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Schools engaging with Parents: Research says…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Parent Engagement in K-12 Schools. What has struck me is the relative lack of controversy in the literature.

There are two consistent themes in the literature:

1. The parent engagement models are both limited and validated in the research. Parents want to engage, engagement declines over the schools years, and there is a positive correlation between parent involvement and school achievement.

2. Teachers and principal need help to build successful partnerships with parents. Teachers are not equally comfortable with the use of social learning tools. So, if technology is to be used in parent engagement, we will need to train the teachers not only in the practice of parent engagement but also provide support for the technologies they will use.

Improvement Cycle School Family PartnershipsI have also come to realize that the relationship between school practice, research and policy and legislation is one of continuous, or adaptive, improvement. Innovation drives changing school practice, academic inquiry about the successes of innovative school practice drives research, public opinion fueled by the research data drives change in policy and legislation. Policy and legislation requires changes to school practice.

One piece of feedback I have received is that the improvement cycle assumes that parents and teachers WANT to be involved. I think the research is saying parents want to be involved (if one can extrapolate that every parent wants the best for his/her child) but don’t know how, and that teachers aren’t hearing the research (although some get it intuitively or through experience) so aren’t motivated and also don’t know how to engage.

I am posing these questions in an effort to validate my assumptions. Can you help?

    As a teacher, have you experienced any formal or informal preparation for involving parents in their children’s learning?

    As a parent, where do you look for support in engaging with your child’s school?

Or propose an alternate conclusion. This is a work in progress.


Parent Choice and School Reform: The Case of the Science Leadership Academy

Parents and Students
Originally uploaded by PGoGS

Meaningful parent involvement requires more than just programming. Some would argue it begs for major school reform.

Mark Holmes, Honourary Patron of the Society for Quality Education and Professor Emeritus at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education lays bare his personal bias on his views of the aims of education while advocating for choice for all parents in his book The Reformation of Canada’s Schools: Breaking the Barriers to Parental Choice. Holmes’ book describes a reformation of Canadian education that would combine area public schools directed by elected parent councils and distributed programs of choice accessible (at least nominally if not geographically possible) by all. School districts would become managers of support infrastructure systems (buildings, human resources, transportation, administrative operations) rather than directors of a particular educational philosopy. Provincial authorities would provide central policies and standards respecting outcomes, student evaluation, funding to schools (not just districts), collective agreements for staff especially teachers, and collection of data to support decision-making by parents and schools.

The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia PA is a such school of choice that is lauded for its educational and physical design. Parent involvement is key. SLA provides programs for parents that truly engage them. The school’s mission and vision page includes the following: “At the SLA, learning will not be just something that happens from 8:30am to 3:00pm, but a continuous process that expands beyond the four walls of the classroom into every facet of our lives.”

I had the opportunity to dialogue with Chris Lehmann, the principal, in Alec Couros’ graduate class (listen to the recording). Chris doesn’t understand why some schools don’t honour the parents by sharing the rich life of high schools with them. Why not take announcements and email them home? He suggests it is such a simple way to start. At his school, they run social networking sessions just for parents, so that they can participate in the same technologies that their children are using. And they broadcast frequently using ustream.tv (but he does beliee there is a limit to transparency – kids need to have a place to make mistakes. So their Moodle environment has both a walled garden and a public place.) Chris believes that parents have a right to know what is giong on in their children’s lives.

How much is the Science Leadership Academy an example of Holmes’ view on educational reform? Not only is SLA a school of choice, but it also operates under a particular philosophy of education (which despite its self-described progressive curriculum, I would suggest Technocratic-Traditionalist) as evidenced through the three questions in its mission statement: “How do we learn?” “What can we create?” “What does it mean to lead?” Leadership is distributed among parents, teachers and students.

Perhaps there is more to learn from the Science Leadership Academy than just an instructional methodology.

Holmes, M. (1998). The Reformation of Canada’s Schools: Breaking the Barriers to Parental Choice. Montreal & Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press.

From Parental Involvement to Engagement

I spent the evening doing online research on parental involvement in K-12 education.  There is significant research to demonstrate a link between parental involvement and student achievement (which I will document in a future post).  I wanted to write about an insightful paper by Dr. Debbie Pushor from the University of Saskatchewan.  In Parent Engagement:  Creating a Shared World she describes the difference between parental involvement (co-opted participation) and engagement (shared commitment).  The importance of parents engaging with parents (creating shared commitment) is also discussed.  The research is suggesting that involvement alone does not create achievement benefits but engagement does.  The benefits according to Dr. Pushor for parents are clear:

  • Parents have the opportunities to share their knowledge
  • Parents & families are enriched by their engagement
  • Parents benefit personally
  • Parents have a voice & place on school landscapes

Dr. Pushor’s broader research work is examining the questions, What is parent knowledge? and How is parent knowledge held and used?

I am interested in this work because it helps in my investigation of parent voice in a technology-enabled environment.  Does the presence of technology (in the home and/or school) change the involvement/engagement relationship?  Thanks to Dr. Pushor for providing a context for my investigation.

Dealing with Parents

As part of my readings about Parent Voice I just finished a book by Elaine K. McEwan on How to Deal with Parents….  The book is a mix of understanding parent needs (with sources) and how-to’s for school administrators in creating a healthy school environment by working effectively with parents.  Here’s her list of what parents want:

  • Instructional leadership
  • Effective teachers for their children
  • Student achievement
  • Communications
  • Safety and discipline
  • Involvement 
Anything you would add or subtract from this list?

More on Social Networking for Kids

Thanks to all who responded to my last post.  I’d like to try to summarize the responses, which wove threads into the same fabric:  we are being over-protective:

1.  There is a difference between safety and literacy.  Children must learn to survive in this new culture they themselves are creating.  Ignorant children cannot grow up to make informed decisions. Let us promote literacy.  An informative model of e-safety in the UK covers content, contact and commerce.  Digital literacy is one key for children’s safety.  Technical safeguards provide other safety for data and transactions.

2.  There is a difference between institutional safety and child safety.  Let us be clear as to when we are concerned about lawsuits and when we believe it is unsafe for kids.  Rather than locking down the environment under the umbrella of child safety, perhaps we should be investing our energy in preparing our teachers to be good stewards of the environment.  Which leads to point #3..

3.  Modeling is essential.  Our most important work is with teachers, so that they may model appropriate behaviour in an online environment.  And let’s not stop there – our work needs to include parents as well.So thank you again for the thoughtful responses.I would like to re-visit the other dimension to the security issue I raised – that being the security of the technology environment that is provided for schools to use.   One comment suggested that firewalling between the data and student environments solved the issue.  I wish it were as simple.  I’ll discuss this further in a future post! 

2008 has arrived.

Can you believe the technologies available to support and enable learning today? I’m starting this blog, rather fittingly on the first day of a new year, to chronicle my journey through my M.Ed. degree in Educational Communications and Technology. I have been working in technology for 30 years, but only the last nine in K-12 education. I cannot read or experience enough – fast enough – to quench my thirst for learning about this space.

Some questions that are foremost for me this year:
1. What is the role of parents in a technology-enabled learning environment? Has or will technology continue to change their role?
2. Do we worry too much? That is, about the security of the online environment for kids? Or the reliability of the environment for the users?

I will come back to these questions, and add others, over the course of the year.

And, snagging an idea from another, I’m going to try to complete a 2008/366 project – taking a picture on every day of the year. I’m just loading Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 on my Mac and I want to put it to good use!

Happy New Year!