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Finding Common Ground With Parents

Cheryl Suliteanu

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this year's MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which include findings on parent engagement. I found much of the information to be predictable, if unsettling.

In particular, I anticipated the results would show, despite general growth in levels of parent engagement, a discrepancy between parents' and teachers' views on particular school-related priorities—and they did. Does this accurate prediction make me a pessimist or a realist? Either way, it is imperative to recognize that our perceptions differ, based on our roles in educating children (and our own experiences in the past).

According to the survey, teachers and parents differ on the level of priority for a number of school-related issues. For example, more teachers than parents say it is absolutely essential that parents support school rules for student behavior and ensure their child gets sufficient rest and nutrition. In contrast, more parents than teachers say it is absolutely essential that parents ensure their child completes homework assignments.

Before assigning a "right" or "wrong" to any of these, we must consider what each party has been exposed to, the basis for their opinions on educational psychology, and the physiology of learning. Teachers know (from experience and hopefully also their preparation for the profession) that rest and proper nutrition contribute significantly to a child's ability to learn. We also realize that a child will better function in a learning environment when they have experienced a foundation of rewards and consequences for behavior at home.

But do parents understand how an inadequate (or absent) breakfast can affect their child's ability to learn? Have they encountered strategies to create and manage a positive behavior system at home? In most cases, parents know what they learned through their own experiences at home and in school.

And these experiences vary. Some cultures place more value on discipline than others, and some allow children more freedom at home.

Where does that leave educators? There is nothing to be gained in assigning blame—instead, we must develop an understanding of our differences and then seek common ground. We may not share our students' cultures, bur, if we actively build connections with their families, we will begin to understand how we can work together to ensure every student's success.

Cheryl Suliteanu has taught elementary school students in Oceanside, Calif., for 15 years. She is a National Board-certified teacher with certification in English as a New Language, a Teacher Leaders Network member, and a virtual coach/facilitator for the NEA-Priority Schools Campaign.

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