A Culture of Self-Directed Learners and Independent Thinkers:
“Students are more engaged in their learning”
by Stuart Grauer, EdD and Tricia Valeski, PhD, Grauer Research
Preface: One of the most exciting developments in secondary education today is the growth of survey instruments that help schools measure student and teacher development in values and character. For far too long, academia has focused so narrowly on development of academic skills that it was hardly even possible to find ways to measure and benchmark the development of the whole child. When the “High School Survey of Student Engagement” was presented around four years ago, Grauer jumped right on board with the greatest enthusiasm and it has advanced our work substantially. For this week’s column, I am providing parents and educators who follow my writing with the results of one of the newer additions to our toolbox for measuring development of character and values: The Harvard “Parent Engagement Survey.” I hope there will be many more such instruments and that educators and parents everywhere will support if not demand them. Enjoy!
Researchers have long studied the connection between student and teacher’s perceptions of school climate and academic engagement and achievement. More recently, we have begun to understand the importance of parent perceptions on these same outcomes. At The Grauer School, we believe parents’ perceptions of the school’s ability to meet their children’s needs can have far reaching consequences for students’ academic success. Parent feelings about the “fit” of the school for their child can influence students’ own attitudes toward school and learning – which we know affect achievement outcomes (Cohen et al., 2009; Roeser & Eccles, 1998). Parent beliefs about the school can also influence how much or how well they engage with the school, and higher levels of parent involvement have been associated with better learning outcomes and student attitudes (Hill & Tyson, 2009; Jeynes, 2005). Finally, parent perceptions of school climate may influence whether they choose to live in a certain area to attend a particular school (Grady, Bielick, & Aud, 2010), or even to withdraw from school (Bukhari & Randall, 2009). Annually, families move to the Encinitas area specifically to attend The Grauer School. Why?
We care deeply about our school community, and to learn more about their experience, this spring our research office administered a “Parent Engagement Survey,” developed by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Schueler et al., 2014). This survey was designed to measure parent perceptions of the “fit” of the school for their child, and their ability to engage effectively with the school. Here are some of the highlights of what we found.
Parents at The Grauer School are more likely to answer “quite well” or “extremely well” to the above statements than the national norms regarding the fit of the school for their child. They feel that learning activities and teaching styles are in line with their children’s interests and needs, that the discipline policy works, and perhaps most importantly, that their children enjoy school and feel that they belong. In addition, our own students strongly agree: they like school [93% versus a staggering 75% who WebMD Health News finds do not like school nationwide]. In fact, a perfect 100% of Grauer High School students anonymously report that their teachers “care about” them. (TGS Student School Quality Survey, 2017).
Grauer parents feel very confident that the school is creating an environment that fosters intrinsic motivation and provides academic rigor. At the same time, parents recognize the school’s emphasis on the importance of mutual respect and valuing diversity.
Parents of Grauer students feel that their students are more engaged in their learning: they put forth greater effort, are more likely to learn from teacher feedback, and are self-directed learners. In fact, Grauer parents report that they are less likely to help their children understand academic content at home than national norms.
Grauer parents feel confident that they can make sure that the school meets their children’s needs and that they can support their children’s learning. They talk to their children more about their problems, and they spend more time at school. Overall, they are more engaged with their children’s school and their learning.
Grauer parents feel strongly that the school is a good fit for their children. They are engaged and feel their children are independent thinkers who are invested in their learning. The level of respect and caring that teachers have for students is reflected in parents’ perceptions. Furthermore, Grauer parents feel that the school is preparing kids academically, supporting their intrinsic motivation, and creating independent learners. There are, of course, areas for growth: Parents reported that they spoke to their children’s teachers less frequently than national norms. While this could be a reflection of students advocating for themselves, some parents expressed a desire to have more frequent direct conversations with their children’s teachers, beyond GradeScape. In addition, although The Grauer School outperformed national norms in terms of preparing students academically, some parents expressed a desire to learn about whether their students would be ready for college. Our alumni office has substantial data on this critical area for research, attesting to both the goodness of fit of Grauer college placements and the staying power of a Grauer education, and this data appears annually in our Annual Report.
We are extremely grateful to the 50% of parents who participated in this very important survey research (an extremely high return rate). We urge all parents to call any of our administrators to discuss school quality and effectiveness. The Grauer School is committed to continual self-reflection and program refinement. Thank you!
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