Parents and Teachers as Co-Constructors of Children’s Success as Mathematical Learners

Parents and Teachers as Co-Constructors of Children’s Success as Mathematical Learners

by Nesta Marshall

Parents as advocates. Parents as allies. Parents as collaborators. Parents as their children’s first teacher and “top educator,” with the home as the “premiere” classroom. Make no mistake, teachers: Parents1 play an invaluable role in the lives of their children as learners. Parents’ close-up view of how their children learn is an essential piece of the metaphorical puzzle that gives a fuller picture of their children’s abilities when matched with the puzzle piece held by teachers. Undoubtedly, parents begin gathering information about their child during the formative years and that wealth of information continues to grow throughout their child’s journey at home and in school. A parent panelist who spoke to my class of aspiring educators noted that teachers have children for six hours a day, five days a week, for one year. Parents have their children on their hearts seven days a week throughout their lives. That parent was the mother of a child with special needs. Her words resonate strongly. Teachers should view each child as a human being and as a learner with parents who care about their welfare and their educational journey. Suffice it to say, parents would welcome opportunities to contribute to their children’s success in the classroom. Parents care.

Created by Andika Cahya Fitriani from Noun Project

In Math for All, teachers are encouraged to “take special care to boost students’ strengths and affinities and to protect them from humiliation in an effort to nurture their sense of self-worth and efficacy” (The Neurodevelopmental Framework Overview). Prior to and during the school year, teachers should learn about a child’s knowledge, capacities, and dispositions from the child, the family, and former teachers; this student-honoring approach could contribute to their success as learners. Take to heart the example of a “plea” by a father, a member of the Seneca and Cherokee Native Nations, as he shares important cultural context about his child in a letter to his teacher: “My son, Wind-Wolf, is not an empty glass coming into your class to be filled. He is a full basket coming into a different environment and society, with something special to share. Please let him share his knowledge, heritage, and culture with you and his peers” (Lake, 1990).

How can teachers work toward a successful partnership with parents?

Effective partnerships aren’t built overnight. It takes a stick-with-it attitude to overcome the setbacks that might be encountered when building a relationship. Strong partnerships are possible and must be sought after in the parent-teacher dynamic; the gains from this collaboration will be seen in the children’s growth as learners. Let’s consider three steps teachers can take to foster positive partnerships with parents (adapted from Rossetti et al., 2017).

Step 1. Be culturally responsive

  • Reflect on the influence of social-historical and political contexts on children’s lived experiences and take them into account when designing the classroom environment and planning instruction. Children should be able to see themselves and their community reflected in the classroom through such things as posters showing, and discussions about, diverse mathematicians; photos from a family math night showing families doing math together; and engaging in story problems that take place in their own neighborhood.
  • Think holistically about educating each child with a differentiated and equitable instructional approach.

Step 2. Know the family

  • Understand how to work with different types of families and family structures by being mindful of how lived experiences—including language, ethnicity, education, culture, socio-economic status, and other factors—affect their perspectives.

Step 3. Initiate and maintain a collaborative and productive partnership

  • Communication. Interact with families in authentic, ongoing, dialogic, and caring ways. Concerns should be communicated while in the nascent phase and with diplomacy. Be aware of parents’ communication preferences and draw upon a range of modalities (e.g., phone, email, texts, newsletters, video, photos/visuals, one-to-one conferences, apps, Zoom/online chats, school-specific website/interactive platforms, etc.) to accommodate accessibility and communication needs. (See sample questions that teachers can ask parents later on in this post.)
  • Commitment. Patience coupled with tenacity are key elements of relationship-building. “We’re in this together” should be the mantra that stokes the resolve to not give up on a child or the journey.
  • Equality. Parents are experts in their own right on their children. They should be welcomed as partners (in this working affiliation with teachers) without any judgment, biases, and assumptions, regardless of creed, color, class, culture, competency, and other identity markers.
  • Mutual trust. Creating and sustaining an atmosphere that is free from suspicion is essential to a productive relationship. The byproducts of a trustworthy partnership could result in knowing how to request help when uncertain of what to say or do, and recognizing the value of looking at mistakes as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.
  • Mutual respect. Showing genuine humility and taking a learner’s stance could pave the way for parents to share ideas and concerns and express feelings without fear of repercussions.

