Insight / Published May 31, 2016

Give Parents a Voice in Classroom Assignments

Parents don’t need anyone to explain to them that teachers are important. We know it matters that our kids get a good one. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. We’ve seen the great teacher who manages to ignite a child’s interest in math or the one who has helped a child find his self-confidence. We hope never to see the opposite – the teacher who just doesn’t gel with our child. But any parent who has had kids in school long enough has probably seen that, too.

Parents don’t need the academic citations to know that teachers matter more to kids’ academic success than any other factor a school can control. In fact, not only do teachers have an outsized impact on student success, but requesting a specific teacher for your child is one of only a few parental involvement strategies that have been linked to gains in learning. The right match really matters.

So it’s no surprise that some parents who have the time and means to be very involved in their schools respond by scouting each year’s teacher prospects with the fervor of Mel Kiper on NFL Draft Day and lobbying for certain placements. Yet plenty of other parents leave classroom assignments largely to chance.

Why? Sometimes it’s because our schools communicate very clearly – directly or indirectly - that they aren’t interested in parent input. Sometimes we don’t speak up because we don’t want to seem like we’re demanding something special for our kids. Sometimes it’s just because we haven’t thought to do it – or think we shouldn’t need to do it.

At EdNavigator, we believe parents’ insights should be a part of the classroom assignment process. While some schools have clearly defined ways of capturing parents’ preferences and perspectives each year, many others don’t provide families with any guidance about how or when to speak up (or if they should at all). That leaves parents on their own to figure out what’s appropriate or inappropriate and, as is often the case, gives the advantage to those with greater access to school administrators and knowledge of how the system works.

What if schools routinely asked families to share what they know about how their kids learn while making classroom assignments for the next year? The point wouldn’t be to ask parents to name specific teachers they want, but to offer their take on what their child needs. It would help build stronger student-teacher matches and also give teachers some inside information about the roomful of new students they will be charged with educating BEFORE the first day of school.

That’s why we created our Getting to Know My Child form. It’s a simple, one-page form that invites parents and guardians to share information about each child’s strengths, needs, and the type of classroom that would be the best fit. We hope it provides a productive way for parents to express their views without demanding anything unreasonable from their kids’ schools.

Check it out. If you have kids in school, consider filling it out and delivering it to the principal of the school your child will attend in the fall. Assigning students to teachers is a complex process, so don’t expect your school to be able to make good on every request – but hopefully this tool is the start of a successful conversation between you and the school about your child. Maybe the school has a very different perspective on what is a good match for your child than you do, and this form prompts a discussion so you can both talk about your goals for the student and the kind of learning environment he or she needs.

As you use this tool, we’d love your feedback. What was helpful? What did you wish was here? What would you change? Let us know and we’ll continue to refine it.