Engaging with Parents: Why and How

Author: Sebastian Sprague

Parental involvement with education is important to a student’s learning.  Students learn better and earn better grades when parents are involved in their education (Carjuzaa & Kellough, 2013).  Parents are more likely to trust a teacher they have met.  To help parents be involved with their child’s education, many schools have “back-to-school” nights and other events so teachers and parents can meet before there are any problems in school.  There are teacher conferences, parental email lists, and online learning management software that allows parents to have a daily update of their child’s progress.  The need for parental involvement in education becomes even more apparent when it comes to sexuality education.

Parents are a student’s first sexuality educators; from the first time they cuddled them to calm them down as a baby (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996).  This relationship lasts in to adolescence and adulthood; students learn about their family’s values about relationships and sexual behaviors from their families of origin.  When a student comes to school for sexuality education, the relationship with their parents also comes in to the classroom.

This relationship is part of the reason why Hedgepeth & Helmich (1996) recommend full community involvement when forming a new sexuality education curriculum. A transparent process that involves the parents, community leaders, the school board, and teachers helps everyone know that their values will be respected and prevents bad feelings from forming around the process.  Recently, a school district in Nevada had a “secret meeting” around implementing a sexuality curriculum, which resulted in parents reacting out of fear to what their child will be exposed.  Transparency helps prevent the strongest reactions.

As a sexuality educator for a school, you may want to have training for parents about what is in your lessons.  When a sexuality educator holds that training with parents and the community here is what they should have in mind to help manage the atmosphere.  1) Parents are your partners.  2) Be confident in your knowledge.  3) Meet everyone once.  4) Ask them why they are here.  5) Treat them like adult learners.

family

Parents are your Partners

As already stated, parents are a child’s first sexuality educators, so it is important that parents and educators work together for the best outcomes. The most effective sexuality programs ensure that all possible sources for sexuality education for children cooperate to “provide explicit, coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated messages about sexuality” (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996, p. 35).  Ensuring that you and their parents are partners in their child’s education is what is best for everyone.

Make sure you go in to the training with this as your mindset and state this as an expectation of your participants.  It acknowledges their role as parents and your role as an educator to make sure they have all the facts about sexuality.

Be Confident in Your Knowledge

One of the best attributes of a sexuality educator is their depth of knowledge about sexuality, their curriculum, and the benefits of both.  Use your knowledge as a basis for your confidence in yourself and that will show in your interactions.  The comfort you demonstrate will pass on to participants.

Meet Everyone Once

Before the training introduce yourself to people and ask names.  It establishes rapport that will make you and the participants more comfortable with discussion.  Meeting people before class is a chance to do an informal assessment of participants; what experience they bring in the room, who is comfortable, and who is not.  (Silberman, 2006)  You can use this knowledge in the training to ensure fuller participation

Ask Them Why They Are Here

Participants will have their own reasons for showing up to the training.  Asking them why they came will show that you care about their reasons and creates a sense of responsibility for their own training.

Treat Them Like Adult Learners

As educators, we allow adults to have more control over the process of learning than we do children.  This means a different set of training techniques and a different learning theory.  You need to make sure that participants have some ownership in the lesson, or they will resent being lectured to.

This training is a chance to demonstrate to parents your skills as an educator and for parents to develop a sense of trust in you as an educator of their child.  This will benefit both you and the students.

 

References

Carjuzaa, J., & Kellough, R.D. (2012).  Teaching in the middle and secondary schools (10th Ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson

Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV: Principles and methods for effective education. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Milliard, T. (2014). CCSD’s secret sex education talks fuel parent ire. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 21, 2014. http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/ccsd-s-secret-sex-education-talks-fuel-parent-ire.

Silberman, M. L., & Auerbach, C. (2006). Active training: A Handbook of techniques, designs, case examples, and tips (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

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10 responses to “Engaging with Parents: Why and How

  1. Sebastian,

    Thank you for writing this post. As educators, many times we forget how to interact with parents and when it comes to a subject as sensitive as human sexuality, it is important to be mindful that not every parent is going to have the same feelings about discussing sex with their children. I like your list of what to keep in mind when training parents on the subject of human sexuality. Working with kindergarteners, the classroom teacher and I always view the parents as our partners in education. We also expect the content we teach in class to be reiterated at home because it allows for children to know that their parents do care about their education.

    Krissy

    • Hi Krissy,
      I’m glad you liked it. I wrote this keeping people like me in mind. I worry so much about rejection from parents that it’s hard to remember that they can be partners, and even allies in sex ed.

  2. Sebastian,

    Great job! I thought you chose a really interesting topic, and I liked your spin on it, particularly the part where you emphasized the educator/community/parent/child partnership. I so agree: in order for these programs to really work, parents and educators need be on the same page. I’ll be perfectly honest. Occasionally, I get frustrated with some of the public resistance against implementing comprehensive sexuality ed. curricula. But maybe that resistance comes from a lack of transparency or from the community feeling excluded from the plan. Your blog post was really helpful in providing a way to address these issues. It also reminded me of how the Netherlands approaches sexuality education–as you saw, the community tends to be fairly united in what children are taught by their parents and in school. One of the main differences that I noticed between the Netherlands in the US in terms of sexuality education is that sense of transparency that you were talking about.

