Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Academic Parent-Teacher Teams: Everyone Benefits from True Collaboration

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

With the recent release of the movie Won’t Back Down and the high-profile Chicago teacher union strike, it seems US public education is, once again, getting negative coverage in the mainstream media, with parents pitted against teachers or teachers pitted against administrators.  Committed education professionals, in their advocacy on behalf of our nation’s public schools, continually highlight the importance of collaboration among teachers, administrators, parents and community members when it comes to ensuring high-performing public schools. The belief is that we are all in this endeavor together and we each have an important role to play. One inspiring example of effective parent-teacher engagement can be found in the Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT) model.

The APTT story began in the Creighton School District (AZ) in 2009 when Maria C. Paredes, Director of Community Education, led an effort to survey parents’ attendance records at various engagement activities across all nine schools. While parent participation was high, especially for parent-teacher conferences, it was clear these activities were not having a significant positive effect on student performance.

Given the popularity of parent-teacher conferences, Paredes focused on making those meetings more effective, which led to a new approach– the APTT. The model has two main components. The first is three 75-minute classroom team meetings each year. During these meetings, teachers model activities that parents can do at home with their children, with parents practicing the activities together in small groups. These meetings also allow parents to network with each other and learn how their child’s performance compares to the classroom as a whole. The second component of the model is one 30-minute individual parent-teacher meeting each year to review individual student performance and create individual action plans, with additional individual meetings scheduled as necessary. This format ensures timely actionable student data that inspires families to take action and improve outcomes for their child. They walk away empowered, with information, tools and strategies to support student learning at home. For more details on the program, go here.

APTT provides several important takeaways. First, it was a collective effort, with buy-in from teachers, administrators and parents. These stakeholders actively helped design the APTT model; their involvement and support helped ensure successful implementation. Secondly, the program’s very existence resulted from a clear objective: to create a new model for engagement that had a real effect on student outcomes. Finally, it produces a true partnership between parents and teachers. It is a team-effort that recognizes the importance of parents as partners in their child’s education.

This last takeaway is particularly salient considering the statistics. Children spend 33 percent of their time sleeping, 57 percent away from school, and just 10 percent in school.* Learning does not begin and end at the doors of the school building. In addition, we know that parents who are more engaged in their child’s education have a positive influence on that student’s achievement. This model increases parental engagement during that large, and critically important, percent of time when children aren’t in school.

The APTT model also straddles perspectives in a constant discussion over who bears responsibility for child-rearing. Parents, not schools, are responsible for raising their children. However, schools must attempt to overcome the external challenges that a child faces at home.  As Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said just last week at Education Nation, in response to a question from C. Ed Massey – President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and PTA board member:The idea that somehow schools are entirely separate from the home, from the economic circumstances of the home, from the social experiences of the home that’s just not reality. The home is an integral part of the education system and the best teachers in the world can’t possibly overcome a home pulling in the different direction”.  At the risk of getting too political, Governor Romney wasn’t wrong, and in this case the angel is in both the details and the policy changes.

Finally, the APTT model directly addresses concerns and desires from both parents and teachers. According to a recently released report by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), some of the top priorities for parents, when it comes to their child’s education, include: monitoring general progress, knowing when to be concerned about a child’s progress, understanding their child’s development as a learner, communicating with their child’s teacher/school administrator, helping their child with homework and providing activities at home to support classroom learning. The APTT model addresses a number of these top priorities. For teachers, the benefits include a more structured and constructive relationship with parents, additional support when it comes to teaching and learning, and less time spent on parent-teacher meetings.

The APTT model is becoming more commonplace. It now exists in schools and districts in five states and the District of Columbia and grew from just 11 classrooms in 2009 to more than 1000 classrooms in 2012. As a model, it offers a more intentional – and scalable - approach to parent-engagement than some that have been popular in the media lately. Of course, there is more than one way to involve parents and ensure that each child receives a high-quality public education, and this is just one of many evidence-based ways in which it has been done. We need more of this. We don’t need more Hollywood stories, loosely based on a one-time event of parents taking over a school with unproven success – that is not the way to produce sustainable long-term change.

Innovation isn’t always as sexy as many want it to be. Yet Maria C. Paredes is one example of a change agent and her deliberately crafted model has been embraced by teachers, parents and administrators at Creighton with inspiring results.  Parents don’t want to run their children’s school; they want their children to have a good education.

*Paredes calculated these statistics based on the hours in a year of a child’s life from age 5 to 18.
6 hours and 15 minutes of instruction time 180 days per year: 10%
8 hours of sleep 365 days a year: 33%
What is left is time awake away from school: 57%

Image by: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.