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

Unplug’d 2011

It has been a week since I returned from the most uplifting professional/personal development event I have ever participated in – Unplug’d 2011.

In the week that has gone by I’ve immersed myself in the afterglow of the event through sharing with the Uplug’d crew on twitter and flickr and even occasionally on ds106 radio.  I have made sure to read all of the reflection blog posts that I’ve come across and I have spent a lot of time pondering the event and what it means for me.

I learned so much about the people behind the pixels during the three days we were unplugged. The time and opportunity to share stories, songs and food led to a deeper connection which makes their work in all facets of education so much more real and inspiring.

I learned that very different people gathered from this incredibly large country can come together and work collaboratively.  I learned that everyone has a story to tell and it is okay if telling your story makes you vulnerable.

I learned that while reflection is an important component of learning, real growth in learning comes from turning reflection into action.  Thinking about something and writing about something are good – but acting on those thoughts and words leads to real growth and real learning.

When one is the ‘official spokesperson’ for a public education organization it is important to be clear when you are expressing your own personal beliefs.  I have never hesitated to promote 21C learning as it is a component of my District‘s focus on the future, nor have I been shy about increasing parent involvement and student voice in our system.  But most times I stop short of openly advocating for the transformative change I believe New Brunswick should be pursuing – and that just isn’t good enough for a ‘change agent’.

So now what?  It is time for me to take the next step – to push publish on this piece and begin to find ways to express my beliefs through actions and to inspire more citizens to get involved in shaping the future of public education in N.B..

I encourage you to read the Preface and Chapter One of “Why _______ Matters” and share with me your thoughts.

On Consultation and Engagement

I’ve just returned from a day long meeting hosted by the provincial Department of Education regarding a controversial decision made by the Minister in this province. Near the end of the day a comment was made that the round table discussion seemed to move us beyond “consultation” into the realm of “engagement“. It is a comment that distracted me all the way home.

Stakeholders at each “level” (province, district, school) have the authority to make certain decisions, as well as the capacity to involve other stakeholders in decision making. Every few years we endure swings from centralization to decentralization and each time we create confusion, lack of empowerment, and dis-engagement of stakeholders at all levels. Our public education system is very bureaucratic and protective and though it often consults the public, it rarely engages the public in collaborative decision making.

A greater emphasis on collaborative decisions made through public engagement would mean better decisions and likely greater satisfaction with the results. So while the Minister would have the ultimate authority for any major decision, support for decisions made via a collaborative effort would be greater and the political price for the decision easier to absorb.

How do we move from schools as factories to schools as community learning centres? How do we foster collaborative decision making? How do we engage reluctant participants? How do we make sure students are full participants in the decision-making process? Which decisions do we need to work together on, and which decisions should each of us be empowered to make on our own?

I have more questions than answers, but I hope that what I experienced today was the beginning of citizen engagement in public education in NB.