This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Do Utah citizens care if we are last in per-pupil funding and below average in student achievement? This year could be the one we do something about it. Numerous studies show that parental involvement in each child's education is the best way to help students achieve.
In the summer of 1975 a group of teachers met for two days at an elementary school in Northern Utah to make plans around this question, "How can we make our school better?"
Near the end of the second day, after many ideas were explored, a fourth grade teacher raised this question, "What if we held a different kind of Back to School Night? Instead of meeting with parents as a group, and us telling them what they can do to help us, why don't we meet with each child's parents to find out what they want for their children?"
Another teacher said, "It sounds good, but how could we do that? It would take time to meet with all the parents individually. At the end of each school day I am exhausted."
Another, "If we had only 20 students and met with parents only a half hour each, it would take 10 hours to meet with all the parents with 30 students it would take 15 hours! Why don't we ask the school district to give us a couple of days without students to do this?"
"Fat chance! The district is too interested in us covering the state curriculum and the state requires 180 days of schooling!"
"How about asking the parents to take turns covering our classes while we meet with each child's parents in the hall near our classrooms? We could provide lesson plans for them to follow."
"I would like a few days, maybe a week, to get to know each child before we do this. Then I could keep the child in mind while we talk and make plans."
"Yeah! Let's do it, and let's ask the parents to come prepared to answer some questions like these: What would you like the school to help you do for your child this year? What are this child's special talents, interests and needs that we should keep in mind? How can we work together to help your child?"
The teachers and parents at Hill Elementary School did carry out this partnership plan. It was the Big Idea that answered the question, "How can we make our school better?" Did it make a difference?
It made an enormous difference. Student's achievement soared when they were given a chance to become "specialists," "experts," "masterminds," or "geniuses" in self-selected topics. They experienced the joy of asking powerful questions and learning how to find their own answers. They found excitement in preparing for talent shows as they "tried on" talents from a shopping list of 82 different kinds of talents. Parents became meaningfully involved as they helped their children prepare "Great Brain" and talent show presentations. Self-chosen home study replaced home "work" and the school library afforded everyone an opportunity to read at their own higher levels.
Parent-teacher partnerships not only increased student achievement, but they offered much hope for increased funding as parents began to realize the benefit of smaller class sizes, the need for better supplies and more support from parents. With a united focus on the strengths and needs of individual students the school improved dramatically.
If you can sense the advantages of building partnerships, we suggest you use this summer to get ready and do it this fall.
Lynn Stoddard is the author of many articles and the book, "Educating for Human Greatness."