We are entering “March Madness”, a time when 64 teams have earned the right to compete for the NCAA basketball championship. Each of the teams represent a specific school and are composed of individuals; however, no school or individual will win the tournament alone. The tournament will be won by the team who finds a way to work together and overcome all obstacles. The tournament will be won by a collective group of people, representing a school, who work together towards a common goal.
The education of every child, every day, is no different. Education is not an individual sport. Although students will need to spend a lot of time exploring, studying, and learning on their own, their overall education depends on the team around them.
For far too long, the process of education has been divided. Obviously the school is important. The teachers, the support staff, the administrators, and everyone else in the school is important in helping to prepare a child to be happy, healthy, and successful.
Obviously family is important. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and the rest of our family, the community, are important in helping to prepare a child to be happy, healthy, and successful.
Do our schools and families truly collaborate, as a team, to help each student maximize their potential, however? I have been an educator for 12 years in the middle school and high school and I believe that we do not. I have seen schools that work really hard to prepare each student. I have seen families that spend a ton of time asking their children about school, and giving them support. I rarely, however, saw these two key components effectively communicate, make decisions together, or share vital information about the individuals involved.
The schools have not worked hard enough to involve parents. When I say this, I am not talking about field trip chaperones or having parents set up a bake sale. I am talking about involving parents in the process of education. I believe the schools genuinely care about the students, and want parents involved, but they have been slow to adapt to new technology tools, many of which can be extremely effective in involving parents.
Parents are too busy. This isn’t a good excuse anymore. I agree that parents are probably busier than ever, but technology has revolutionized the ways we can collaborate. We haven’t become too busy to care about working together, we have just haven’t been innovative enough to figure out how to work together. That can no longer be an excuse.
It isn’t “cool” for parents to be involved, according to the kids. From a social and emotional standpoint, it is really difficult to be a teenager. The constant struggle to “fit in” as well as develop a sense of self esteem, identity and acceptance is brutal. Most kids will tell you that it would be embarrassing for a parent to come into their school. Why, though? How did we ever let this thought process arise? Having a family member that cares enough to come into school or offer to help should be something that one is proud to showcase, but for some reason it is not. Or is it?
Three years ago I co-founded a high school program that worked hard to help students succeed and become passionate learners by working with the community, in the community, in order to make the community a better place. Although we partnered with over 150 community partners (businesses and organizations) in the first couple years, the most important contributors in helping each student succeed, were the parents.
A colleague of mine emphasized the importance of getting parents involved. He set up a team of parents who would constantly reach out to the other parents to invite and encourage them to get involved. I admit that I underestimated the power of involving parents, but once I saw them join the team, the way I view education changed greatly. I saw them join the team and help with providing an authentic audience for students, provide their expertise during projects, help in the decision making of our program, and help find ways to stay informed so they could keep the “learning” going long after the school day was done. Not every parent was able to help out during the school day, and not every child is blessed with parents who are willing to put forth effort to help their child, but this involvement was much more than just “helping your own child”.
"Our group of parents, became a collective group of parents, who provided key ingredients in helping each and every student in the program maximize their potential. As a whole, we all became greater than the sum of our parts. It was awesome to see."
We were doing this at the high school level, and after a few weeks of having parents visible in the classrooms, as well as giving feedback, students started to think it was pretty “cool” to have the parents involved. They started to build rapport, learn new things, and develop respect for these parents. It was no longer embarrassing to have a family member involved.
You don’t just be a team. You become a team. Through tough games you find that you need each other
This philosophy doesn’t only apply to basketball. It is time for schools, parents, community and the students to become a team. It will not be easy, but I guarantee it will be worth it.
About the author: Oliver Schinkten is currently a national speaker and education consultant. He has been a classroom teacher in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the past 12 years. He is the founder of AssistEd Shift and ComPassion Based Learning and co-founder of the Communities program, an interdisciplinary, project-based high school program. He's passionate about incorporating technology and 21st century skills into education and developing a more relevant, whole-child-centered curriculum.