    And truly, in this day and age, kids are exposed to far too many conflicting messages about sexuality from society and the media as it is. You’re right—therefore, it is all the more important for parents and educators to coordinate and to be consistent! Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and well-articulated post. ☺

    -Sarah

  3. “When a student comes to school for sexuality education, the relationship with their parents also comes in to the classroom.” – Thank you for putting this so eloquently! I have been trying to nail down a great explanation for why it is important to involve parents with their child’s sexuality education for a while now, but this really hit the nail on the head for me. I had never formally made the connection between the primary agents of socialization (family, peers, school, religion, media) and how they can be used to explain why why greater involvement leads to greater change. (If anyone is interested in more info on the agents of socialization go to page 43 of http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=4SbovM1yyMAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=agents+of+socialization+peer+group+family+church+media&ots=5Ih1p51i4C&sig=XklvrCrfQBGoJGrHSnfIevjOZi8#v=onepage&q=agents%20of%20socialization%20&f=false)

  4. This topic is so simple and gets lost all the time! I believe we do not see parents all the time as partners rather the other/enemy. They are the partners. We give the educations but like you said they are the children’s educators from day one and their cultural contexts will come into the classroom contributing to how they are learning and what we are teaching. I have recognized involving the parents or just the fear of how to get parents involved/on board with the curriculum is one of the most challenging tasks in sexuality education. This post simplified it. Showing it is not all that scary to involved the people who are the guardians of those we are trying to influence. If we do not have the parents on board it will make it that much more difficult to do our work. Great topic.

  5. I really appreciate this post, and am glad you mentioned the importance of treating adults like adult learners. I hadn’t thought of that when I was writing my post on engaging with parents (https://teachingsexed.com/2014/04/01/its-not-just-the-birds-the-bees/).
    I think doing a training on the curriculum for parents inherently takes adult learning theory into account in some ways, as the very purpose has real, tangible use for their lives (better understanding their children’s experience at school and connecting with them). And you’re right, ensuring they have some ownership over the training/lesson will not only keep them engaged but also help them establish trust/rapport with the educator!
    One important thing I think we both missed in our posts is culture. Just as we would consider culture when lesson-planning for our students, we should when meeting their parents too.

  6. If I learned anything in my first year of grad school practicum, it was the necessity of having parents involved in their children’s education. I love how you call them “partners,” showing the equally important and influential role they have when it comes to sexuality education and our students. Transparency is essential, and it’s funny that we learned recently while observing Al’s class that there is an open door policy where all the parents are welcome to attend the school’s sexuality classes-but with that level of transparency the parents don’t feel the need to!

  7. Just like Sara, the statement, “When a student comes to school for sexuality education, the relationship with their parents also comes in to the classroom,” really hit me, as well. You reminded me that one can never separate a person from where they come from, who their family is and what their home environment is like, when it comes to teaching about a sensitive and values-laden topic like sexuality. I wonder all the time about how I could possibly productively communicate with a parent who is just not on board, or is actively combative, and so I thought I’d only work with adults, but framing parent interactions as another educational opportunity, with adult learners, really made me question my logic! I think I’d actually love to work with parents, from this perspective. Thanks for this post 🙂

  8. You’re so right, parents are a child’s first sexuality educator- either through talking or not talking they are always sending a message! Involving parents is so helpful for creating an effective learning environment for youth. This creates a better likelihood that the learning leaves the classroom and is continued in the home. The idea of approaching parents as adult learners I think is brilliant as well. I have never thought of parent involvement workshops as a workshop of adult learners, I have always thought of them as adults of the learners, but that concept is so applicable. Thanks for writing this entry, I think it was very beneficial to receive a different perspective on parent involvement, and that it will help me to develop more effective parent meetings in the future.

  9. This was a great post, and it is particularly applicable for me because I am currently creating a parent curriculum for 626! I really like the tips you gave for managing the atmosphere when working with parents. It is so easy to forget that parents are partners to educators when sometimes it can feel like they are an obstacle. A lot of times parents may be wary about the information their children are getting, so I think it is really crucial to have a meeting with them before implementing a sexuality education program for children under 18. These meetings can help break down that barrier, establish credibility of the educator, and allow the parents to see exactly what topics their child/children will be learning about.
    Most often parents may seem like a barrier because they don’t want to accept that their child/children are sexual beings. A great activity for parents can be showing them different sexuality or relationship milestones that happen throughout the lifespan. I think it’s also very important to let parents know you aren’t making assumptions about whether or not their child/children is/are sexually active, and you aren’t trying to change any values. You, as the educator, are just trying to provide medically accurate information in order to promote healthy decisions when it comes to relationships and sexual behavior.
    It is much more conducive to the learning environment and to the students’ knowledge if educators work with parents and not against them. Thanks for the post!

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