Blog Connected Learning Content-Area Literacy

Enforcing Positive Networks Between School, Home, and the Community

Curators notes:

Regina discusses how the Connected Learning principle of open-networks helped her think through breaking down the barriers between home, community, and school. On June 20, 2014

Building on my experience as a parent, I realized how important it was for me to work with kids with learning disabilities. As a mother of two children, one with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and the other with Attention Deficit Disorder, I found raising them was both rewarding and challenging. I have first hand experience with the frustrations that children with learning disabilities face on a day-to-day basis. I know I cannot save all of the kids in the world, but by planting the seed and providing it water we can make that difference in a child’s life. Creating a stable and nurturing environment was a high priority for myself not only as a parent but as an educator. I was not aware of the multitude of resources that were available to parents in situations similar to mine that would help with these real- life struggles.

As an educator in a high needs school who teaches basic language and math skills to special needs students, it came to me one day: the students are not the problem.  There are so many reasons that some students misbehave and act out in the classroom that are beyond their control and mine.

First, we have students who have behavioral issues.  They disrupt the classroom environment, are disrespectful to teachers, administrators, and other students, and regularly lack the supplies like pencils, books, and paper that are needed to participate in classroom activities.  Most of the students who have these issues don’t even realize  that they are mentally and/or behaviorally challenged; to them, these behaviors are normal and acceptable. Because of these behaviors, students will have trouble staying motivated, concentrating, and learning to use oral written language to express themselves with confidence and communicate effectively with others.

The second problem students seem to face is not having their essential needs met (refer to  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Students often lack many of the needs that Maslow deems crucial to their development. Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs are portrayed in the shape of a pyramid.   These are Physiological needs, the need for safety, the needs of Love and Belonging, the need for self-esteem, and the need for Self-Actualization.  These needs are very apparent in all students.  For example, a student may complain about not having a meal the night before. Or, they are sleeping in class and complaining that they are not able to sleep at night because of  the traffic in and out of the house.   Many students are surrounded by environments that involve  fighting, stealing, and violence that occurs on a regular basis. This can result in students lacking the ability to make friends, sometimes as a result of trust issues, and many other social problems.

Thirdly, students’ parental support system, or lack thereof, can greatly affect their rate of success in the classroom as well as in life. Some of these parents get caught up in “survival mode,” simply trying to plan their next meals or dealing with the possibility of eviction. In trying to keep their heads above water, they find themselves unable to focus on the child as a learner. Many parents are unaware of the struggles that their children face in the classroom because they are wrapped up in trying to provide them with the necessities at home.

After conducting a few home visits, I realized that some parents are truly not knowledgeable of the variety of resources available in the community for their assistance. I want the parents of my “kids” to understand that there is so much knowledge to gain from this world to provide their children with the opportunity to become a top-notch student. It is extremely important to go out and “dig in” to these resources to help children succeed in today’s world not only as students, but also as people.

I hope that my research and experiences will motivate more educators to stretch beyond the walls of their classroom and conduct home visits to learn more about their students so that they can meet as many of  Maslow’s needs that students are lacking at home as is possible.  I can hear it now, “ It’s not my job, it’s the parent job.” Educators should keep in mind that they joined this profession to give our students all of the emotional, mental, and academic support that we can.   I am willing to bet that if you seek to find out more about the lives and backgrounds of your students, they will become more productive within the classroom setting.

I have found it helpful to utilize the concept of creating an “Open Network” between parents and educators, in part by providing resources for parents that can support student needs and learning at home. This in turn strengthens the relationship between the parent and teacher, and thus home and school. As a teacher, I’m working to produce and make the kind of networks and communities that I think are necessary to support my students. I have also embraced the idea of “shared purpose,” which is to build a stronger community for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members through a support network where this sharing of information and resources benefits young people in need.

Teachers should strive for excellence in all endeavors, inside and outside of school walls, and should share information with colleagues and parents. It is important to  recognize that as a school community, our common goal is to empower the students that we teach.

This post is part of the From Professional Development to Professional Practice collection.