How can teachers engage parents as esteemed members of the “teaching team”?

Stemming from parent interviews conducted by faculty at the Bank Street College of Education, many participant responses remind us of approaches and mindsets teachers can take to invite parents into a supportive network that surrounds their children (Charles & Park, 2023).

  • Be flexible and creative, moving away from a one-size-fits-all mindset and collaborating with the family to identify viable next steps for their children.
  • Understand and appreciate the impact of their neighborhood/community and current events on children’s development and lived experiences.
  • Show empathy toward them, realizing that they too are deepening their understanding of their children and figuring things out along the way. It is important to cultivate and nurture children’s strengths and interests to inform the decisions around offering them multimodal learning experiences. It is also of great import to utilize children’s community cultural wealth (CCW), “an array of knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist multiple forms of oppression” (Cuauhtin, 2019).
Team
Created by Soapi from Noun Project

Another way to invite parents into a parent-teacher partnership is to learn from them about their children’s strengths, challenges, and interests, either directly or indirectly through surveys or a home-to-school communication book. The aspiring teachers in my graduate courses have the opportunity to engage in this type of experience when I invite a parent panel to join us, asking students to prepare questions in advance. A sampling of their insightful questions, below, can elicit valuable information in support of developing partnerships with families.

  1. What was a rewarding moment/experience you had with your child?
  2. What do you wish your child’s teachers knew or understood about your child or family?
  3. What kinds of communication and interaction from teachers have been most effective/supportive for you, your child, and your family?
  4. Are there questions you have for teachers that you’re sometimes afraid or hesitant to ask regarding your child’s learning? What do you wish you could say to your child’s teacher that you have never said?
  5. When have you felt most supported by teachers and school staff? What makes you feel like your child is in good hands?
  6. Do you feel that your child is supported in his classroom? If so, in what ways? If not, what would you like to see happen?
  7. What are your biggest expectations of a school for your child?
  8. How can teachers help your child become a more independent learner with self-advocacy skills? How can teachers do more to involve parents in their child’s goal achievement and in accessing resources/services for their child?
  9. If a teacher has a concern (academic or other) about your child, what approach from the teacher requesting a dialogue would be most comfortable for you? What are important considerations for teachers when delivering “difficult” information to parents?
  10. What made “the best teacher your child has ever had” the best?
  11. How can teachers make you a part of the learning/teaching process as parents and make you feel safe to ask questions and suggest ideas?
  12. In your experience, what has been the most satisfying or most productive bridge between the support your child receives at home and at school?

What should teachers understand about parents who have children with special needs?

In my graduate school class, I invited a mother-daughter team to share what they wanted a teacher to know about their child/sibling with special needs. Their responses were as follows.

  1. To value my child as an individual and person first.
  2. School is just one area or component of my child’s life.
  3. To honor my child’s interests, learning style, and personality, and cultivate their strengths to the fullest.
  4. To see beyond and beneath the label or developmental variation.
  5. That a collaborative and supportive approach is the best course of action for everyone involved in my child’s life (teachers, family, community).
  6. Open lines of communication are vital (about progress, day-to-day experiences, problems that arise).
  7. That academics are important, but self-concept and social/emotional well-being are just as critical.
  8. Finding an appropriate learning environment in which my child can thrive, be supported, and interact with peers is critical.
  9. That this is a journey and process for parents as well.
  10. Trust and educator responsiveness are critical for a strong partnership between home and school.

Though their experiences might differ from others with similar circumstances, their responses could serve as a window to view how parents would like teachers to “see” their child.

