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June 07, 2008

Secret to Success

A teacher is only one person, no matter how good a teacher he or she is.  It takes more than one person to create a successful student. Just like the African proverb says, it really does take a village to raise a child. 

This brings me to the heart of what it takes to create an engaged and successful student, parent involvement.  It's more than passing out napkins and juice at snack time. Parent involvement is about engaging parents in their child’s education and teaching them how to become involved. 

We start teaching parents what pre-k is all about at our pre-k registration in the spring. Before students step foot in class, parents are shown a video of developmental milestones for four year olds. Many parents are shocked to learn that a child of four years of age should be fully potty trained and weaned from a bottle, even more so when they learn that it's their job to do it! We offer tips and resources at the close of the video to help them accomplish these goals, and, when the parents return in the fall to complete their registration, we show the same video again to ingrain the idea in their minds.

Next, just before school starts, we hold a Pre-K Orientation meeting in our classroom for both parents and students.  There another video showing the ins and outs of attending pre-k is played.  A few weeks following orientation, we invite parents back again to teach them how best to help their children at home.  We provide each parent with all the materials necessary to reinforce classroom learning at home.

Parent/teacher conferences,another important component of  parent involvement, are also critical to a child's success in the classroom.  More than just in-person progress reports, I approach these meetings  like coaching sessions. Every parent is provided with a packet of information that is reviewed carefully with them. If I notice a student struggling with letter identification, I review that particular section of the packet with the parent. I discuss a variety of ways that mom and dad can help build the skill at home, like pouring salt onto a dark plate or surface and writing the letters in the salt.  I do an in-conference demonstration for every student's parents. If the issue is fine motor skills, we review the page in the packet that explains how to strengthen the muscles in the hand using simple and fun exercises.  Demonstrations are key to the parent's success of following through with the proposed activity at home. 

So you’re probably thinking all that sounds like a lot of work. Well you’re right, it most certainly is! But the pay off, stronger pre-k students and parents getting involved in their child’s education, is priceless. When you teach a parent how to become involved, odds are that they will remain that way through the rest of their child’s educational career.

Sadly, using the assessment scores for my class as an example, the 4 students who consistently scored the lowest had parents who weren't involved in their education.  The equation, more involved parents equals more successful students, speaks for itself. 

I think the most important thing about parental involvement is to remember it’s not just about physically being in the classroom. Learning how to be involved in the child’s education - early - is a key component to their overall school success.

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