School – Family Partnerships for the 21st Century

I read a lot of articles about improving the school – family dynamic in public education. Some focus on parent involvement, others go toward parent engagement. I have been inspired by the work of Joyce Epstein and Debbie Pushor as they both encourage the development of true partnerships based on mutual respect and a desire to enhance student learning.

(For those interested my friend Lorna Costantini brings their research out of the journals and into our living rooms through conversations with both women that are rich with real examples. See here and here for archives).

Today I read an article on home – school relationships that contained a sentence that really popped for me … made me say out loud “exactly!”.

(As I love the flickr group Great quotes about learning and change, I knew I had to make a poster using this line; I’ve wanted to use my orange mushroom photo for a long time and longed for a quotation about families and communities).

Wanting to know more about the author Marilyn Price-Mitchell I read her paper Boundary Dynamics: Implications for Building Parent – School Relationships. It really meshed with my own beliefs that connections, trust, networks, and knowledge creation are coming together to provide us with a real opportunity to build school – family partnerships that benefit all of us – students, parents, teachers, and community.

The knowledge society, the learning organization, and the information technology revolution represent trends that are bringing the family into the mainstream of education in ways never before experienced p. 22


I’d like to give credit to Chris Wejr who’s “Things that make me go BOOM” linked to this article and had me reflecting on all kinds of great things today.


On August 31 nearly 1000 teachers from this District gathered in one place for a day of learning together.  As Chair of the District Education Council I am invited to speak for a few minutes at the beginning of the day.  As I am there in an official capacity I’m cognizant of delivering a message that is true to the Council’s mission and goals, so I decided to continue with the theme of “connecting”.

I encouraged educators to model 21st century learning by exploring networks and using technology to connect to their own passions and to have conversations with educators far and wide. I suggested a few easy things they could do to begin: Tech20Tuesday, #edchat, Learning: Everybody’s Project, or even their own association’s social networks. As the major theme of the event was “responsible use” of technology I even suggested they might want to read a great blog post on the CEA website. Our District schools have developed some very good professional learning communities, but I asked them to go beyond the usual for conversations and then to bring back what they learned to their PLCs.

BUT as I was writing the remarks for the event, I realized that as a Council we have been distracted, albeit by some important responsibilities, from our own true purpose of connecting citizens to the public education system.  Whether we meet online or in person we have to spend more time in conversation with our community, exploring how to connect to the learning that is happening and celebrating the innovation that exists in so many places.

I’m excited for the new year to begin, I look forward to connecting more myself!

my message

The school is dead…long live the school.

While blogging as a means of personal learning is still very new to me, the reading and writing I’ve done in the last few days authenticates the value of this format for me. Participating in this type of learning means assembling a personal learning network (PLN) and my network, while still small, contributed to my learning coming full circle in very big ways.

 The progression went something like this:

A few days ago I read a thought provoking post called “Letting Go” by Alec Couros which contained this…

What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change? What if you feel you are just prolonging the inevitable, and simply giving temporary life to a model that is clearly in its death throes?

This theme of our model of education needing a monumental shift in order to serve 21C learners is very prevalent in the edublogosphere. Almost everyone writes about it in some way and some even suggest abandoning schools altogether . I wanted to develop my own thoughts here at Tools of Engagement but didn’t have the time to devote so I commented:

… while I believe that what goes on inside our schools MUST change, we need to use technology to engage students and help each of them to grow a large web of flat world relationships, we must also see our schools as social places, as communities, where we come together to learn rather than teach.

Now that I’m taking the time to expand on my thinking I’ve revisited some experiences from 2007 that I learned a great deal from. There were two key events I attended last year (both sponsored by the NB Department of Education) that convinced me that while our schools must change there is a place for them in future learning models.

The first event was Let Children be Children (slides) presented by John Abbott of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.  This lecture provided much insight into how we can move from teaching to learning, from the factory school to the community school,  and from teacher directed learning to self directed learning. The vision of 21st Century Learning Initiative is:

New understandings about the brain; about how people learn; about the potential of information and communication technologies;about radical changes in patterns of work as well as deep fears about social divisions in society, necessitate a profound rethinking of the structures of education.

Developing schools that integrate the home, the school and the community and that employ emerging technologies to engage all partners in a learning community are essential.  

The second learning event was Literacy & Learning in the 21st Century with keynote by David Warlick. David delivered his message that it is not about the technology but about how we redefine and integrate literacy in the new digital landscape. Literacy in the 21C is “exposing truth” (reading), “expressing ideas” (writing) “employing information” (‘rithmatic) AND tying it all together “ethics”.  At this conference David implored teachers to “let them see you learn“. It’s a phrase I’ve quoted in a few speeches and advice I’ve taken with my own children.

To come full circle – a link recently tweeted by Cindy Siebel led me to Innovative Learning Service (ILS) part of the Calgary Board of Education.  I spent several hours soaking up information and finished with a determination to encourage a similar approach to innovation and 21C learning here at home.

One of the items explored at the site is the OECD’s six scenarios for the future of schooling.  I particularly liked #4 Schools as Social Centres as it brings the ideas of Abbott and Warlick together: 

  • Digital technologies will enable schooling to become a far more shared endeavor.
  • Schools and other community organizations, (family, libraries, the work place, churches etc…) will assume a shared responsibility for the education of the young.   Expertise is activated from wherever it is located.  
  • Teacher professionals will be defined more around understanding the nature of learning and of brain research rather than around a comprehensive understanding of the disciplines.
  • Teachers will recognize that continuous professional development both around digital technologies and learning theory will be essential. Schools will recognize the necessity and desirability for constant interaction with the community.
  • Schools and teachers are seen as leaders in this endeavour and are elevated to a position of influence and esteem in the communities they serve.  
  • Here digital technologies will emphasize communication among and by all stakeholders in the equation – learners, educators, community members and parents.
  • Networking is what it is all about.

So “the school is dead” as a factory, as kill and drill, as talk and chalk, and as institutionalized curriculum with little regard for digital literacy.

And “long live the school” as a student centred, community supported, collaborative, connected place to for all of us to learn.

Special thanks to Cindy for tweeting the ILS nugget and to Lorna and Jeff for convincing me that Twitter can be a valuable tool in a developing a personal learning network.