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?