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Episode 33: Engaging Parents in Math - An Interview with Hilary and Matthew

Desiree Harrison 0:00

It seems like everyone always has an opinion about math and how math should be taught, especially to elementary students. With teachers learning and implementing an influx of new strategies, methods, and assessment plans, parents are often feeling left out of discussions about these techniques and as a result rely on how they were taught as a visual model for how children should be taught math today.

Research shows us, however, that things like rote memorization and solely abstract representations that we might have had as kids, are not effective ways to develop mathematical understanding or build positive math identities.

So, how do we get this message across to parents?

How do we get more parents involved in math discussions and deepen their understandings about the importance of math tools, practices, and talking about math?

Today’s episode explores not only the why, but the how of engaging parents in Kids Math Talk.

Desiree Harrison 1:35

On the podcast, we're talking to the authors of the book, Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders.

Welcome to Kids Math Talk!

Matthew Beyranevand 1:44

Desiree! Thank you so much for having us here today. We're a big fan of your podcast and it is an honor and privilege to be here. My name is Matthew Beyranevand, also known as Math with Matthew, and joining me here today is the co-author, slash, real author, of the book, Dr. Hilary Kreisberg.

Hilary, tell us three exciting things about yourself!

Hilary Kreisberg 2:05

Oh, thank you so much, Desiree, for having us. And Matthew, as always, for that wonderful introduction.

I am the Director for the Center of Mathematics Achievement at Lesley University and I'm a professor in math education and a former elementary educator.

And Matthew, tell us a little about you.

Matthew Beyranevand 2:21

Well, I'm gonna see your professorship because I'm an associate professor at two universities, both University of Massachusetts as well as Fitchburg State and my primary job is a K-12 mathematics coordinator.

And Hilary and I have really bonded over the years, focusing most of our work on the idea of parents - and this relationship between parents and schools and in particular with mathematics.

So, we're very happy to share with you a lot of the research and work that we have done on that so your listeners can help with that relationship between those two very important stakeholders.

Desiree Harrison 3:02

Yes, we are all about educators and also parents, and helping to keep that conversation about math going. And in this, your latest book, you all list four goals immediately with the first being to comprehend the parent perspective with regards to their child's mathematics learning.

And in the introduction, there's this discussion about defining roles of parents and educators in relation to the teaching and learning of mathematics. And we've been talking a lot about definitions on the podcast so that we can gain a shared background and understanding.

So, I'd like for you all to talk to us about some of these definitions -

So first, how are we defining parents in this book?

And then, based on your research, how are parents feeling about math in today's world?

Headshot of Dr. Hilary Kreisberg
Dr. Hilary Kreisberg

Hilary Kreisberg 3:49

Yeah, so when we say parents, we mean guardians, caregivers, really anyone who supports math learning, either at home or outside of the school day.

Before COVID, Matthew and I interviewed over 200 parents of elementary age children across the country so that we could just better understand how they felt about the way we teach math today. And ultimately, our data showed that parents were feeling, intimidated, and frustrated, worried and confused -

They felt like they couldn't help their kids with math because they didn't understand what they were doing. They were frustrated, they were feeling unintelligent - they couldn't do 3rd grade math homework. They were worried their children were going to fail because of them - and they were confused because they didn't learn it the way that we have taught it.

And so, they don't have the language, the words, the tools, to help their children.

Desiree Harrison 4:41

In chapter 1, you all talk about these four core wants of parents. So, now that you've defined what a parent is, can you tell us what these four core wants are, and also, whose role is it to involve parents in this learning?

Professional Profile of Matthew Beyranevand
Matthew Beyranevand

Matthew Beyranevand 4:56

So, before we could really unpack and give suggestions to both parents and teachers about this relationship, we had to really figure out exactly what parents want. And through those interviews that Hilary talked about, we came up with these four core wants.

Parents want to feel:

  1. Helpful

  2. Intelligent

  3. Confident

  4. Familiar

They want to play an active role in their child's education. They don't want to hinder the process. They want to be on this same team. But in order to do that, they have to find a way to get those four core wants: being helpful, intelligent, confident, and familiar.

Hilary Kreisberg 5:43

Yeah, but they want to help us and support us educators, but they just don't know how, right. And so, that's where we as educators come in.

