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Q&A: Parents and teachers work together to inspire students

Brian Whiston, state superintendent of Michigan, was named 2014’s Superintendent of the Year while working for Oakland Public Schools before moving to the state level. Today, he brings that same dedication to quality education to teachers and students across the state.
Why do you think parent and teacher engagement is important for students?
Quite simply, both parents and teachers want the best for their students, and they need to work as a team to help them succeed.
As many families go back to school this month, how can teachers encourage parents to get involved in their child’s education?
Both parents and students should make commitments to take ownership of their, or their children’s, education. Parents should promote the importance of educational success to their children.
When I was working at a low-performing district, we got the parents engaged by teaching them how to work with their kids on math and reading. Schools only have students for 12 percent of the calendar year. The rest of the time they are at home. So we asked parents to take a half hour every night to read and play math games with their children. That way they could be a part of their child’s overall education.
Students should have constructive free time with less television and video games. Parents can serve as an example with their own behavior. Educators want parents to be part of the discussion and make decisions in their child’s education.
Parents don’t have to just let the teacher tell them what students will cover in class, parents can get involved and actively participate in their child’s learning. This not only includes lessons, but life at home. We can’t forget the importance of a student’s need for proper nutrition and plenty of sleep. Both of those are vital to helping a student learn and achieve.
How do you think the use of technology in education can inspire engagement in the classroom?
The use of technology has become a mainstay in our lives and the lives of our children. Teachers and parents should encourage the instructive use of technology not only to drive instruction, but to also build a healthy curiosity for knowledge using technology.
Schools have been integrating technology into instruction for many years and new applications are becoming available every year to offer more content and greater access to information. There are hundreds of online courses students can take.
Teachers are utilizing flipped classrooms where the instruction is given to students in the evening through online resources, and the homework is done during the school day. There is an incredible amount of information and resources available in the Michigan eLibrary for teachers, students and parents to use.
Technology is an awesome tool in which to help teach and learn.
What initiatives are coming out of the Michigan Department of Education to help increase parent and teacher engagement?
The state is embarking on an ambitious initiative to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years. One of the seven goals of the Top 10 in 10 is to, “Ensure that parents and guardians are engaged and supported partners in their child’s education.”
In this plan, we have developed seven strategic goals outlined alongside our guiding principles all geared toward putting Michigan on the map as a premiere education state.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for teachers entering the 2016-2017 school year?
Michigan has some of the greatest teachers in the world. They are devoted and dedicated to their profession and the growth of their students. We ask that they stay focused on their students, and not get distracted by the political conversations, policy debates and detractors at the state and federal levels.
Teachers have a lot of advocates who support them and their important work. A teacher’s top priorities should be the students and creating partnerships with their students’ parents.
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