Families are an important aspect of a child’s education. Outside of the classroom experience, they are the most influential factor in how the student approaches learning, growth, and school as a whole.
Because of this families should have real involvement the classroom experience too. I’m talking more than just being a ‘room mom’ or visiting to make copies (both of which are absolutely appreciated and needed roles). I mean finding ways to authentically engage families in their child’s learning, giving them legitimate roles in the educational process, and truly partnering with them.
A lot of the ways we open our classrooms up to families are great, and I am not at all knocking those. Bringing family members into school is vital and valuable, and it truly does help them be a physical part of school culture and environment. But I also believe that we need to do more. We need to involve family members in the ‘meat and potatoes’ of learning because they are major stakeholders and influencers in that process.
One of my favorite ways to do this is through shared goal setting. At the start of the school year, I’ve always had students set goals for themselves. We think about our language arts experiences, we reflect on our growth and our struggles, and then we think about what we want to accomplish. My one rule for this goal setting is that a student’s goal cannot be about grades. That’s another topic for another day, but the reason behind it is so students reflect on their actual learning, and not on points or percentages. By eliminating the ‘grade factor’, students must think about and set goals that are focused on themselves as writers, readers, and thinkers. In short, they set actual goals for my class and content, not ones for a report card score.
After students set goals for themselves in class, I have them take the goal setting form home. They then share it with their families, and on the reverse side, there is a section for parents. I have a quick note about the goal-setting process we used in class, and invite parents to then set a goal for their students. The same rule applies here: No goals about grades.
I have not once received negative feedback about imposing this rule on families. In fact, it’s never even been mentioned. And reading through the family goals is one of my absolute favorite things, because I get such real answers. I learn about the skills my students have, what they have done in past years, and I get a snapshot of how their families see them. I also get to see the writing skills, types, and reading genres that families want to see their kids grow in. My favorite, though, is reading the goals that families have for their students as people, the ways they want them to grow and be prepared for their futures as human beings.
This goal setting activity is one way that I authentically involve families into the learning process, and it proves to be valuable for a variety of reasons. First, I get to know the ways that students feel about themselves as learners and the things they want to accomplish. I then get to see the vision that families have for their children, as learners and people. This allows me not just to know them better, but to actually help them realize that vision, to be a small part in helping it become a reality. Finally, and most importantly, I get to involve families in the growth that takes place in our language arts class. I begin to propose a shift in our focus, away from grades and toward learning. Communication is opened, positively, and centered on something positive. A partnership is forged, one that goes beyond a physical presence in my classroom, and involves families in the growing of writers, readers, speakers, and listeners.
I’m still looking for more ways to do this authentically, but after reading the goals I have this year, I’m really loving this one.
To see my goal setting form, click here!