I feel like, you know we say this in the introduction, ultimately, the current reality is that many students have been positioned, and, you know, whether it was inadvertently or not, as the chiefly responsible folks for educating their parents, where it really should be the school, the teachers, the educators.

Desiree Harrison 6:08

Yeah, when I read that, it really hit me because that is so true and I know when I was going through my undergraduate program, I didn't have anything close to this.

We never really even talked about parents. It was only if you had a teacher working with you when you were a student teacher- if they took the time to talk to you a little bit about parent communication and parent relationships -but even then it was pretty inconsistent because, unfortunately, it just wasn't our focus.

Hilary Kreisberg 6:39

When I was in my undergrad program I was told, it's so important to involve parents, but no one ever told me how, right? I just, kind of, was expected to go into the schools and do what I think is right, and so when I was a 5th grade teacher, I would just call home. I would do what I thought was right, but I had no idea what the impact was of what I was doing.

Matthew Beyranevand 6:58

Many teachers don't feel partnering with parents. They feel like it's the opposite, like, we're working against the parents.

They're not on our team, they're on the opposite team because they do things like, show them the rote memorization approach, or they say things like, "Oh! I hate math! I can't do it!"

So teachers feel like, parents are not on our team.

So, instead of trying to find a way to bring them on our team so we can work collaboratively, it's more or less like, "Oh, I'm just going to keep them out of it and I'm not going to get them involved."

Worst possible idea.

Desiree Harrison 7:34

Yeah, I was just thinking that if I were still in the classroom and I had a student teacher this year, this would be a gift that I would give to them so we could sit down and really talk about it.

Hilary Kreisberg 7:45

Yeah, I think the book is really helpful in focusing in on what you need to do to partner with parents. And, you know, something that we're battling right now is -

What do you prioritize?

Teachers are faced with so many different needs. And, you know, its easy to purchase books on things that are directly math content, but we also have to remember that if we don't build those relationships with the parents, then the math content that we teach, might be futile in some sense because we're not getting the support on the other side.

Desiree Harrison 8:12

So, again, I wish that this was something that I had when I was a pre-service teacher, and I really enjoyed reading all of the book. But two chapters, in particular, that I keep coming back to -

So one of them is chapter 4, that's called, Exploring How to Communicate with Parents about Math. And then chapter 5, which is, Exploring What to Communicate with Parents about math.

And, you all break down how to use different tools for communication and you talk about using student agenda books, and using the school and classroom websites, email, and all these different technology apps that are out now that teachers use- and you give suggestions of what to say at different points during the year.

And one piece in particular that I'd like to explore a little bit more is the structure of giving parent phone calls that's set up in chapter 4 - and instead of calling a parent and saying something like, "Oh! Hi, How are you? Brooklyn is doing really well on our current unit!"

Which, you know, is so vague, and over generalized, the suggestions given are much more intentional and you all infuse mathematical habits into the discussion.

So, can you talk to us about why phone calls should be a part of a teacher's plan when they're partnering with parents, and what are some examples of what educators might say.

Hilary Kreisberg 9:42

Sure. The way we look at it, is Partnering with Parents is about developing relational trust. And connections to the parents so that if something problematic does arise later on, that you already have the solid foundation on which to build your relationship, right?

And, we know that as the school year goes on we get busy. And so, we consider partnering with parents upfront, being proactive, really starting to build that relationship upfront, and through a phone call is a really nice way to do it. Because when we write parents and email, or send something home via writing - writing can be interpreted in many different ways. And so, at least when I hear the tone on someone's voice, I can feel comforted. And I think that that's a really nice way to start the year off.

So you don't mince any of the words that you're thinking about.

Matthew Beyranevand 10:28

And similar to the way that we encourage people to teach math, using multiple modes of representation, we also encourage multiple modes of communication.

In that, we want to not just say - Only phone calls; or, teachers should only do emails.

But, communicate as many ways as possible because parents learn and understand and communicate in different ways and if you show 5 different ways to communicate with them, it's more likely they're going to get the message, as opposed to just doing a weekly handout, only in English, to your families.

You're not going to be hitting everybody that way. (11:07)

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