by Byron Garrett
As Chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance, I spend a lot of time thinking about how educators can foster an educational environment that encourages meaningful family involvement. Every day, we work towards the development of positive and trusting relationships between educators, parents, students, and community advocates. For educators, it’s important to be a guiding force for the development of character in young people, and it’s essential to ensure those lessons are reinforced at home and practiced in everyday life.
Here are some ways teachers can position themselves as home learning character champions:
Remind families that it’s important for kids to complete assignments themselves. In most cases, it’s obvious when a parent or guardian offers a bit too much help on a homework assignment. The handwriting may be too precise, the vocabulary too advanced, or the math problem solved using a method you’ve never taught. For the most part, the culprit has their child’s best interest in mind – they simply want to see them succeed. Make a point to mention your suggestions for homework assistance to all guardians during your initial parent teacher meetings, not just those you suspect may be offering extra help. It’s important to remind parents that for students, the process itself is often more critical than the outcome. Being in a results oriented workplace can make parents forget that children learn from their mistakes. Provide examples of how you benchmark each student’s progress against their prior successes – and failures.
Cheaters don’t win…they fall behind. Learning about academic and personal integrity sets the stage for younger students to prosper in high school, college, and beyond. While it’s likely that the vast majority of parents wholeheartedly agree that cheating is wrong, they may not see how certain attitudes at home can make a student more likely to cheat. It’s necessary for students – and their parents – to understand that the only way teachers can gauge progress is by authentic results. Remind parents that if they know their child has made a sincere effort, the resulting grade may be disappointing, but should never be a discouragement. A child should not be punished for a poor grade, but helped in adhering to an improvement plan. A student that struggles can make progress, but likely will not if they are concealing it by cheating.
Build a community, with no place for bullying. Negative behavior in the classroom is a major distraction to a productive learning environment. Like cheating, most parents are engaged in making sure their child is not being bullied. Most parents are also concerned with their own child’s behavior, though it may be hard to acknowledge less than stellar conduct – especially if it’s only happening outside of the home. The best way to encourage positive interactions during school time is to work closely from the outset of the school year to build a strong, engaged community. Encourage parents to keep an open line of communication with you, their child, and their fellow parents. Make sure parents are informed about the socioemotional elements of your curriculum, and understand why it’s important. Work with parents to develop an improvement plan for any behavioral issue their child may struggle with. Remind the parent – and yourself – not to label the child, and to only address the unwanted actions.
Whether you’re a parent, guardian, or educator, the best way to approach building and reinforcing character in a young person is by working closely with the other adults in their life. It’s our collective responsibility to work towards ensuring each child we encounter reaches their full potential.