Home-School Pathways: Exploring Opportunities for Teacher and Parent Connections

Home-School Pathways: Exploring Opportunities for Teacher and Parent Connections

Kathy Renita Fox (Watson College of Education, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2787-0.ch018
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Abstract

Teachers who are informed about the children, families, and communities where they teach are better prepared to share resources and advocate for gaps in literacy and other services in rural communities. Despite the importance of home-school partnerships for children's academic success, aspects of parent involvement and community engagement are often omitted from teacher preparation programs. As a result, many new teachers do not feel adequately prepared to work with families. A variety of strategies are needed for teachers to successfully engage families from diverse cultures and in communities where they teach but not live. Included in this chapter are practices that university teacher preparation programs can initiate to better train teachers to look for engagement opportunities in their school communities.
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Introduction

A cloud of dust surrounds a now dirt-yellow school bus as it makes a three-point turn in a community nestled in a pocket of the county rarely seen by visitors or many locals…It's a neighborhood that several students from United Elementary School (pseudonym) call home. The dust causes a few coughs from the teachers on the bus who were taking a community mapping tour of where some of their students live and to partially experience what some of their youngest children go through as part of their regular routine before they even start their day at school (Rodriguez, 2007).

About 150 teachers piled on buses Friday to take a unique tour, the first of its kind in this local school district. The group took a tour of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in [the northern part of the] county, the places where their students live. “I want students to know that we care about them and we love them and we’re always going to be here for them,” said high school teacher Kimberly (pseudonym). “We have them for such a short time every day that we don’t realize that some of them go back to homes with no electricity, no running water,” said the principal ( Billow, 2016 .)

These excerpts from regional news stories highlighted two public school principals’ attempts to acquaint teachers with the rural communities of their students. Rather than using the days prior to school opening, routinely called “teacher prep days,” going over the year-long calendar and reviewing policies and other organizational tasks, these school leaders chose to organize a visit to the children’s neighborhoods for teachers and staff. By riding several bus routes, pointing out what families lived at the addresses, how the neighborhoods were organized, the length of time for children on the bus, and connecting in what classrooms siblings, extended family members and neighbors would enter only a few days later, teachers got a glimpse of the children’s lives outside the classroom. Once back at the school, the principals led discussions on what they had collectively learned and what individual teachers, administrators and staff members might use to better meet the needs of individual children in their classes. It is important to acknowledge that the discussion could have taken a voyeuristic, deficit approach, focusing on the lack of means and the poverty of the area from a negative outsider’s stance. Instead, the principal leaders encouraged the conversations to describe the positive aspects witnessed. This included how families’ homes shared backyards, how toys and play equipment were visible, and that children were seen outdoors on bikes and swings. Teachers seemed impressed by what they called the evidence of industriousness, as they commented on the vegetable gardens and flowering pots visible in small yards and spaces while others noticed the backyard shops and home goods advertised for sale. Others commented on the neatness of the yards and homes, although many of the children lived in lower socio-economic neighborhoods and subsidized housing developments, a fact which seemed to surprise some teachers. One teacher pointed out the benefits of a mobile home park near a large poultry and hog production facility, where many of the children’s parents and extended family members worked. Here children had connections to extended family, school age neighbors and friends of multiple ages and gender. The bus rides, emphasized as a first step in situating the homes and neighborhoods of the children in context of the school community, helped to open a preliminary window into the children’s world not typically seen from school gates.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Preservice and In-Service Teachers: Preservice teachers are those in the study of teaching but not yet responsible for a classroom. In-service teachers are those currently with a classroom or the capability to have a classroom. This typically would mean they have completed initial training and licensure for teaching.

Bi-Directional Parent Communication: Teacher contact with parents in such a way that parents are able to share information back with the teacher. Not one way but two way communication.

Teacher-Parent Involvement (Sometimes Called Parent Engagement): The practice of working together to better the education and well-being of the child and the school. In its highest form this would be a mutually shared construction, with parents feeling welcomed at the school and classroom as respected and valued decision makers. Parent involvement must acknowledge however the importance of the work parents do outside the classroom to support the child and the school. This includes involvement in the homework, literacy practices and development of the child.

Community Mapping: The process of entering an area—neighborhood or designated region—specifically identifying sources of literacy access. This may include WIFI availability, free book exchange, stores offering books, magazines, games, environmental print, etc.

Teacher-Parent Communication: Messages that are sent from school to home can be delivered in multiple ways. More formal communication from the teacher includes newsletters, webpages and conferences. Less formal, but equally important, are the comments made on homework, conversations in greeting or dismissal times, and other day to day communications from the teacher.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: To use elements of the children’s lives outside the classroom to inform and enhance curriculum. This includes critical literacy, looking at pedagogy from the lens of mainstream and other cultures to ensure relevancy and equity.

Families’ Funds of Knowledge: The practices of a family, passed from parents and others, that make up the day to day learning in the home. This can include cooking, childcare, and other traditional practices, but can be specific to a parent or parents and less common. Examples in this chapter include pet care and the home craft of making pinatas. Home visits: purposeful visits to the home of children by the teacher and other school personnel.

Advocacy: To support, encourage, and bring attention to a cause, in this case the cause of children and the importance of access to literacy in multiple forms.

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