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Making Parents Partners

When parents play a part in their child’s academic career, students have better school attendance, make greater achievement gains, and have fewer behavior problems. Featuring Karen L. MappSusan Hall, and Tom Bowman.

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Program description

Research shows that getting parents involved pays off. When parents play a part in their child’s academic career, students have better school attendance, make greater achievement gains, and have fewer behavior problems. What can your school do to make parents partners in the process of teaching their child to read?

This webcast was produced by Reading Rockets in partnership with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), the National Education Association (NEA), the International Reading Association (IRA), and the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE). Funding for this webcast was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education.


Karen L. Mapp is President of the Institute for Responsive Education

Susan Hall is Project Director, Early Intervention Program for the Porter County Reading Foundation

Tom Bowmann is Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction for the Baltimore City Public School System


Delia Pompa is the Vice President of the Center for Community Educational Excellence, at the National Council of La Raza.



Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to the Reading Rockets teleconference series, Achieving Success in Reading. Today we’ll talk about Making Parents Partners. Our expert panelists are here to discuss strategies you can use in the classroom and in your school to get parents involved and to make them partners in their child’s journey to becoming a successful reader.

Dr. Karen Mapp is president of the Institute for Responsive Education. She’s also interim superintendent of the Family and Community Engagement Office for the Boston Public School District. Tom Bowmann is a director of elementary curriculum and instruction for the Baltimore City Public School System and former principal of Thomas Johnson elementary school. And Susan Hall is the parent of a former struggling reader. She’s also a reading consultant and co-author of the books, Straight Talk about Reading and Parenting a Struggling Reader.

We are also joined by an audience of teachers, administrators, special education professionals, and parents. Later in the program we will be taking questions from the audience and opening up the phone lines to viewers around the country. Thank you all for joining us. Karen, what does the research say about parent involvement?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Delia, we have a lot of good information now from the research about the effects of family and community engagement actually on student achievement. And what we found is that we know more about three things. We know more about why family engagement is important. So we know that when families are engaged in their children’s education we see great results, like better attendance in school. Of course we can’t teach children if they are not attending regularly. That’s important. We see better attitudes about school. When families are involved in their children’s education, their good attitude about schools transfers to their children. So we see better attitudes about school. Less discipline problems in school - less discipline problems in school.

We find when parents are involved, their kids go on to higher education programs. These are the students we see in our honor and A.P. classes. These are the kids who go on to higher education. We know a lot now about why it’s important. In terms of the what, what’s really good is we have more information about the types of family involvement programs that really make a difference. So for example, today we are talking about reading.

We are finding that programs that are really linked to learning, where the program stresses some sort of academic piece or focus, those are the programs that really have a great effect on student outcomes. We also know that programs that really focus on what goes on at home, which surprises a lot of educators because a lot of us have been focused on family involvement at schools, volunteering, bake sales. But that’s not where it’s at. It’s how we engage parents when they are with their children, not when they are with us. That’s very, very important.

Last but not least, we know more about how to engage families and we know that relationships are very important. Building trustful and respectful relationships with families is really what brings families in. The research is there.

Delia Pompa: Then, what incentives do schools have to get parents involved?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Well, we all know that this job of educating children is a tough one. We can’t do it alone. No one entity can do it by themselves. When parents, school, faculty, and administrators are partners and team members we know that as a team, we get a lot more done when we act as partners. Otherwise it falls too much on one entity and this is where we say things like “burnout.” It becomes too much of a heavy load.

Delia Pompa: Sometimes it seems that schools and parents have an adversarial relationship. Why does it seem that way? Why does that happen?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Well, Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, in her wonderful book, World’s Apart, talks about how there’s a natural adversarial role or tension between parents and teachers. As a parent you’re turning over this most precious piece of your life to this person who many times is a stranger to you. So I think that there’s always a little bit of tension between parents and teachers when this comes to turning over that most important part of your life to someone you don’t know. However, schools have to really work hard then to overcome those barriers. And now we are seeing in schools there’s a lot of barriers that pop up, such as when teachers and parents come from different cultural backgrounds or when parents may not speak English as their first language. We have to help teachers and principals learn how to build those bridges between families and schools.

Delia Pompa: Some schools seem resistant even after the research and all you just mentioned. Why do you think that’s the case?

Dr. Karen Mapp: I think there’s a lot of reasons. We - I think as educators, particularly those of us in higher ed - I don’t think we have done as good a job as we should have or could have with training folks on how to collaborate with families and communities. A lot of our teacher education programs are now just starting to include collaboration with families as a really important part of their curriculum.

I think now we have to make some changes in how we do professional development, in-service, pre-professional training with teachers and staff, to teach them how to collaborate with families. A lot of our teachers come back and say, you know, you didn’t really teach me how to do this well, and I’m struggling. That, I think is some of the reason that we see that. Plus I think school has become sort of a place where we have a tendency to think in sort of an isolationist-type of philosophy where here’s my classroom and no one comes in to see what I’m doing. But that’s changing a lot. I think we see that the doors are being opened up in many cases to having more collaborative partnerships with families and community.

Delia Pompa: I know you have a long answer to this having read your work. Can you briefly tell us some steps that schools would take to make sure they don’t have an adversarial relationship and they can bring partners in on something like reading?

Dr. Karen Mapp: I think that you have to start with small goals. There are a couple of really good books out there now for teachers who are looking to improve their school, family, and community partnership programs. There’s a great book out now by teachers and families at the O’Hern Elementary School in Boston called Including Every Parent. They have lots of steps laid out for faculty, for how they can reach out to parents.

It takes time. A lot of people think you can do this work overnight. It takes time. It takes a real effort. The principal is key. The principal has to show that he or she is willing to engage families. They have to have a welcoming philosophy. And they can’t just talk the talk. They have to walk the walk of collaboration, communication, and welcoming.

So, we could spend a lot of time on the steps. I think within one of the first ones is you have to look at your school and examine your attitudes about parents. Are parents viewed as partners? Are they viewed as people who you only invite in during the open house period and the two teacher-parent conferences during the year? Or do you have more of an open door policy where parents are invited in? Then schools can do a lot for training for parents on how to read to children at home. We have seen some very successful programs that focus on that.

Delia Pompa: There’s action you’ve got to take.

Dr. Karen Mapp: Absolutely.

Delia Pompa: Susan, tell me, you know a lot about how law holds schools accountable for parents, can you tell us about that?

Susan Hall: One of the things that’s exciting in the environment that we are in right now, particularly in reading, is that there are a lot of laws that are working with the child - No Child Left Behind and also Put Reading First. With the Reading First initiative, which is a wonderful, grounded initiative - it’s only available to a certain number of schools in each state - but it provides a model for all schools. What I like about it is it gives us a model for parents to get access to information and to also look at what we want to happen as an ongoing practice in all our schools, not just our Reading First schools, but all our schools. So my view is that I wish that Reading First and No Child Left Behind had been in place when my son was having trouble learning to read. I would have been able to access and leverage my questions to the school in a different way. I would have known more. I would have asked better questions. I would have known what to advocate for. So I think it provides a model, if you will, particularly the Reading First portion of the No Child Left Behind.

Delia Pompa: Tom, you are on the ground or have been on the ground and spent a lot of time out in schools also. What does the law look like on the ground in schools? This law about parent involvement?

