Years ago, a town’s churches and school served as major community and social anchors. In some instances, the two shared a single building. Parents, students, and teachers spent a lot of time together since local events were often held there. As a result, communication was frequent, and relationships were strong. Adults worked together to support the growth, development, and learning of students. Today, as our towns have grown into cities and residents are busy traveling from place to place, we’ve lost that central gathering place. Many parents rarely if ever visit their child’s school, and they typically receive a call or email from a teacher only when there’s a problem. While this practice may have been birthed from an efficiency perspective, it’s resulted in relationships that really aren’t—interactions simply represent the transfer of information: message sent/message received.
It may be one reason why students are still falling between the cracks. Teachers and parents are so busy trying to be efficient they may be overlooking the importance of truly considering the needs of each student. A gifted child may be feeling really frustrated because he’s bored in math class. A student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) has recently turned inward and has stopped interacting with her peers on the playground. A student whose native language isn’t English may be struggling in American Literature class. Concerns like these can’t be addressed by a simple exchange of information through a phone call or email; it takes collaboration and partnership. It takes active listening, and it takes meeting people where they’re at. In other words, it takes building trust.
Rich, meaningful relationships are hard to build in the sterile, institutional environment found in most schools. That’s why an approach like some teachers in the Salt Lake City metro area are using appears to be so effective—because they are taking an important first step in building trust with parents—they are making home visits. This approach is not earth-shattering nor ground breaking; I actually recall many years ago my sister’s high school English teacher coming to our house for dinner one evening. I remember the uncertainty looming in the house before the event—we weren’t sure why she was coming or what to expect—we just received a note letting know what day and time she would be there. As a result, we cooked and cleaned as if the Queen herself was paying us a visit, hoping it would somehow be acceptable. Turns out, we fretted for nothing—the teacher was there simply to introduce herself and to get to know us better, so she could in turn better meet the needs of her student, my sister.
Of course, the Salt Lake City pilot is not without its critics despite its success stories; a lot of the concern centers around the age-old question, “But who’s going to pay for it?” I don’t claim to have the answer but it’s an approach worth thinking about.
One thing I do know, however, is that in the fast-paced, tech-driven society we live in, we must be very careful not to overlook one important thing: that each child, each student is precious, and they deserve our very best in helping them become their very best. We collectively share a large part of the responsibility for their success. If simply having teachers and parents slow down and take the time to talk with each other would help, isn’t it worth considering?
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com).