How can families be involved in the life of the mathematics classroom?

Taking into account the mindsets and attitudes explored throughout this post, engaging parents as active participants in the math life of the classroom is another viable and specific content-based approach to building a productive collaborative partnership. There are many ways to establish mathematics learning as the locus for teacher-parent collaboration. Here are some ideas:

  • Invite parents to visit/volunteer in the math class to get a flavor of hands-on mathematics in action (e.g., the 3 Act Tasks).
  • Establish a family math night where activities are geared toward math concepts such as pattern recognition and relationships among numbers (e.g., 100 Numbers).
  • Include parents in developing students’ habits of mind. A single habit of mind could be spotlighted each month by providing examples such as making sense of problems.
  • Recommend math projects, including at-home math games (see DREME Family Math and Young Mathematicians).
  • Display student work samples, with a note written by the student to the parent, during curriculum night. Parents could opt to offer feedback and have their queries answered by their children and teachers.
  • Explore the many children’s books that foster mathematical exploration and spark mathematical thinking that parents could have as resources. Examples: read-aloud math books, picture books, and math and literature books.
  • Encourage parents to engage their children in mathematics through everyday experiences such as pouring a specific number of cups of beans to be cooked into a pot, or figuring out the number of miles or blocks left on a family trip, or calculating the minimum or maximum size of a rug to purchase for an area in the home.
  • Have available packages of manipulatives or suggested at-home tools, including virtual manipulatives.
  • The Family Math book is a nice resource, along with A Family’s Guide: Fostering Your Childs Success in School Mathematics.

Parents want teachers to embrace them as co-agents of positive change in their children’s education. Teachers should take the first step to form a bridge between the classroom and home. This could begin with encouraging and empowering parents to let their voices be heard by telling their stories about their children. They know their children well and could offer valuable insights into their likes, dislikes, strengths, struggles, relationships with peers, attitudes and approaches toward schoolwork, and the strategies, tools, and resources that help their children do their best work. Working hand in hand as a team, teachers and parents can provide the building blocks for constructing a learning environment and educational experience where children function optimally and thrive.

Parents and teachers must be partners in ensuring children’s success as mathematical learners.

Yes indeed, parents and teachers TOGETHER!

1 We recognize that family structures vary widely. The home grownups in a child’s life can include a range of adults in caregiving roles such as grandparents, aunts or uncles, foster parents, etc.

References

Charles, J., & Park, S. (2023). Engaging community stakeholders in the redesign of a teacher education program in early childhood special education. Bank Street College of Education.

Cuauhtin, R. T. (2019). We Have Community Cultural Wealth!: Scaffolding Tara Yosso’s Theory for Classroom Praxis. In R. T. Cuauhtin, M. Zavala, C.l Sleeter, & W. Au, (Eds.). Rethinking ethnic studies. Rethinking Schools.

Lake, R. (1990, September 1). An Indian father’s plea. Education Week

Mass, C. U., & Ginsburg, H. (2019, May 2). 40 children’s books that foster a love of math. DREME.

Rosetti, Z., Story Sauer, J., Bui, O., & Ou, S. (2017). Developing collaborative partnerships with culturally linguistic and diverse families during the IEP process. Teaching Exceptional Children, 49(5), 328–338,

Resources

A Family’s Guide: Fostering Your Child’s Success in School Mathematics, by A. Mirra (2005). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

100 Numbers to Get Students Talking, by Sara Vanderwerf (2015, December 7).

Math Read Alouds, from K-5 Math Teaching Resources. (n.d.).

Family Math, by J. K. Stenmark, V. Thompson, & R. Crossey (1976). Lawrence Hall of Science.

What are Habits of Mind?” Module 2 from The Brain: Developing Lifelong Learning Habits, ASCD (2011).

Explore Math Games, from the Young Mathematicians website. (n.d.).

The contents of this blog post were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0  

Math for All is a professional development program that brings general and special education teachers together to enhance their skills in
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