Tom Bowmann: Effective administrators and school community entities have always involved the parent as viable entities and partners in their schools. But with the No Child Left Behind legislation, school systems are actually required to have a parent involvement policy. That’s always been a good practice among effective schools. But now we are required and it’s tied to the funding of No Child Left Behind. Various entities of accountability have come into play with parents being involved, being informed, what services are available to their children, and failing schools or underachieving schools. These are all requirements that are going to perpetuate a very rich partnership among and between parents and schools and other agencies in the city and state.

Delia Pompa: Let’s hear from all of you. Many of you, what impact do you actually see it having? What impact are you seeing in the schools, in your work with parents on reading?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Well, I know that in Boston we have a couple different reading programs that are specifically focused on getting parents involved in the reading process with their children. We have something called the Read Boston initiative that was actually pushed by the mayor’s office, and that is an initiative in our elementary schools where parents are encouraged to read to their children three or four times a week, 20 minutes at a time, or have their children read to them. Parents sign off on a reading contract. And we have seen real gains in children’s reading from those kinds of programs. And then also when I do workshops all over the country, we are finding the reading and literacy piece is a good avenue into parent engagement. A lot of parents are struggling with what’s the best approach to take to involve my child in reading at home? We are seeing a lot of good results with some of these home-school reading programs.

Susan Hall: In addition, in Title I schools, parents are required to be informed about services to help their children be more proficient. These are services required by No Child Left Behind. This must be implemented and supplemental services and school choice must be there for parents. The notification, the role of advocacy is parents are involved about their rights and responsibilities under No Child Left Behind.

Delia Pompa: You’ve got the research, you’ve got the law. We’ve got the incentives. How do you motivate schools to bring parents in a reading program?

Dr. Karen Mapp: I think a lot of it is getting other teachers and principals to talk to their peers. I find when we do workshops around the country, sometimes I go in and I’m viewed as the talking head, the researcher. And so, when I bring a teacher in or a parent who can talk about their own experiences. I believe in story telling. I think that it’s very important for the principals and teachers to hear these stories about the impact this law has. I think maybe sometimes I think the research is good for the foundation and the law gives us the teeth. I think in terms of getting more professionals to actually do the work, they need to hear the stories, the success stories that their peers and colleagues will tell about the approach.

Delia Pompa: Susan?

Susan Hall: Yes. I agree with that. I think it’s just like you said, the law provides the teeth, the research is what we found ourselves in to make sure our practices will provide the most children with what they need to read. When it comes actually implementing change in schools, we need models. We can’t talk in generalities. We need to see how it will look. One of the things I’m finding helps so much in implementing Reading First in the different states is to actually find examples of where schools have taken achievement in reading from 80% failure down to 5%. Now, that doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes a couple of years. But you can make a really extreme improvement within even the first year. But I agree with what Karen said a moment ago, too, which is often it is a group of teachers as colleagues that become extremely motivated, along with their principal. They see the vision of where we can go in this school. It doesn’t have to be a sense of failure in reading. We can bring change. And then teaming up with parents and sharing that vision. Setting that vision so that we all see what we can do if we work together and implement a very well-researched based program to bring change in our reading.

Delia Pompa: You were certainly motivated as a parent to make change in the schools. How did you motivate that school? Tell us in two sentences.

Susan Hall: I think as a parent I tried very hard not to be adversarial, even though my child wasn’t really getting the services he needed immediately. I did do my research independently. Just like when your child has any kind of a medical condition, you do second research. You don’t take everyone’s word. So I did all of my research. I went to the school informed. I laid out what I thought I had learned from my information, and I tried to engage in a dialogue with the school.

Delia Pompa: That is a real lesson. Let’s look at a school in Baltimore, Maryland, where the principal did everything possible to get the parents and teachers motivated.


Narrator: The Thomas Johnson school serves a low income area where 68% of students receive free lunch. The kids here are learning to read, thanks in part to the aggressive leadership of principal Tom Bowman.

Tom Bowmann: Four years ago 37% of our students were reading on or above grade level. 71% of the students are now reading on or above grade level. That not coming by accident. It has to be a strategic plan to get there.

Narrator: One teacher on board with the plan is Gail Fishback. She teaches a free kindergarten class that lays a great foundation for literacy. Her training and materials come from a program called the Children’s Literacy Initiative.

Student: E sound for - Elaine.

Student: Emmillie.

Gail Fishback: She is our second helper today.

Gail Fishback: When they say their name. Then we move on to the beginning letter of their name. Then I throw in almost simultaneously the sound of the letter.

Gail Fishback: Next helper’s name begins with a V sound for Virgil. What letter is that, Virgil.

Virgil: V

Gail Fishback: They are recognizing their name, the letter. Now they understand that the letter makes a sound and they understand what that sound is.

Gail Fishback: What letter have we been talking about this morning? J. This is the J week for jet and we have a little boy in the afternoon, his name is Jason. And we have another little boy named Jimmy. And their names begin with a J. This is the upper case J and the lower case j with the -

Narrator: Her students are well on their way to cracking the code of written language. No small feat.

Gail Fishback: You give these kids this paper that has all of these weird little symbols and you want them to understand it? The picture, yes. But the idea of being able to understand all of these little scribbles amazes me that I can get them to understand that this is a letter and that the letters make words and the words make sentences. Then we have little dots and scribbles and punctuation marks around it and they understand that, and i think that is just amazing. It is amazing that they can figure that out.

Narrator: In guiding her kids toward literacy Mrs. Fishback feels the full support of her principal. Tom Bowman communicates one paramount message to kids in this neighborhood - school matters.

Tom Bowmann: We begin our phone calling at 6:45. If we don’t get a response we try to go to those houses. They range from five to fifteen houses a morning to touch base with parents to make sure the children are ok and they know where they are and we know where they are.

Tom Bowmann: I heard you have been doing well in reading. I went by your room and you were reading that back for Mrs. Lawson. That was great, Ryan. That was a good job. Do you feel good about that?

Ryan: Yeah.

Tom Bowmann: You should. That is quite an accomplishment. It is a great day. A wakeup call for the neighborhood. We value school. Wake up. I know just from kids who is doing reading every night and who isn’t just by the tone of their questions, by the language in the words they are using, by the level of the curiosity, by their ability to sit and listen to a story. It is that evident.


Delia Pompa: Welcome back. Thank you for joining us for this Reading Rockets teleconference. Joining us in the WETA studio are panelists Dr. Karen Mapp, Tom Bowmann, and Susan Hall. We are joined by an audience of teachers, administrators, special education professionals, and parents. And later in the program we will be taking questions from the audience and calls from around the country. That number, so you remember, is 1-888-493-9382.

Tom Bowmann is the director of elementary curriculum and instruction for the Baltimore City public school system and one of the stars of the Reading Rockets Launching Young Readers series. Tom, how did you overcome all of the excuses schools use to keep parents out?

Tom Bowmann: Well, that is a good question because we relied on excuses not to do what we should have been doing but we were aware of the effect of school research in the 1970’s and 1980’s so we got it out of the way and set the expectation that parents will be part of school and we will be part of the parents’ lives. It is not so important about making excuses. It is that we gave the school community time to reflect on the existing culture. What is it within the culture? What behaviors within the school community culture attributed to our reading proficiency charge and what detracted from that mission?

