This is teacher leadership

A few months ago we highlighted a rave review by TLN Forum member Amy Bailey of Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships.

Now co-authors Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp have been recruited by Teacher Magazine to do a turn in TM’s “Ask the Mentor” feature. Mapp and Henderson are fielding some excellent questions submitted by Teacher Mag readers under the heading “Building the Parent-Teacher Relationship.”

In Ask the Mentor, Part I, the guest mentors acknowledge that parent involvement—or lack thereof—can be a source of frustration for families, teachers, administrators, and districts. Language barriers, cultural nuances, and perceptual differences can bring tension to the delicate parent-teacher dynamic, which is a two-way street. How can educators bridge the divide?

In Ask the Mentor, Part II, Henderson and Mapp are joined by former teacher and Beyond the Bake Sale advisor Ilene Carver, who offers school outreach strategies based on her own experience coordinating school-family engagement at several schools during her teaching career.

Throughout these discussions, the mentor authors use expressions like “family-friendly schools,” “the personal touch,” and “meet parents where they’re at.” These school-family experts, who have studied many schools (including high-needs schools) with successful family programs, sum up their core beliefs this way:

• All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them.

• All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning.

• Parents and school staff should be equal partners.

• The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.

Some teachers who work in challenging school situations may question these beliefs, but Henderson and Mapp contend that by acting as if each of these statements were always true, many schools have made huge leaps in solving the parent puzzle.

Here’s another recent source of information that can inform school and teacher leaders as they work to build stronger family and community ties. A new report from the National School Boards Association, What We Think, examines the results of a recent large-scale survey of parents whose children attend urban schools.

More than 10,000 parents in 112 urban schools from 17 states answered the survey, which gauged their perceptions about bullying; expectations of student success; influence of race; parental involvement; safety; and trust, respect, and the ethos of caring. Nearly 30 percent of the participating parents were male.

The report begins with a truism about parents and schools that we sometimes overlook:

Parents have a particularly interesting perspective of school. As previous participants in the system, their views seem to transcend what may be current practice. Nonetheless, perception is reality. If they perceive the schools as open, respectful environments, they will interact with them accordingly. Conversely, if they perceive schools to be closed, disrespectful environments, they will respond as befitting this view.

Major findings from this important survey are crisply presented in a five-page executive summary, followed by three pages of recommendations for schools. The recommendations echo the advice of Mapp and Henderson in their Teacher Magazine commentaries and their book, Beyond the Bake Sale, a volume that should be in the professional library of every school where educators believe family-community relations must move beyond sotto voce comments that begin: “If only those parents…”