Research suggests that when schools partner with and engage parents to understand and stay involved in their child’s learning experiences, the parents are more likely to support district innovation, and students tend to have better academic and social outcomes.
Francis T. Maloney High School in Meriden, Connecticut, held its first “Parent Walk” earlier this year, inviting parents and guardians to experience student-centered learning in action. Maloney had been hosting successful quarterly instructional and community learning walks, during which community members such as Meriden’s mayor got first-hand views of classrooms and students fully engaged in lessons. These walks helped to demystify the ideas behind student-centered learning by showcasing the academic and social benefits of student-centered approaches. Witnessing the impact and benefits of these instructional tours, leadership and staff at Maloney introduced the Walk to parents to ensure that families of students at the school can experience and fully support a learning environment that may not look like the one they experienced when they were in high school.
Lynette Valentine, a parent of Kaitlyn, a 9th grader, provides an example of the power of Parent Walks. She participated in the recent walk at Maloney, and was moved to write a letter of appreciation about her experience. The following is an excerpt from her letter to the principal of Maloney, Mrs. Straub, and one of the teachers, Mrs. Showerda.
“The first thing I noticed was the bright atmosphere–students were moving and alert–the classrooms were not lined up with seating, front to back in alphabetical order, like traditional classrooms. I could clearly see that Maloney’s learning structure involved both social and academic supports. Classes were engaging–students were able to work in groups and lean on each other, instead of having the teacher as the main resource. To me, this is perfect for socialization and helps students to be ready to enter the workforce–figuring things out with a team is important! … When Maloney’s B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) initiative first came out, I was at first skeptical but it is obvious that it truly works. What a way to engage students to learn! I witnessed teachers helping students interested in pursuing a direction they felt strongly about (e.g., an entrepreneurial experience for a business student). I wish I had the same opportunities when I was a student.”
Read Lynette Valentine’s full letter
Ms. Valentine now considers herself a supporter of student-centered learning and of greater engagement of ALL parents of Maloney students. She also wishes that every parent and child could be able to experience what she has, and hopes other schools will use Maloney as an example. This important community engagement and buy-in can facilitate long-term shifts in systems and policies to support student-centered approaches to learning, even through school and district leadership changes.
Want to host a “Parent Walk” at your school? Here is a list of resources to learn more about Francis T. Maloney High School and family engagement.
- Francis T. Maloney High School
- Video of a Community Learning Walk in Meriden School District
- Our Community Engagement Toolkit
- Promising Practices for How School Districts Promote Family Engagement
- Reimagining Parent Engagement
- The Working Together to Make Meaningful Parent Engagement Webinar
 “Research Spotlight on Parental Involvement in Education,” NEA, http://www.nea.org/tools/17360.htm.