Very carefully we used reflective dialogue to get teachers and parents engaged. What is it I’m doing, either at my house as mom or dad or my classroom as teacher, which contributes to the mission? We had an important change. We had to change the literacy rate in our school community. In order to change this we had to bring the culture along with us because it was well established what could have been excuses. So, we set out and articulated. What was the mission? It was to improve reading proficiency. Let’s get reading on the table. At home, the breakfast table and the classroom table. So that the two complemented each other. It was a very interesting process with a clear agenda, a clear vision that we needed to increase reading proficiency and let’s examine the data about our school community, the culture, if you will, that attributed to those behaviors.

For instance, we looked at the public library which was three blocks away. We found out that very few of our children and parents had memberships or participated or even visited the public local library. So, we established a partnership with the local branch library and expected students and parents to be at that library after school and on weekends. We would actually make visits to that library on weeknights and during the weekend and reward students if they got caught being in the library with their mom and dad. So we announced it over the PA system that we caught Billy at the library last night reading books with his mom and dad and gave him a free ice cream pass or something like that. But self-knowledge and severe examination of where we are and what we need to be to make reading successful is crucial.

Delia Pompa: What about the excuses that parents use to stay away?

Tom Bowmann: Well, in urban settings where there is a significant poverty level parents tend to be disengaged, disfranchised domains. School is perhaps the last opportunity we have to save communities. We knew that by serving children we could save families and the community and strengthen them. So we looked at what strengths they had. we really wanted to examine and analyze what strengths the parents had in the existing culture and call on those strengths to complement what behaviors we needed to change in the school setting.- Was reading a priority? Was it valued at home? Obviously not. We used student surveys to determine and tell our parents and us what they thought of reading.

Delia Pompa: It sounds like you had a plan. When you looked at it, what worked and what didn’t work?

Tom Bowmann: We knew that using data worked because it showed us a very clear picture of where we were with student achievement. What parents could do, what teachers could do to make a difference in the lives of children. We knew that being read to at home was a tremendous success because we asked children if their parents read to them at night. When we got back the results and the children told us their parents didn’t read to them, we took that data to parent and teachers. What strategies, what behaviors can we implement that will change that statistic. So, by the end of the effort, 97% of our children were telling us their parents read to them every night. That was a phenomenal change for our community.

Delia Pompa: What advice do you have for other principals? How would you make this work in another school when principals are having a hard time bringing parents in?

Tom Bowmann: I think sometimes school principals and leadership entities take for granted or tend to ignore the existing culture. What is it in this school community that’s good? What about the existing culture is good and how can we use those strengths and behaviors to complement the larger mission of improving reading proficiency. That is very key to understanding what is an existing thing already.

Delia Pompa: To implement this did you have to have the teachers trained?

Tom Bowmann: Absolutely. Self-education is very powerful and I know the first time we started looking at we took grade level by grade level. There were three teachers at grade three. We would examine the strategies that each teacher used individually. Many times we found misalignment. Teacher A wasn’t doing what Teacher B was doing so it was a self-defeating actuality every day occurring in the school. And what were the third grade teachers doing to complement the fourth grade teachers? So we decided to standardize practices. What works, what is based on scientific research and get the rest out of the way.

Delia Pompa: But how did you get them all involved? You had a plan. How did you make sure they all got involved?

Tom Bowmann: We brought substitutes every Thursday. So to develop teaming we wanted all the third grade teachers to meet at the same time with a common agenda on improving student achievement. The substitutes would leave the classrooms and they would go to the fourth grade classrooms and we would end up the day with a chair of each grade level meeting together so that the chair from grade one, grade two, through grade five could meet and collaborate on how productive the day was and what changes need to be made school-wide. Then there’s the piece about making parents feel welcome.

Delia Pompa: What did you do? Were there specific strategies?

Tom Bowmann: In our urban setting parents are very much without resources and opportunities to share their feelings and their lack of strengths or their strengths and weaknesses. So we partnered with a number of school-community based organizations, spiritual organizations, civic organizations, business organizations, and we established a family room, a parent room if you will. And we put in the family room books, we had people to come in and talk to parents. We did workshops. We encouraged parents to go to the classrooms to observe a teacher teaching reading. They would go back to the parents and talk about the strategies they saw and how they could be implemented and disseminated so all parents could do that in their homes.

Delia Pompa: Can schools actually teach parent strategies that they can use?

Tom Bowmann: Absolutely. And, more importantly, parents can teach us educators what works. After all, parents are the child’s first teacher. They know their children better than we do. And even though they may on occasion have a hard time bringing educational definition to that strength or weakness on the child’s part, it is an important linkage for the teachers to have that communication.

Delia Pompa: Karen, do you think the model Tom described would work in other schools?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Absolutely. And I think that we saw in the video something I think is very important. Tom talks a lot about building relationships with families. And you saw him walking through the streets and going to children’s homes. We found that home visits worked very well with this bridging that sometimes large gap we talked about earlier between families and schools. And don’t forget for a lot of parents school is a scary place. They may not have had such good experiences when they were in school. Perhaps they don’t speak English well and feel intimidated. So when we reach out and say come in, you are welcome, that’s the first step.

Then as Tom said I was glad to hear him acknowledge the strengths that families bring to the table. A lot of times we set up this dynamic where parents are the lowly participant and the educators will say here is what you should do without it being an equal one-on-one sharing where the parents get a chance to say this is what I know about my child that works. So, I think that the partnership word is key and I do think that the leadership is key, I think when you have someone who is willing to make this a focus puts it at the top of the list, understands that parenting involvement is a strategy toward whole school involvement and not just an add-on that makes a difference.

Delia Pompa: What do you think parents tend to like best?

Dr. Karen Mapp: The approach that Tom was talking about - I just was reflecting on how effective I think it would be in so many schools. As parents, parents often feel that while they are invited to come into the school and while they are welcome to be there in certain ways, unfortunately sometimes they feel that they are not invited into the educational realm. They are invited in to be there as a partner only partially, but not a partner on the educational side. So when Tom referred to actually inviting the parent into the classroom to observe instruction, that is the kinds of engagement that I think parents respond to the best. They don’t want us to be there. They want to be there to be involved.

And if they are going to be there they want to be viewed as a partner in the content, not just in providing cookies for the bake sale and fund-raising. We are all asked to do that which we are happy to do as parents. We want to support our school. But if you have a child who is struggling in reading, then you really want to do more. And most of us who have a child struggling in reading want to help. It is that we often don’t know how to help. And what we need from the parent’s side is often really clear guidance on what we can do like reading at home and very concrete guidance, not just reading at home, but actively reading, modeling how to read aloud. There are all kinds of things we can do to help parents become truly engaged partners, not just peripheral partners but engaged in the content of the education as well.

Delia Pompa: Shortly we’ll be taking your calls. The number is 1-888-493-9382. But first let’s go meet a young girl named Mira in San Jose, California, and see how her parents prepared her to be a strong and confident reader.


Mira’s mother: Where’s the r ?

Narrator: Two-and-a-half-year-old Mira couldn’t be getting a better start to life as a reader. She can already name most of the letters of the alphabet. When it’s time to become a reader, she’ll have less to learn because of the head start her parents are giving her.

Mira’s mother: Yeah, good job. Give me five. Good job. Mira, melons. M for melons and m for Mira. Look we have melons on our list.

Narrator: Mira’s mother does what reading researchers recommend. She finds opportunities to point out print and how it’s used.

Mira’s mother: Look, Mira, c for cucumbers.

Narrator: Mira is learning that signs are different from shopping lists. Which are different from stories. Mira is also discovering that all of these kinds of writing are made up of words, which in turn are made up of letters.

