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

EXACTLY!!!

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.

Connect

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

How much is too much?

Recently Cindy Seibel wrote a post asking the question “Can there be too much information for parents?” (you can read her post “Is it ever too much?” here and read the original story in the NY Times “I know what you did in Math Classhere)

As a parent interested in engaging other parents in our education system I wondered if these web service companies would go beyond what a parent would need to assess their own child’s performance – could they be used to increase the involvement of parents in schools, and ultimately to engage parents in school improvement planning? I decided to explore a few of these commercial school data systems and as in everything I found there is a wide variety of services – some simply offer parents access to information on grades, homework, and attendance, while others go much further and provide tools for multi-level communication and collaboration.   

Those of us involved in education governance often discuss the role of communication in increasing parent involvement/engagement, we talk about the processof communication.  Some of us see great potential in using web technology to improve this process – to reach more people where they are, when they want and how they want. Web tools such as blogs, wikis, nings and webcasts provide us with a lot of options for reaching parents (and many of them are free!). So in the absence of an integrated school community management system accessible to parents these tools could be quite useful.

But what kind of information should we be sharing to improve collaboration? What do parents need to know and discuss in order to be engaged in schools?

In my province we are a long way from finding that tipping point from enough information to too much.  A large number of parents I talk to do not feel really connected to what is happening with their child in the classroom, and fewer are aware of what is happening educationally on a school wide basis. They want to have more frequent contact with classroom teachers as well as school administrators. Until parents feel there is adequate communication with teachers and principals can we really expect them to feel comfortable in a open, collaborative school improvement process?

Who will bring the ham?

It has been almost two months since my last post.   Before I return to my personal learning network and exploring how parents can use web tools to connect with education, I need to write about why I’ve been quiet for so long. 

Some time ago I wrote about curiosity and being an only child who read a lot of books and newspapers.  That early love of current events, exploring opinion, and getting the facts was spurred by my father.  He taught me many things and he shaped my personality in many ways.  

And now he is gone. The loss came too soon. In less than six months a very active man with so much to give and so much to teach became very ill.  The person who could fix anything finally had to put down his tools.

While much of what happened in early May is a blur, I do know that we could not have gotten through it without the help of our friends, neighbours, and close relatives. So many acts of kindness came our way – so many brought food – enough food to feed us for days, complete meals, no fewer than four full meals centered around beautiful baked hams.   

Life does move on and so must I.  In the last few weeks I’ve been able to catch up with piles of posts in my feedreader, peak into Twitter, update my Facebook page and listen to some great podcasts that I missed while I was unplugged. But most importantly, I’ve spent time connecting with family and friends face to face. 

As much as I believe that technology can help us form new communities - groups of people who will help us learn, give us guidance and support, open our eyes to new ideas - our online network simply cannot replace our friends and neighbours.  During a time of profound grief, when you need someone to sit in a hospital room with you all night long, or you need a shoulder to cry on,  or you need a hot meal, it is those people who are close to you that will get you through.

So for all of us who are working hard to use technology to create and support online relationships – we must also remember to nurture our offline relationships.  We have to be sure to take care of and connect with those people who will be good enough to bring the ham.  

Engaging Parents

The number of bloggers writing about education, in particular technology in education, is huge.  I have more than 30 in my feed-reader that I try to keep up with everyday and I’ve visited hundreds more over the last year.  Teachers and technology leaders are definitely engaged in the conversation of learning in the 21 century.

But where are the parents?  I’ve seen a few blog commentators that look at things from the perspective of a parent, and of course many teachers/tech leaders are parents too, but it is rare to find people outside the school involved in the conversations. 

There is one group of people I’ve found trying to change that.  Lorna Costantini, Matt Montagne and Rhoda Cipparone host a webcast called “Parents as Partners” at EdTechTalk. They are using webcasts and associated chat rooms to bring parents together to discuss parent involvement and how social networking tools can help parents support education. (Lorna’s blog found at ourschool.ca has more information on past and future guests and some great links too.)

This webcast truly is a means of  using “tools of engagement” when you want, where you want, and how you want. You can listen live or later on, you can chat in the back channel or not, and you can follow the links that are provided to learn more if you choose. 

The next webcast is scheduled for March 17 - I’ll be there, will you?