to run around and release some of their energy in order to be able to focus when it is time to sit and learn in the classroom. Also, punishing an entire class because several students are being unruly does not respect the children actually listening and learning. My older children have come home frustrated because they are students who are respectful and listen. Being punished for something they didn’t do discourages and disrespects students.
  4. Communication is key. We are a team and need two-way communication.  Without it, we can’t support you. We are here to help you but we need to know how. I remember receiving report cards for my kids without comments or “red flags.” Without this information, I didn’t realize my child needed help in certain areas. For example, I remember reading a report card where a teacher said my child was “doing well.” I took this comment to mean she was mastering grade level material, but the teacher’s intent was to communicate that while she was trying her best, she had not yet reached mastery. I also remember speaking with a teacher who felt my child needed to be held back and not enter kindergarten. I remember asking her about my child’s strengths, because I was only hearing negative information about what she could not yet do. Please be kind when speaking about our children, but also be honest so we don’t have to read between the lines. Remember that every child (regardless of how difficult they may be in class) has something positive to contribute.
  5. Be visible. As parents, we want to see the administration and staff present. It is encouraging to see school leaders outside welcoming students and families to school in the morning. A polite front office staff welcoming new families who are registering for the first day of school goes a long way. A coffee and donut social during the day and after school occasionally hosted by administration, provides an opportunity for us to get to know you and ask questions, and gives the school an opportunity to meet and connect with students’ families. These small events and gestures help build a sense of community.

Teachers and administrators: what do you wish your student’s families knew? At the end of the day, I believe we all have one common goal: to provide a safe and nurturing environment for students to learn and grow.

About the author: Jen Fryer is the mother of six children and an active parent and advocate in the Aurora Public Schools community. She enjoys going to the Denver Performing Arts Center with her children and spending time at home with her family. 

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