Mira’s mother: …for cauliflower and M for mushrooms.

Narrator: When Mira starts learning to read she’ll already know a lot about print. But more than she knows about self-control.

Mira: I want some of this.

Narrator: Mira is getting such a rich exposure to books and print it’s clear she can’t wait to read on her own. In fact, like many children, Mira pretends to read. Her play reading reveals she already knows how books work. This comes from her parents reading to her and that’s something they do every day. Every evening after dinner, Mira’s parents switch off the phone and television for reading time. It’s Mira’s favorite part of the day.

Mira’s mother: Eat a good breakfast.

Mira: Hmm.

Mira’s mother: And don’t forget to wash the dishes.

Mira: Hmm.

Narrator: More is going on here than meets the eye. From her mother’s moving finger, Mira learns that the print tells her mother what to say. She doesn’t just make up a story based on the pictures. The details that Mira and her 2-month-old brother are picking up are certainly important. But the most vital lesson this evening may be the simplest - reading is a pleasure.

Mira’s mother: His mommy and daddy want him to go get his little brother.

Phyllis Hunter: The single most important thing that a parent can do to help a child learn to read is to transmit a love of reading to their children. Let them see you reading as a parent, let them see that you enjoy and love print, and I say this to parents even if you’re not a reader yourself, you can still communicate to your children that books matter.

Narrator: VJ can’t follow the twists and turns of the not, but he is paying attention to his mother’s voice tuning his brain to the elementary speech sounds that make up English. He’s already laying the foundations for becoming a reader.


Narrator: Nobody wants to give up on a struggling reader. Now, nobody has to. Whether you’re an educator or parent or someone who just cares about kids, check out the definitive resource for teaching kids to read. It’s another great production of WETA, Washington, D.C.

Narrator: We’d like to remind you we’ll be taking your calls shortly. Our toll free number is 1-888-493-9382.


Delia Pompa: Welcome back. Thank you once again for joining the Reading Rockets teleconference. Susan Hall is a reading consultant with State Departments of Education on professional development for the Reading First program. But that wasn’t her first job. Susan was first a parent and one of her children turned out to be a struggling reader. Out of her son’s struggle, frustration, and then success, a career in reading was born. She co-authored Straight Talk about Reading and Parenting a Struggling Reader. Susan, talk to me about the perspective of a parent. Your child is struggling with reading and you don’t know what to do. Where do you turn?

Susan Hall: That’s a good question I often get asked when I speak to parent groups. I think of course you turn to the school, and the school is the first place. We need to go into the school and express our concerns. My child doesn’t seem to be reading as well as I think he should. He’s frustrated at home. He tells me he’s behind. You go to the school first. That starts with his classroom teacher. But I don’t recommend stopping just there.

We really need to also as a parent become informed on our own. If we are going to help partner our child to becoming a reader, we have to become informed about the reading process and about what our role is. So when Louisa and I were writing our first book together, we tried really hard to come up with a framework for what we thought parents could do. We feel that their role can be expressed in three areas. As a parent we need to coach our child, we need to monitor their progress, and then occasionally we may need to advocate if things aren’t going well. Under the coaching role we include a number of things. Certainly turning off the TV. I advise parents just turn the TV off. In my home it’s 30 minutes a day. You get to choose one program. That’s it. It’s just an inarguable rule.

I also encourage parents to provide good reading books for your children. As a parent I spent a lot of time with a child who did not want to read, but I knew if he didn’t read that he wouldn’t become a better reader. I took it upon myself in my role as his quote-unquote reading coach to make sure that he had books he would read. I would follow his interest, whatever it was. My child was interested in gerbils, so we studied rodents at home. That wouldn’t have been what I was going to be interested in, but that’s what he wanted to read. So I went to the library and I found books about rodents. We followed his interest. And led him. I just required him to read to me. It wasn’t an option. Even today my children are teenagers and I still say to them, ‘what book are you reading?’ And they need to be reading a book.

Delia Pompa: What is it about being the parent of a struggling reader that schools don’t understand?

Susan Hall: I think what happens a lot that can go wrong between a parent of a struggling reader and a school environment is kind of a feeling that we are adversaries, which we don’t need to have. We don’t need to be adversaries; we need to be partners. Sometimes a parent needs to be encouraged to become a partner. They need to be shown how to become a partner. They can be engaged to see themselves as a partner by very capable, strong teachers who have probably had some professional development and some fabulous dialogue within their school environment about how to encourage the parent into that role of being a partner with you. As the parent - I think often we feel we are up against the system. It’s like you feel you are up against a system you don’t always understand. That you don’t know how to plug into. That you don’t feel is necessarily always working in your child’s best interest because you’re seeing it wrong, but you need to see how to make it work for your child and see how to get engaged in learning the system and then making the system work for your own child.

Delia Pompa: What can schools do for parents who seem unsure of the whole process?

Susan Hall: I think approaching parents first of all as your partner, engaging them in a relationship, engaging them in a dialogue, modeling for them how we want them to be. I looked around and I did find parents who were the kind of models that I wanted to be. And I thought that’s the way I want to be. I found parents where I thought they were being very effective working with the school. In fact, they were getting what they wanted for their child. Not the ones that were being adversarial so much but the ones that really were coming to the school with helpful information, coming to the school to help bridge the gap between what you know about my child and what I know about my child and helping to have that dialogue together. I think schools can help to model that role, maybe even by having parents serve in that role to model for other parents what an engaged good relationship between school and home looks like.

Delia Pompa: Are there some specifics that a parent of a struggling reader needs from a school?

Susan Hall: I think you need to know a lot about your child and how things are going at school and what services are and are not being provided. Also you need to have a lot of information as a parent. I know that the hardest questions for me to ask were questions about like, exactly which reading group is he in? And how far below grade level is he reading? Would you share with me exactly where your diagnostic information is and where his early literacy screening information is. And then what can do I to help you and what do we need to do together to bring my child up in reading? But asking very pointed questions about where your child is. Those are helpful questions.

Delia Pompa: I know there’s some research that shows that parents sometimes wait up to a year between the time they suspect something’s wrong and the time they seek help with the reading. What can schools do to prevent losing this time period that seems like a long time.

Susan Hall: It’s a long time and it’s one of our greatest challenges and it’s been very interesting. That research actually came out of a study that was done to ask parents who began to suspect that their child may be having difficulty learning to read, and they were hesitant to speak up for a long period of time, whether it was disbelief, not wanting to know the truth, not wanting to acknowledge there really was a more serious problem, but parents have a tendency to want everything to be ok.

Actually, the opposite is what we need parents to do. The minute a parent suspects there is a reading difficulty, we really do need them to be actively asking more questions, researching whether or not there is a more serious problem. We cannot lose that year. That year is maybe a key year in catching that child up. We have to get to children early. That has to happen both from the school and the home. Recognizing if a child is behind in reading, I will tell you, you will know it at home. Your child will be frustrated. Your child won’t want to read to you in first grade. Your child doesn’t want to read aloud to you; will avoid reading aloud to you; will avoid everything but reading aloud with you. That’s what we need to recognize is that’s a symptom potentially, not always, but potentially a symptom of a child who actually is feeling they aren’t learning to read as well as they should. That’s the time period, that very critical first year whether that’s occurring in kindergarten or first grade or second grade, but we need to catch those children up early with appropriate good interventions in place in school and then help at home from parents who are listening to their children read aloud to them.

Delia Pompa: Some parents might feel uncomfortable with what their role is versus the school. What is the role of the parent?

