German Munoz helps out regularly at his kids’ school, Manuel Esqueda K-8 School in the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD). He volunteers in his kids’ classrooms’ and all around campus. But late this fall, Esqueda invited Munoz to tour the school as a special guest.

Esqueda Parent Learning Walk group photo

Parent participants at the Manuel Esqueda K-8 School Parent Learning Walk

Together with a school site facilitator, Munoz and nearly a dozen other parents spent a morning getting sneak peaks into other classrooms, observing instruction and watching how the students were using technology and working in teams. These “learning walks” also included small group discussions where the parents shared what they observed.

Why have parents do rounds through classrooms? What’s the purpose?

Transferring Best Practices

Munoz’s experience at Esqueda is part of a larger parent engagement initiative (PEI) partnership to transfer the successful parent and teacher learning walk programs at Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) to Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) and El Sol Science and Arts Academy, an independent charter school in Santa Ana. The project is supported by Attallah College of Educational Studies’ inaugural ePrize (Education Prize).

The Attallah College ePrize is the result of a collaboration with the Pamela and Andrew Horowitz Family and a part of the Attallah College’s Orange County Excellent Public Schools (OCEPS) Initiative. The ePrize seeks to foster collaboration between Orange County district and charter public schools. This PEI project in particular is working to improve student achievement by strengthening collaboration among educators, across districts and grade levels, and expanding the breadth and depth of parent engagement.

To lay the groundwork for this fall’s Parent Learning Walks (PLWs) at Esqueda and El Sol, SAUSD and El Sol have worked extensively with AUHSD to implement the TRLWs (teacher reflective learning walks) and PLWs at their respective school sites. Following initial trainings with AUHSD Curriculum Specialists Diana Fujimoto and Reuben Patino, SAUSD and El Sol teachers and administrators first participated AUHSD teacher and parent learning walks before customizing the program and running their own walks.

Bringing It Home

The PLWs give parents a behind-the-scenes look into working classrooms. The walks let them see what kids are doing in school and how 21st century classrooms differ from their experience.

El Sol Parent Learning Walk

El Sol Parent Learning Walk small group discussion

Ultimately, the goal is to build relationships with parents so they feel more connected to and welcome at their child’s school, show parents that they are a valuable part of their child’s education, and empower them to be partners in the education of their children.

A key element of the both the teacher and parent learning walks is they are not about evaluating the teachers. The facilitators focus on neutral language and encourage parents to think about ways to connect what happens at school with what happens at home. How can I support my kids at home, and what questions can I ask after school to help them go deeper?

El Sol parent Sandra Barba said participating in the PLW helped her think about tools to reinforce the learning that is happening in class. She found it interesting to be able to see classrooms at a variety of different levels. Much like Esqueda’s Munoz, she looked for examples and techniques she can use as home: What tools can I use at home to better their education and my support? How can I improve what I’m already doing so it reinforces how they are learning?

Positive Feedback

The parent feedback following the learning walks at both El Sol and Esqueda was overwhelmingly positive. Several parents said it helped them reflect on how their kids study and learn at home. In the discussion circles, they talked about ways to make lessons fun, allow more creative freedom, and show how what their kids are learning is related to the real world.

Esqueda Parent Learning Walk

Esqueda Parent Learning Walk small group discussion

Jenny Zavala, El Sol’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, said her parents were excited to see the school from a new angle: “We were intentional in making sure that the parents felt that they were able to get a different view or going in with a different lens.”

“We are so pleased to see the tremendous progress our ePrize project has made this year. It is powerful to see the programs at El Sol and Esqueda take shape and see parents and students benefiting,” said Attallah College Dean, Dr. Margaret Grogan.

Spreading the Word

El Sol and SAUSD are pleased with the feedback they are getting from their pilot learning walks, and AUHSD’s Reuben Patino and Diana Fujimoto are encouraged by the successful initial implementations at both sites.

“We’ve shared parent learning walks at conferences and with people who are curious about it, but it’s really neat to actually see the parent learning walks replicated well at other places,” said Fujimoto.

Patino says the next step is for each site to continue to personalize the walks as they expand the program to more parents: “They will continue to tweak it and adapt it to fit the needs of their sites,” he said.

Both El Sol and SAUSD are exploring the best ways to expand their programs to more parents. The goal is to be strategic in how they integrate the PLWs with other resources and services already available to families at the schools. Positive word of mouth will be key to achieving wider parent involvement.

Yazmin Pineda, who joined Munoz at the Esqueda PLW, plans to tell more parents about her experience and encourage them to participate.

El Sol’s Jenny Zavala said they’ve had similar feedback: “Our parents felt really good about the experience. They asked, ‘When’s the next one, and who can we invite?’”

Display Image at Top: El Sol Science and Arts Academy parents and administrators, AUHSD’s Curriculum Specialists Diana Fujimoto and Reuben Patino, and SAUSD school board member Rigo Rodriguez at El Sol’s Parent Learning Walk.