engaging parents

By robynjay On January 19th, 2010

NZ colleague Stephen Harlow recently tweeted a link to an interesting paper this week regarding parent involvement in schools – Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community-
Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools
from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

I’ve experienced three different scenarios and from both inside and outside the system. My boys were lucky enough to spend at least some of their primary school years at a one teacher rural school (I hope they agree with that!). The school was in a close-knit community of people from very diverse backgrounds but who generally owned land and were committed to community development, and to each other. The boys teacher also lived in that community. Some parents had educational backgrounds (and interestingly quite a few went on to retrain in education-related fields in later years) but most were farming, parenting, studying or simply escaping from the big-smoke.
The school always welcomed the presence of parents and there were always parents around. Once a week we ran activity afternoons where parents could share their interests and skills (however obscure) with small groups of kids who chose their activity from the offerings for that term. The NSW governance structure ‘School Councils’ came into force at the time and we all did our bit in various roles on that, in addition to P&C fundraising activities. The level of involvement was up to each parent but there was certainly a sense that anyone was welcome.

Larger non-rural schools are a different case.
Even as an educator myself I generally stayed away. Partly this was because I was working and there was little opportunity to do much out of hours. School Councils and P&Cs were cliquey and there was a sense that they were run by a parent ‘elite’. I guess I made a decision that I had done my bit at Afterlee and it was time for others to contribute. IN dealings with teachers, I made a point of not identifying myself as an educator and had some rather interesting interactions with teachers who certainly did their best to treat me as an imbecile, and at best in a patronising manner. I felt like a child entering the domain and was treated as one. There were exceptions of course.

So it’s hardly surprising that many/most parents prefer to stay away. Given that many had negative schooling experience themselves, their child’s attendance is a necessary evil to be done with.

While snippets of the paper resonated on the whole I have to say I found the paper pretty patronising. There was a sense of designing programs to deal with parent inadequacies, of telling parents what they should do. Of the case studies provided I thought the Logan Square Neighborhood Assoc’s ‘Literacy Ambassador program’ totally pompous and uninviting.
Fault for non-engagement was placed on parental low-income .

Schools are a public service and teachers public servants. It is their practices that need to adapt. Services need to be offered that will entice the community in. Night classes designed and run by community members need to be encouraged using the infrastructure. If parents are hesitant to enter the school events and meetings should be taken outside school gates, in the parents comfort zone. Schools need to listen rather than preach. ALL types of contribution need to be respected and applauded – if parents wish to ‘bake’ celebrate that not denigrate it. Find out what the parents’ strengths are and ask if they will share them. Identify the skills of parents and arrange for them to share/teach those skills and interests. Make an ‘open door’ policy and truly welcome parents to enter the classroom. I’ve seen the faces of young children (unfortunately lost in later years LOL) beam at having their parent present. Parents know when they are simply tolerated – they’re not stupid. Just having parents inside the classroom is enough to begin with. Let them get a feel for what goes on before negotiating a task/role. Don’t assume they want to listen to children read. In fact don’t assume they are good readers themselves!

Following on from my last post, we need to rethink the education structures and design. We need movement and overlap between ages and focus. Increasingly we will need to break down the walls and consider online opportunities to enrich the lives of learners and to make full use of the rich pool of resources that is the local, and global, community.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by sean dreilinger

how is the internet changing the way you think?

By robynjay On January 14th, 2010

The 2010 question for the Edge World Question Centre is “How is the Internet changing the way YOU think?”

With over 167 responses, it is clearly designed for a long day curled up by a cosy wood fire in the snow bound Northern Hemisphere!
I haven’t had a chance to read them all yet but am inspired to respond and hope you will add your personal response too…

I’m not sure that the way I ‘think’ is as significant as the way I live, respond, learn, engage and create. Kai Krause aptly describes this as a redefining of ‘ how we perceive the world and ourselves in it, new models of how we work and research, entertain ourselves, communicate with our family and friends, how we learn about the past and preserve our memories, what we expect of the future and how we plan for it, what we watch, read, listen to: all greatly influenced by technology in general and the Net in particular.’

I mustn’t be ‘normal’ for one my age in this regard. Quite frankly I am sick and tired of people using their age as an excuse for non-engagement. It’s not about age. Being at the tail end of the ‘boomers’ I spent the first half of my life with pen in hand and nose in a book; all my undergraduate degrees were hand written, so I have as much excuse for non-engagement as anyone (excluding those who are truly disadvantaged through poverty or lack of connectivity).

Of course there’s good and bad, but I couldn’t imagine a life unconnected. The internet overlays my life; work and relaxation.

I engage with the lives, ideas and creativity of people who live in places I’ll never see in real life.

I can independently create content and share it with the world

I can collaborate with wide-spread teams and communities.

I feel closer to people on the other side of the world than I do to the couple in the apartment next door.

I can converse with people with interests as obscure as mine

I can send a few words of kindness across the globe right when they are most needed

I see the images of great photographers the day they are taken, and share my own with like-minded people globally.

I share ideas and work with a global audience.

I am equipped and empowered.

I have knowledge and skills at my finger tips –  to grout a mosaic, play the guitar, heal a wound

I can trade and operate a business without jumping on a plane

I can ask for and receive help and access my support network [almost] anywhere anytime

What frightens me is that after all these years the education system still fails to engage. Still fails to support the development of skills to enable critical, effective, creative users. Of course young people learn from their peers, they are comfortable connecting within walled gardens and private chat. But in my experience very few are equipped to use the internet as a learner and eventually, professional.

In his contribution Howard Rheingold – says

“Those people who do not gain fundamental literacies of attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network awareness are in danger of all the pitfalls critics point out — shallowness, credulity, distraction, alienation, addiction. I worry about the billions of people who are gaining access to the Net without the slightest clue about how to find knowledge and verify it for accuracy, how to advocate and participate rather than passively consume, how to discipline and deploy attention in an always-on milieu, how and why to use those privacy protections that remain available in an increasingly intrusive environment.”

and Evgeny Morozov adds…

“Today we are facing the emergence of the “cyber-lumpenprolitariat”, of people who are being sucked into the digital whirlwind of gossip sites, trashy video games, populist and xenophobic blogs, and endless poking on social networking sites. The intellectual elites, on the other hand, continue thriving in the new digital environment, exploiting superb online tools for scientific research and collaboration, streaming art house films via Netflix, swapping their favorite books via e-readers, reconnecting with musical treasures of the bygone eras via iTunes, and, above all, perusing materials in the giant online libraries like the one that Google could soon unveil. ”

The cause and solution sit squarely on the shoulders of an schooling system that not only ignores the issues, but actively blocks access to the spaces that require explicit engagement and critical discussion. As I have mooted many time, it is a breach of their duty of care.

[CC FlickR image: Lee Carson]