Susan Hall: I think the parent has a critical role in providing a reading environment at home, providing a supportive environment for turning the TV off and having good books, but also a little bit more than that. And that is of course you want to expect your child to be reading aloud to you and you to read to him or her, but also coaching your child as they are learning to read. A parent is going to have more time one-on-one with a child than many times a teacher can at school. So we want the parents to be actively helping the child learn to sound words out, recognizing what strategies to use, all of that can be taught to parents with a little bit of modeling and demonstration at school, we can help parents learn to do all of that. I think the parent has a role not to teach the child to read. It’s too difficult to teach reading especially to a struggling reader, but there are many, many ways in which the parent can help in that process at home.

Delia Pompa: What if the parent is resistant to working with the school because of a previous experience or is resistant in some way?

Susan Hall: That’s difficult. I think we want to try to bring that parent around to seeing another model, another way of being with the school. Of course we have to understand parents have their own experiences of school may not have been a good environment for them, they may not have fond memories of school. School may have been a place in their life where they failed. Unfortunately since reading disabilities are hereditary, often those are the parents who did have trouble in school and now their child is having trouble in school. I think we need to do our best to involve them and engage them in an active role and positive role.

Delia Pompa: Tom, tell us one thing principals should remember when working with parents.

Tom Bowmann: Probably not to be real abstract about this but to give parents power. To involve parents in the process of being a change agent partner with their school and what they need to set out to do.

Delia Pompa: Karen, you have had lots of experience in this field. What parent organizations do you find to be most helpful that parents and teachers could turn to?

Dr. Karen Mapp: I think there are several national organizations. First of all we know the PTA is doing a lot of work to help support parents becoming more empowered to be involved in their children’s education. We have my organization, which I have to tout which is the Institute for Responsive Education. And we have a Web site which I think that the folks here are going to create some sort of resource listing for everyone which gives tips for teachers and parents around how to start good strong parent involvement programs that support children’s learning.

We have other organizations, Parents for the Purpose public schools is another national organization that works with families. We have the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory which now has a center for school, family and community connections. So they have a lot of information for folks trying to do these programs. I did want to mention one thing, too, something that Susan said about parents, picking up tips from other parents. They are hiring parent coordinators and liaisons and this is a way for families and schools to reach out to other families and parent coordinators. They end up making copies in the copy room. That is not what we want them to do. They can set up workshops for families and having a parent do this for other parents is sometimes less intimidating.

Delia Pompa: Talking to a national organization may seem intimidating to some parents. Are there ways that schools can be intermediaries between the resources that you describe and the parents themselves?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Absolutely. I think that these organizations are usually set up in good ways for the schools actually to get information. Then they should take that information and turn them into practice. So you will find a lot of tools, tips, resources, actual step by step instructions for schools. But some of the organizations also have information that is specifically designed for families about how to start some of these programs themselves in their schools and help teachers and principals to put them together.

The key is identifying best practices. Once parents understand and teachers understand that the two parties can complement each other with that best practice, it is done. We found that some of our tasks could be taken off the table by our parents. For instance we discovered that very few of our students could recognize the required list of sight words. So parents volunteered to take on that responsibility. It would clear the plate for teachers of that task and give the parents some engagement with that very purposeful engagement piece, getting their child to understand what the sight words are and getting them learned quickly. Because teachers shouldn’t have to take that kind of time to devote to getting students to master sight words. Same with pre-k students and letter recognition and kindergarteners with lower case and upper case and the sound relationships. Parents are very powerful in providing that service to schools, so that teachers can be more intense and provide the supplemental interventions at the various levels to students while they are at school.

Susan Hall: Focusing on small strategies. I think that is a great example of engaging parents with sight words that come home. I often see schools use the packets and put them on the circular rings and punch holes in the cards and you send home every week a set of sight words you want the parent to work on with the student. I think that is the role parents are looking for. They want to be engaged where they can do something that matters and that is connected to what is occurring in the school.

I want to use an example of what I saw in a school that I visited recently. I’m very involved in working in schools implementing this early literacy screening to screen all kindergarten through third grade to determine which students are at risk and catch them before they fail. One thing that in one of schools I’m working with, one teacher did, which at first I was taken aback and not sure how it might work but she described it. She actually shared the early literacy tracking data with the parent. The parent said, ‘I want to help. How can I?’ So at a conference the teacher spread the data out and said, ‘This is where your child is now. This is where we need him to be. And every two weeks I will be doing a one-minute probe to see where we are. This is what I need you to do.’ She gave the parent the materials and the parent took it home and this was on letter name. This child, who was a late kindergartener, actually took off the next three weeks, the improvements that the teacher saw, because the parent knew it was very important at home to be working on the letters as well. So, that was a case of complete, in my mind, partnership between the parent at home and the teacher at school that was data driven. Then they showed the charts to the child. The child loved it because the child could see his own progress and he was engaged as the third piece of the partnership. It was very powerful.

Delia Pompa: So the overwhelming process is a series of steps that parents can take.

Susan Hall: Yes.

Delia Pompa: Lots of information today. Your calls are coming up after we take you to Raleigh, North Carolina to meet Neile and her parents.


Neile’s mother: Four famished foxes. There was Frank, there was Floyd, there was Freddie and Flo.

Narrator: Reading aloud is probably the best single activity to put a child on the road to becoming a reader.

Neile’s mother: You know that word.

Narrator: Parents can do even more to assure a good start.

Neile’s mother: What is shad?

Neile: Fish.

Narrator: Neile’s parents have played word games with her ever since she could speak. They build awareness - the insight that they are made of individual sounds. Many kids need help in trying to pick apart the sounds in a word.

Neile’s mother: If you hear two words that rhyme then I want you to clap. How about car, star. Good girl.

Neile’s mother: She loves to rhyme. I think that all children just find that fascinating and she likes words that are sing-song. She enjoys that very much.

Narrator: Today’s game focuses her attention on the ending sounds in a word. Hearing a rhyme is the beginning of word awareness.

Neile’s mother: Tree and bee. Tree and bee.

Neile’s mother: Excellent.

Neile’s mother: Moon, sky.

Neile: No, ma’am.

Neile’s mother: Good.

Neile: …but moon and spoon does.

Neile’s mother: Moon and spoon does rhyme. That’s good.


Narrator: Call in now. The toll free number is 1-888-493-9382. Do you have a personal question you would like to ask an expert about reading? Go to and click on Ask Reading Rockets. Send us your question and we will respond within a few days with a personal confidential answer.


Delia Pompa: Welcome back. We are now opening up the phone lines to take your calls. In the meantime we will hear from our members of our studio audience. We have one question already.

Audience Member: Two-part question: Are most schools adequately prepared to teach struggling readers? And are they also prepared to advise parents on the school and home support needed to get their child reading? Who will take that?

Tom Bowmann: I guess, from a practitioner’s point of view, to answer the question, no, we are not prepared as best as we should as educators to teach reading at the intense surgical level that we should, primarily because that body of evidence keeps changing. But with some very significant research studies we have a better understanding of what children need and how they need to be taught to read at the elementary level, the k-3 level. Very significant there.

Susan Hall: I think you are so right and I’m happy to hear your honesty. I think we are getting there in the schools but I think we have a ways to go yet. The good news is things are so much better now than they were five years ago and I’m very excited for where we will be five years from now. So, I think that we know how to teach reading well and work with struggling readers. We don’t need more research in that area. What we need is we need to implement it and provide the key piece of doing that which is professional development for teachers.

