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Engagement Starts at Home

Alan Sitomer (right) takes a drink of water at the end of his speech. On the left is Jon Scieszka.

I made a beeline for Alan Sitomer, Jon Scieszka, and Gordon Korman’s session, “AUTHOR STRAND: THREE YA AUTHORS TALK COMEDY, FUN, AND SMILES (A.K.A. THE POWER OF GETTING READERS TO PEE THEIR PANTS!)”, on Saturday afternoon at NCTE.  I managed to get a seat for myself, Ruth, and two other colleagues in the second row of the ballroom that became packed to the standing room-only point!  It was clear to me that the teachers who were present wanted to learn more about how to encourage students to read humorous books and to get kids to write with humor.

I’ll blog more about the things Scieszka and Korman said at a later date. After reading Thomas L. Friedman’s op-ed column in Sunday’s New York Times, I knew I had to share about Sitomer’s speech now.  Friedman’s Sunday column was entitled “How About Better Parents?”  It’s about something most of us have complained about at one time or another in our careers… if only the parents would get more involved with their child’s education.  According to the research Friedman presents in his op-ed, when parent involvement goes up achievement goes up.  We (teachers) know this, but it’s time for other people (parents) to understand this too.  And, as you’ll see from Friedman’s piece, being an involved parent who makes a difference doesn’t take as much time as some parents think it does!

Friedman’s op-ed connects with Sitomer‘s speech, “Marrying Engagement to Rigor.”  Sitomer asserted that engagement is critical.  Engagement leads to motivation.  Motivation leads to comprehension.  Comprehension leads to performance.  Essentially, children who like what they’re doing in school will do better work (i.e., they will perform better).  But how to we engage a child who just isn’t into the things we’re presenting in the classroom?  After all, as Sitomer said, “You can’t legislate giving a damn.” 

I truly believe that getting kids excited about learning, buying into doing well, and being hungry for an education doesn’t start in the classroom… it starts at home.  This means we have to engage with families, invite them into our schools, get them excited about the things we’re teaching in writing workshop (and in all subject areas if you’re an elementary school teacher).  When we get parents of disengaged children excited, then we can build partnerships with parents so they’ll work with us to try to motivate their children to become hungry for the education we’re providing in the classroom.  There’s only so many neat connections and hooks we can give to kids… they have to want to learn.  Teachers cannot do this alone.  And quite frankly, it starts at home, don’t you think?


article, NCTE


Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

9 thoughts on “Engagement Starts at Home Leave a comment

  1. Freidman’s piece on parenting has been the only thing I’ve agreed with him about recently. I’ve posted a link to it on my class web page – in the “parents” section, with the hopes that it will be read. One can continue to hope, right??


  2. I missed this session at NCTE, but did make the Secondary Luncheon with James Patterson and Anthony Horowitz. I think that idea permeates most of the conversation–engagement really begins at home. Most parents sitting in the audience, and Patterson and Horowitz, expressed the same sentiment about their own children. The sooner you begin reading to them, the more likely they will engage in reading as they get older. I can attest to that with my own children who were both reading by age five, and who tested at the post-secondary level before they were in high school. They are not geniuses–they are just very engaged with text all the time. They are also good writers (my youngest was an NCTE young writer award winner when she was in middle school). It might help that their mom is an English teacher and their dad is a voracious reader. I think they must have learned by example, because we never really shoved reading down their throats. Trips to the library were as exciting as trips to the zoo.

    But the bottom line is that parents who pay attention usually have kids who do well in school. How do we bring that message to the parents of our students? It seems like a question for the sages, doesn’t it?


  3. It’s a special thing to visit in the homes, and to invite parents in. One thing I did that was successful was to make sure each parent was included in a class activity/assignment in some way, when they could take the time, etc. It was a nice way to include everyone, & as I found the parents’ strengths, I also found new colleagues that added to the teaching. Thanks for the conversation.


  4. Thanks for sharing Friedman’s article, and for the linking of his ideas with our work with parents. It is critical that we all are in this together. Your direct idea of getting parents excited is brilliant. I usually have looked at it from the view of ‘if students are excited, they’ll tell the parents, and so on’, but maybe if certain parents become more included/engaged it would help the reluctant student. Maybe we can think of new ways to do that. So many parents are so, so busy just getting food on the table, they don’t want more to do. Big challenge, Stacey!


    • Linda-
      I totally get that (i.e., parents working to put food on the table).
      I’ve only worked in low-SES schools. The second one, which had a higher free- and reduced-price lunch rate than the first, did an awesome job of parent engagement. Teachers were encouraged to invite parents in AND to step out into the community to meet with parents in their homes, at the library, and even at the mall (yes, I did that once!).
      Granted, we may not be able to reach every parent, but if we’re willing to step out of our comfort zone and meet parents in their comfort zones, I’m confident that we can change attitudes and build stronger home-school partnerships.
      My best,


  5. I so totally agree! I loved Alan Sitomer’s talk and it linked well with an article I just read by Rick Wallace. (Key point: We can engage boy readers through humor and action.) However, back to what you posted, a child’s education needs to be a partnership between the school and the home. Some parents are naturally involved in this process, others will require teachers reaching out to meet them where they are, and working beside them to bring them where they need to be to best benefit their child.


  6. Really enjoyed reading this post and the article from the Times. Great information to have and share with parents who may need a little push/reminder that success starts with them. Kind of makes me want to include some of this research in my weekly newsletter to parents, read to your children, it really works!


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