The keys to effective reading instruction are the student, the teacher, and the parents. When parents exercise their power as co-educators, in collaboration with their teachers, children will grow as readers. Springboard’s philosophy of springing children forward and lifting them upwards through parent empowerment align with my values as an educator. 

It’s the kind of “community lift” that any teacher would appreciate.

I was involved in this level of community empowerment during programming for 3 years, first as a teacher, then as a Site Leader.

During my years with Springboard programming, we were privileged to work with parents of varying ethnicities and economic backgrounds. I listened to families say, “I didn’t know how to do this and, now, I’m learning how to do this.” I listened to parents ask, “How do I…?” and walk away from programming knowing how to solve their at-home reading struggles. Week by week, parents were growing in habits they could utilize at home.

At my sites, we did this by making the reading and coaching experiences comfortable for families. We provided families with reading routines that they could begin to implement in their home — the place where families could create a high level of love and comfort for reading. 

Many of our kids had low self-confidence because they weren’t performing in school. When they come into any summer programming, some come with that — low self-confidence. We worked to turn that around and give both children and the adults who cared for them comfort and confidence. 

The way to develop comfort and confidence is through ongoing communication and direct support in helping families guide their children to apply reading strategies independently. We let our families know that we wanted to coach our children to independently use strategies when needed. The ultimate goal in this work was to empower families to ask questions of their children, both to help children monitor their reading and to help children gain a better understanding of the text.

For just 5 weeks, the experience was so impactful. One mother, in particular, shared with me, “I know she’s below reading level. I just don’t know how to help her.” I would give her more tips after parent workshops. 

Part of the struggle was that the daughter wasn’t reading books that were right for her. When she found books that she could read, she was more motivated to try. That motivation comes when students are empowered to make decisions like selecting their own text. Within a week or two, you could see a difference in the mother’s body language while she and her daughter sat on the floor, reading. 

In the end, both mother and daughter felt empowered.

Springboard also lifts teacher craft. At the end of every session, the teachers and I would say to one another, “I’ve taken this from Springboard” or “this will make me a better teacher in a much more profound way during the school year.” Every teacher I spoke to felt this sense of being professionally developed. And, so, it didn’t feel like hard work. When you realize you’re enlightening parents, the teachers will team up to work harder together so it doesn’t feel like the weight is carried by just one person. As a Site Leader, I didn’t feel like I was the only person “shouldering” family engagement. 

Within that short timeframe, teachers and parents had an experience that was so much more impactful than what they had experienced during the school year. The Wednesday workshops were very helpful overall for the entire community. I recall members of central office asking what it was we did. I had explained to them that we were focused on family engagement workshops on a weekly basis that gave us more touchpoints with parents. The coaching and empowerment helped parents to go home and do this work, to partner together to work on a common goal. 

When parents and families are empowered, students can spring forward in their reading.

This blog was contributed by Tomiko Ball. Tomiko Ball, an expert DCPS educator, a 2017 Honored national teaching award recipient, and a present 2019 Ward 4 EmpowerEd Teacher Policy + Advocacy fellow, has been involved with Springboard summer programs for three years in Washington D.C. Keeping consistent with educational goal-setting, Tomiko began her pursuit of doctoral work with American University this fall.