Delia Pompa: There’s a second part to the question. Karen, do you want to talk about that?

Dr. Karen Mapp: I was going to talk about that one. I think that we are getting more and more good research on what we need to tell our teachers and principals about working with parents around reading. Don’t forget I think we are recently shifting from seeing parent involvement as just a nice thing to do where, well, if I’m a good principal and nice to families and we have them come in a couple of times a year to it being seen as a strategy toward whole school improvement. So that is a shift for us.

And so now we are seeing there are a lot of professional development workshops out there. One of the things you are seeing as a good sign is that we have had appointed a deputy of community engagement. That is my role. Not to just talk about parent involvement but how can we train teachers to work with families to improve student academic achievement. So we are getting better. I don’t think we are where we need to be on this. But I think that the spotlight is really shining on this now as a key piece.

Susan Hall: That is critical to see it as part of the whole strategy. We need parents to be engaged, because like we saw in some of the videotapes, so much about what makes a child a good reader comes from the days before they even enter school. It is their oral language, the vocabulary they have. It is knowing the alphabet, the sounds of the letters. It is all of that preparation much of which occurs before they enter school at age five in kindergarten. So, I do think that the whole piece is part of the strategy. It has to be a key piece. Having parents understand and be aware of the important role that they play in preparing their child to learn to read is a key piece of the entire strategy of really moving school reading achievement from where it is today to where we need to be.

Delia Pompa: We have another question from our audience.

Audience Member: You shared excellent insight. My question is about the experienced teacher who has had no opportunity in the past to relate to the parent as a partner. How do you convince that teacher that the parent can be an integral part of the educational process?

Susan Hall: It really requires the professional development we were talking about and the districts have to take this seriously, thanks to No Child Left Behind. It gives you a bit more of a leverage here for that because there are pieces of the law that talk about how schools have to connect with families, how we have to have these home school compacts where parents are engaged in developing them, how the schools and districts have to have parent involvement policy. So it is on the radar screen. But now we have to make sure that our teachers and principals - and not just them, by the way, we are talking about the custodians, the librarians, and the secretaries - everybody has to take this on as a part of what we need to do differently. So, again, the professional development is key and we are starting to see a lot of states that are calling places like the Institute for Responsive Education and other places that do professional development about how to partner with parents in support of student learning. That is the key piece.

Dr. Karen Mapp: But, the key to your question is that there is that reluctant teacher who just doesn’t want the involvement from parents. Clearly the administrator, the building leadership, can set that expectation that there will be parent involvement in every classroom with every child at all levels so the principal can model that parental involvement index. Other key teachers, team leaders, can model it. But as a team, if the teacher is reluctant because of his or her own lack of adequacy about parental involvement there are skills that the teacher can be taught how to do that, set up a safe house strategy that teachers can use to explore the partnership with parents at first. If it is merely a parent conference, some teachers are just scared to death to have that parent conference. There’s an infrastructure for setting up how the conference should be scheduled, conducted. Those skills need to be taught to teachers and the expectation is there that we will engage parents in legitimate purposeful constructive conversations about their child’s progress.

Susan Hall: One thing I find interesting is the more I work with schools - and now I have shifted from being the parent on the outside of the school to being a professional development provider working with schools - I’m amazed at how much the teachers are nervous about the parent conferences. They are amazingly nervous. Teachers want that to go well. In most experiences that I have had now, the teachers really want the relationship with parents to go well. They often are incredibly nervous about whether it will go well. I have even - seen them be more nervous preparing for them than teaching the children. So I think we have to recognize this may be a shift in roles. And they are in the process of learning a different way of relating as well. So we need to meet in the middle and we need to give each other a lot of credit for how hard we are all trying to change our roles. But we need to work together so that we all can learn to make this positive. Most teachers want this piece to go very well. They may not have the modeling in their past about how to make it go well.

Delia Pompa: We have listeners from all over the country and right now we have a question from Idaho.

Caller: Hello. I am calling from Idaho and I have a second grade daughter who is struggling with reading. And you have addressed some of my concerns. One was how - when I tried to talk to the teacher about that I kind of got the impression that she felt I was interfering with the process, and I also perceived that she felt in some sense threatened that I was critical of maybe her teaching methods or what was going on in the classroom. As a parent, what should I not do or how can I make a teacher understand that I want the help but I’m not blaming the teacher but perhaps there are strategies or methods that could be improved?

Delia Pompa: I think all our panelists want to answer that

Tom Bowmann: I want to start by congratulating you and commending you for your advocacy role with your daughter. If we concentrate on student data, where is your child in relationship to academic progress, getting rid of the peripheral issues from personalities to whatever, but focusing on your daughter’s progress academically? What is she doing in reading at this point in time? Where does she need to be at the end of the school year, whatever the interim calendar is? Concentrating on the skills. Once you have established that rapport with the teacher talking about the progress, you can certainly ask the teacher to tell you how you were able to get my daughter to do this so I can practice this at home. Consequently you’re going to get the teacher to identify specific strategies which work with your child. That will be very beneficial and satisfying to you as a parent and also give you insight as to how that teacher instructs in the classroom.

Susan Hall: I agree with what Tom said. Somehow it takes the personal nature away. It’s not the parent attacking the teacher in any way. When we get to a point of really sticking with the data, what does the data tell me? Where is my child right now? Where does she need to be? And what steps do we together need to take to get her there? Sometimes I know - I hear parents say the same comments. I feel the teacher is threatened when I’m asking questions, but we need to ask those questions. We absolutely have to. And as parents I think I would commend you and say to you that you do have to ask those questions. This is your child. If your child doesn’t read well, her whole life is going to be different. So you do have that responsibility. Yet we can’t have a feeling of ‘That’s beyond what you should be asking.’ You should be asking those questions. When you stick to the data, it makes it more concrete. It takes the personal out of it.

Dr. Karen Mapp: The other thing is, I find sometimes with parents who have the confidence to go and talk to a child’s teacher, sometimes we help them with strategies for how they can start building a trustful and respectful relationship with the teachers, especially if the teacher is a little bit apprehensive to say I’m here to help you. I want to partner with you. Let’s work together as a team. I’m not here to criticize your teaching. That’s not what I’m here to do. I really want to be able to help my child, and I know you have strategies that would be helpful to me at home. I’m here to buddy with you. And using that kind of partnership language makes a difference.

Delia Pompa: We have a call now from the local area. A call from Washington, D.C.

Caller: My child’s school does not have a formal reading program. Teachers just use various forms of reading instruction. What should I do at home to help my child?

Delia Pompa: That’s a tough one. Susan?

Susan Hall: Well, you know, I’d like to validate your instincts about the formal reading program part. As a parent you have gained some instincts that a formal reading program is a worthy thing to have. I would like to validate that because teaching reading, as my co-author says, is rocket science. It is extremely difficult to design from scratch a reading program by any individual teacher. You have to know so much to design it well. Therefore that’s why we have what we call basic reading programs or core reading programs. I would advocate for the use of those core reading programs. The reading program in and of itself is never going to teach your child.

