In my previous post I presented my vision for world class schools at UCF. In a series of six posts, I am going deeper into each of my six priorities for our schools.
Priority #5 – A well-informed and highly-engaged community
Our community plays a critical and irreplaceable role in our educational mission. It is parents who must work with their toddlers and pre-school children on the early stages of literacy and numeracy. It is parents who must reinforce learning that occurs in the elementary classroom, and who help middle schoolers with their study habits and organization. It is parents who ensure kids get enough sleep, eat right, and are ready to learn when they arrive at school each day. And it is our families that must help their teenagers navigate through the academic and social challenges of high school. Involved parents are connected to their children’s teachers, know what their kids are supposed to be learning, and provide wisdom and direction to them every step of the way.
Research has demonstrated that parental engagement makes a real difference:
When parents talk to their children about school, expect them to do well, help them plan for college, and make sure that out-of-school activities are constructive, their children do better in school. When schools engage families in ways that are linked to improving learning, students make greater gains. When schools build partnerships with families that respond to their concerns and honor their contributions, they are successful in sustaining connections that are aimed at improving student achievement. (see study here)
The connection also needs to be strong in the other direction — our schools need to be excellent partners, too. Teachers and parents need to be strategic allies in a child’s education. Parents (who know their child’s unique needs, personality, and learning preferences) and teachers (who have tremendous experience helping all kinds of students learn) should work together so that learning in and out of school is most effective.
Our district must continue to provide on-line tools so the parents can understand upcoming assignments, follow along in text books, and see their child’s performance in near real-time.
Our parents want to be involved in their children’s education, but sometimes aren’t sure what to do. And our district should provide world-class resources to parents so that they are better equipped to help their students. (Singapore math is a great example of where more parent support is needed.) I think we could do more as a district to equip our parents to help their students, in age-appropriate ways, at each step in their education.
And we also need our whole community involved and supporting our students. Local businesses, foundations, community groups, sports clubs, places of worship, and entrepreneurs all make a difference with our students. These organizations and individuals provide our students with leadership opportunities, mentor kids in their academic and vocational interests, lend expertise and resources to support the arts , help students develop character and virtue in their lives, and enrich students with field trips and opportunities to explore new vocations.
Finally, I believe we can do a much better job of utilizing the diverse talent of our residents to enrich our schools. Residents are already very generous with their time, and do whatever is asked. But we could do a much better job utilizing the expertise and talent of our parents. We have parents who are CFOs, Engineers, Management Consultants, Nurses, IT innovators, Carpenters, Lawyers, Artists, Architects, Medical Doctors … the list goes on. But we do not yet do a very good job asking for help and connecting the talent in our community to the periodic needs of our district. I know most professionals are willing to help … but are not aware of the needs, and are never asked. Our talented families are an under-utilized asset.
With our whole community – parents and residents – all exercising positive influence on our students, and contributing to our schools, we can deliver a world class education.