What you really want is a core reading program. You want ongoing early literacy screening to make sure your child is on track between kindergarten and third grade, three times a year, more if they are behind, and you want a program in place for them to be caught up the minute they are at all behind in any of the pre-reading skills. That’s what you want in place in your school. I would suggest that what you want to do is advocate for that in your school there is a core reading program put in place. And advocate for that. Now, schools can’t always afford to purchase those immediately, tomorrow, they are very expensive. But what we want is we want extensive professional development so all our teachers know how to teach reading well. We want the right materials in place and we want those very, very important early literacy screening instruments similar. I’ll name one, which is DIBELS, an acronym for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. It’s free on the Web site. We need to encourage every school to have in place those early instruments.

Delia Pompa: Very briefly, what can the parent do at home in the absence of this? While they are advocating?

Susan Hall: It’s very hard to replace what’s supposed to be happening at school. I think certainly you can help by listening to your child read aloud by coaching them at home. In the absence of a good solid reading curriculum in school, it’s hard to completely replace that you need to supplement it but not replace what happens.

Dr. Karen Mapp: I think that this may be an opportunity for the caller to take part and I’m hoping that her school has a school parent council or a school site council, they are called different things at different schools. This may be something that she may want to get on the agenda as an item that needs to be discussed.

Susan Hall: As a parent, it’s pretty hard to advocate alone for your school bringing in all these important things. The early literacy screening instrument, the core reading program, and the intervention groups to help catch children up. If you join an organization with other parents, you twin to surface this dialogue about why your school doesn’t have these and your knowing that - knowledge that this is what other schools are putting in place right now. This seems to be what’s recommended in the research community. That needs to elevate the dialogue from a personal dialogue to a school-based dialogue.

Delia Pompa: Reading Rockets has gone international. We have a question from Montreal, Canada.

Caller: Hello, I want to ask whether or not some of the members of the panel have been involved in student-led conferences? We have had success in some of our schools here in the Montreal area where the students are well prepared to lead the conferences with their parents. The teacher is the facilitator. Is anyone familiar with that pattern?

Tom Bowmann: Absolutely. It’s a great strategy for self-actualization on the student’s behalf. We have what we call portfolio nights. Students would collect their best samples of their work and put it in a folder and parents would schedule a time in the evening to come in with their family members to talk to the teacher and the student about the child’s work. And the child would review the work and the progress that’s been demonstrated in this portfolio piece, this tool. It’s very, very productive. And I commend you and your school for pursuing such a strategy. When students are informed about their strengths and weaknesses, very quickly and with much more success than we as teachers can demonstrate, they’ll self-correct and build on their strength. It’s a great strategy.

Dr. Karen Mapp: Becoming a much more prevalent practice here in the United States as well. It’s gaining a lot of acceptance in the schools I see. I think what’s interesting is the coaching that goes behind the scenes to prepare the student to participate in this conference.

And it’s a wonderful process for everyone. For all parties involved. And it does help to make that transfer from early on when the parent-teacher conference happens without the student even there to later on when we want our children in high school and in college to be advocating for themselves. And this is a gradual way of transferring the skills for what this process should be like as they get older.

Susan Hall: Absolutely. We are actually seeing this really is a wonderful way for students to really practice their articulation schools, to talk about their goals, what they want to accomplish and I know that some schools have been using this with high school students, but I have seen this really trickling down to the middle and elementary students as well.

It’s wonderful to see how empowering for the students it is to sit there and meet with their parents and teacher. I have one scheduled next week. She’s 14. This is way making its way.

Delia Pompa: And it’s working. We are going to a question now from our studio audience.

Audience Member: How does the school reach out to those parents who are far too busy with work and sometimes have to work two jobs, or with family matters, and other parental activities to come out to the PTA meeting or parents night or to any other activity that is in the school?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Well, that is certainly an area that I know a lot about with working with schools. One of the things that I do when I talk to teachers and principals, I often ask them a question. I said, you know, if I asked you to go out and find me five parents right now, where would you go? And they said, the grocery store, and the nail shop, and maybe church and other organizations. And then I ask, well, is that where you provide parents information about how to help their children? Why do we always think it has to be something that happens in school? And so I think it’s very important if we want to reach parents who work two jobs, who can’t come to the school, we have to get away from having everything at the school building and having all the information at the school building to actually going out to the community.

We haven’t talked much about community partnerships today. One of the things that we are doing in Boston is we are in negotiation now with the grocery stores to talk about putting some sort of spiral area in one of those carousels, a kiosk in the grocery store which would have information about reading to your child, how to make a grocery store visit a learning experience for your child. I think we really have to think long and hard about how we can reach parents in other venues besides always coming to the school. I often tell people, Coke and Pepsi and all these places know how to get to our parents and the students. We have to have a better. Marketing head about how to reach our families. Don’t always center everything at the school. Get your principals to go into the community centers to talk about things that parents can do at home. Do some of your workshops at some of the grocery stores. Some of the new grocery stores have community centers. We’ve got to move this action outside of the school building and into the community. That’s how we can reach parents who may be too busy to come to the school. It shows them we are respecting them and we are honoring them.

Susan Hall: I want to follow-up with an example you reminded me of. I do a lot of work in the New Orleans public schools. One of the things that the superintendent recognized is that many of the parents that we wanted to come to the school and be part of the workshops and the events we have at school do not have transportation, they rely upon public transportation. It’s not comfortable for them to get to the school. What he did is he actually set up a system, a workshop, he had an outside speaker coming in town, to talk about what parents can do to help their children learn to read. He ran the school buses to the corners to pick up the parents to come to the school and then took them back. We fed them, it was a wonderful program. We had a huge turnout. Hundreds and hundreds of parents came to this events because he recognized that one problem he had to overcome was to provide transportation because he wanted those parents at the school. He didn’t want necessarily only the parents coming who had cars, who could easily drive to the school. He wanted all parents there. So he overcame the transportation issue.

I think there was an interesting point in her comment as well, or her question, which had to do with priority setting. I know that it’s hard because today we are so incredibly busy as parents who work two jobs and we travel for our work or working evening hours or have odd hours, and we absolutely need to prioritize our time and make clear to our children that reading is important to us. And that happens in our home. And we set that stage of turning the TV off. Having dialogue over family dinner. Talking about what our day was like. Encouraging our children to read. And encouraging our children that we are there at that parent teacher conference. We come to their volleyball games and open houses. We have to set our priorities. If we want our children to read, then we have to let them know by our priorities and how we spend our time. That means getting ourselves into that school building. If that’s what it takes. We cannot assume it’s what we do not what we say.

Delia Pompa: That’s a good message. To Philadelphia right now for another question.

Caller: Hello, I wonder what I should do - I’m in a situation where I have tried to reach out to my child’s teacher but haven’t had a great response and I sort of feel like the relationship with the teacher has broken down. I’m not really sure what my next step should be. I don’t know - I’m worried if I go to the principal it will make things worse. But the trouble is that my child is the one who is suffering from the difficult relationship between me and the teacher. I’m not sure what the next step should be.

Tom Bowmann: Your child is picking those signals up. That’s a guarantee. Children are very intuitive when they come to the pain and frustration that parents feel. They understand that. I would suggest if there is a guidance counselor or psychologist in the building with whom you have a comfortable relationship or rapport, that you strike the conversation and ask that person how you could enrich the relationship with your child’s teacher. If you are not comfortable going to the principal, a guidance counselor or school psychologist would be a viable alternative. But it is important that you exhaust all of those measures, Mom. It is very important that you pursue that avenue of conversation and communication partnering with your child’s teacher. You will benefit from this challenge, this opportunity to improve your skills as a communicator and help the teacher to understand that there are barriers here and she needs to eliminate them so the next parent will benefit from what you have learned and taught that teacher perhaps.

Susan Hall: I think it is critical to get help for your child. While we always start with the teacher and you do everything that can you to bridge that relationship with the teacher, there are going to be times when it will not work, for whatever reason. It may have nothing to do with you. It may have to do with how the teacher is feeling and the situation she is in or what is going on. So it can be a factor, it can be several things going on some of which have to do with you and some of which don’t. So it is critical, I think, to exhaust other resources. And you have to occasionally go to the principal. You may not want to but sometimes that’s what we need to do.

Delia Pompa: Let’s go to Dallas to the Southwest. There’s a question from there.

Caller: My question is, what would you recommend for a student who comes from a household where the parents don’t read or don’t read successfully or English is not the predominant language in the household?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Well, I think that, again, a lot of the programs we see that work with families for whom English is not the first language can have your children read to you and you can read or talk to your child in your own home language. It doesn’t have to be English. The research shows that it is just the practice of children speaking to you, reading to you, and it doesn’t matter whether or not in the beginning it is in your home language. We move to the English, but I think it is very important for families not to be intimidated. And don’t forget, family can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, older brothers and sisters. So if you are having problems with that, encourage some of the other children to get engaged. But I think Susan made mention of the fact that when she was working with her child she let him sort of determine what he wanted to read. So if it is the sports magazines or comic books or things of that nature, any of those things can be incorporated into a reading program at home. So, it is not just the school materials that are sent home. There may be some things at home. Cookbooks, getting your child engaged in reading recipes can be instrumental in helping a child with reading.

One strategy we found beneficial was the use of taped stories. Audio taped stories are a blessing in situations like you are describing, sir. Either get someone to tape the story that your child needs to read, get another adult, a parent, friend, sibling, someone to tape the story and play over and over. Even on television there are cases where stories are portrayed and you can tape them from the television or VCR. Or whatever. But the accessibility to stories is there. It is there.

Delia Pompa: Finally, the moderator must jump in here. There is much evidence that when parents talk to their children in whatever language and tell them stories, whether the parents read or not, tell folk tales, tell them about the country they came from, have conversations with their children, that you are supporting children learning to read. So that is really important.

Dr. Karen Mapp: I wanted to jump in and say that here is where schools can really provide a wonderful service to parents. That is, offer your parents classes at night and we have seen a lot of schools will have night care for kids but they are offering parents GED classes, ESL classes. So this is a wonderful way for schools to engage parents for whom English is not the first language and they may be feeling they want to do better in English.

Delia Pompa: Arlington, Virginia, is on the line.

Caller: Hello. My question is that my school uses a very structured curriculum and it doesn’t offer me much time in the classroom to do any fun reading. And we do a little bit, my opportunities are reading. But I have had complaints from parents about the literature deficit in the classroom. What can I say to the parents? There’s really not - because I have a limited time for reading.

Susan Hall: I think that teachers have to be creative. I assume you are a teacher and it sounds like you are of primary grade. It is important for schools to have in place those core reading curriculums and we know they provide that structure, the consistency between grade levels, the guidance toward the scientifically based reading instructions. So having the core curriculum is the right thing but as teachers it is important to find the ways to incorporate in, in addition to what you are already doing, reading across the content areas. Literature, that is probably the strongest area that I hear teachers talk about. If your core reading curriculum block is designated within the school, then look toward the afternoon hours or late morning hours after the core reading block is done to provide that other literature that you want to bring in your Social Studies and Science, even in Math. And there are plenty of ways. Tom is shaking his head and this is probably what he is recommending his teachers do. That seems to be the place where teachers can bring in more of that literature to promote reading. And expecting children to be reading at home. Encouraging them to do that. And help them go to the library to get books that they can take home. All of those practices seem to be used in many schools.

Delia Pompa: We have time for another question from the studio audience.

Audience Member: Thank you. Administrators often worry about parents they see as pushy and aggressive who might stir up trouble and don’t know their place. How would you counsel administrators about how to deal with this issue?

Tom Bowmann: Those informed consumers have needs, and the school’s position is that these needs be met. Parents have so much to contribute to a school. A wise administrator can identify those strengths with those parents and channel them into constructive channels, purposes, so that the result is satisfying and beneficial to all involved. It is important that a parent, particularly, who has perhaps access to resources, knowledge, that can be contributing to the school’s benefit, that is crucial that administrators not feel on guard with that, but make it an advantage, especially with those parents, all parents.

Dr. Karen Mapp: I found that a lot of times both those parents that are pushy and aggressive are actually the best parents to try to bring in and to help you with your engagement efforts. I have a story of a parent in Philadelphia, in north Philadelphia, who actually the school took out a restraining order on her because she was coming in and threatening families. But what happened was one smart teacher called her and did a home visit and asked that parent, you know, tell me how your child’s doing? Tell me what I need to know about your child? When we interviewed her later, she said that was the first time anybody ever asked her anything about her child and made her feel important. Now that parent is on the student council and an advocate for the school and she get things done that the principal can’t. So I think it is how we see our parents. And if we look at them as partners, as really powerful allies, those parents end up being the best advocates for the school sometimes.

Susan Hall: Having been in those shoes, I was the one with the energy around this issue about reading. And if i had the energy and time and I wanted to come to school and really invest my time, what I needed was I needed that role. And I was going to do that one way or the other, frankly. I was going to be involved. The best thing that I could do is be actively involved in a way that was constructive. Therefore, finding a way to constructively use my energy, my talents, my passion for this topic, was critical. And that engaging them in a positive role is probably the very best thing that we can do with that kind of parent. That parent is not going to go away. That parent has probably the wherewithal to help us bring change, to help us make positive change. So we need to engage them.

Delia Pompa: So much information today. Karen, Tom, Susan, can we have a final word?

Dr. Karen Mapp: Well, I think what we have talked about today is that parents are powerful, and I think that what we all need to do is to really go back to that village concept of engaging our community and our families, because without them we really are operating with a one-legged stool and we know what happens when you sit on a one-legged stool. There is not much support. So if we have the parents, community members and staff working together to support our kids around reading, math, etc. I think we will see great results.

Tom Bowmann: It is not so important that you cannot be, as a parent, a reading teacher and have that body of knowledge that you expect your teachers to have. But it is very crucial and important that we demonstrate a value of literacy and reading. That is a very crucial message that our young children understand, that we value literacy.

Delia Pompa: Susan, a brief final word.

Susan Hall: One of the most important things as parents is to advocate early literacy screening and it be in place for every school for k-3. We need it make sure every child is on track.

Delia Pompa: Thank you all. And thank you everyone. Research clearly shows getting parents involved pays off and in the end your schools and communities will benefit from their support.

Discussion questions

  1. Discuss things your school does to encourage parents to be partners, and to help parents feel welcome at school. Describe specific events or efforts that have been particularly successful, and things that have been less successful. What contributes to successful collaboration between parents and the school?
  2. Share something that you learned from the webcast that was new to you. Then, talk about ways you see yourself using that information within your school setting.
  3. Define some of the barriers that may prevent parents from becoming more involved in the school. Then, brainstorm solutions to those barriers. Examples might include language differences and scheduling difficulties.
  4. Explain possible reasons why language-minority parents are deeply interested in their children’s education. Then, describe reasons why their behaviors might not reflect their interests.
  5. What kinds of teacher training do you think might benefit the home-school partnership? Identify specific topics that would be useful.

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