Posts Tagged With: parent engagement

Ed Reform – What About Parents?

When I think of parents and the degree to which they understand how education is changing, I’m reminded of this quote by American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomski:

IMG_0061Earlier this week I gave a presentation on Learning Commons to parent council chairpersons at a gathering organized by our district’s School Board. We provided the presentation so that parents would better understand our district initiative to bring our school libraries into the 21st century, and by doing so provide our students with a more relevant and engaging learning experience. As I demonstrated how a Learning Commons could be used to flatten the walls of our classrooms, give students more responsibility for their own learning, and encourage creativity and innovation, the parents in attendance seemed to welcome the opportunity to learn more about the changes to their child’s daily experiences in school. I came away from the evening, however, with a sense of concern with the disconnect between what parents think we are doing in our classrooms and what we are actually doing. Most in attendance had never before heard of the ideas I shared in my presentation.

As learning begins taking on a very different look, we have to remember to bring all our stakeholders along with us – especially our parents. As the first educators of their children, we can’t leave them out of loop if we are to make any significant progress with changing the educational experience for our students. Most people resist change when they don’t understand.

Here, I believe, are some of the reasons why we need to make a conscious effort to include parents in our conversations about education reform: 

  1. Most parents can only imagine learning through the lens in which they experienced it themselves.
  2. Most parents are digital immigrants, which makes them nervous about the use of technology and innovative approaches in schools.
  3. Most parents still want to know how their children are doing in relation to everyone else – with a number.
  4. Most parents don’t have the time to be directly involved in their child’s learning.
  5. Most parents turned out just fine with their schooling experience. What was good for them must be good for their children.

…perhaps some helpful ideas:

  1. Organize parent information sessions on a regular basis.
  2. Use the power of technology to share information with parents and collect their input.
  3. Invite parents into your classroom – often.
  4. Hold student-led parent / teacher conferences.
  5. Reassure parents that safety concerns are being addressed.

What are you doing to make sure your parents know what’s happening as things start to change in your classroom?

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Parents Said No to the Test

Two months ago, before Alberta Education announced that the province will be phasing out grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests, I was approached by a couple of parents at my school. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to respond to their question. They wanted to know if what they had heard was true. “As parents, do we have the right”, they asked, “to excuse our children from writing provincial achievement tests.” I’ve known the answer to this question for years but quite honestly have been reluctant to openly share it with parents. The odd time a parent had asked me about “excusing their child” I’ve encouraged them not to “for the good of the school.” A great deal of emphasis has been placed on Provincial Achievement Tests as the primary measure of student and school success in our province and each time we excuse a student it negatively reflects the overall school and jurisdictional results. The idea has always been to get as many students writing as possible. I applaud our superintendent Chris Smeaton for encouraging educators to maintain a focus on learning and student engagement instead of PATs. “Excellent learning is the important thing”, he says, “then the assessments will take care of themselves.” He has blogged about Provincial Achievement Tests here and here.

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What’s not really known is that parents can excuse their student from writing the tests; and it’s written right there on the Alberta Education website. The problem is that it’s like solving the Rubik’s Cube to find it, and there’s an unwritten rule that school leaders should refrain from engaging in that kind of conversation with parents. My fellow blogger Joe Bower has written about this.

So as I was standing there with these two parents contemplating an answer, this question kept racing through my mind, “Should I be concerned about my school results or should I be working with parents to determine what’s in the best educational interest of their child?” So, after what seemed like forever I answered and a lengthy and engaging conversation ensued…

Here is a short description provided by Alberta Education about the Provincial Achievement Testing Program:

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(This year we had 52 grade 3 and 6 students in our English stream eligible to write provincial achievement tests. More than half of those students had been approved for some sort of accommodation – reader, scribe, and/or extra time. A great number of them were reading well below grade level and some were English Language Learners. Most of those students would be forced to take hours’ worth of standardized tests in a format mostly foreign to them throughout the school year.)

…the day after our conversation the two parents mentioned above presented me with a letter excusing their children from participating in the Provincial Achievement Testing program this year. Not only did they feel their decision was adequately informed, they also knew their children’s teachers would provide them with other forms of evidence that the curriculum would be effectively assessed as had been the case throughout the year.

The next day 3 more parents dropped off letters excusing their children from writing as well. Apparently, parents started having the achievement test discussion with one another and the word was travelling fast. By the end of the week almost half of the 52 students had been excused by their parents.

As parents approached me for advice I did what my role as school principal calls for me to do. I assisted each parent in making an informed decision for their child. I directed them to the Alberta Education website, encouraging them to review the Achievement Tests link on the Parents Page. I shared the Framework for Student Learning which outlines the future direction for education in our province and demonstrates the need for a more relevant form of assessment for today’s learners. I even encouraged them to speak with other parents who were also struggling with the decision about what to do. It was not my role to decide for them, rather to arm them with as much information as possible in making the decision for themselves (and their child). A few common questions surfaced, like “If they don’t write will it affect their mark in any way” and “If they don’t write will it affect their placement next year.” The only answer I could give was no. Another reoccurring comment was, “I never knew I had a choice.”

When all was said and done the parents said no to the test – all 52 of them. Each and every one provided me with signed consent excusing their child from writing the 2012-13 Provincial Achievement Tests.

And in place of the PATs the students experienced some amazing learning:

Genius Hour Proposal – idea borrowed from Kirsten Tschofen (@KirstenTP) and her blog post at SOMEWHERE FROM HERE

Genius Hour Animoto Clip

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Keeping Parents in the Educational Transformation Loop

As we continue to transform education we can’t forget to engage our parents, who are digital immigrants having come from the industrial age of education. The transformational conversation must include them as well.  I have heard of some schools hosting technology evenings for parents.  That’s a great idea. Here’s my February message to parents for our school newsletter: 

After 21 years as a teacher and administrator there has never been more to consider. How we educate children appears to be at a “tipping point”, where a focus on appropriate skill building has become extremely important. Researchers around the world have identified the need for competencies to be more central in the education of young people if they are to be active participants in society. Competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities.

 Many people ask why we need a different model of education for the 21st century.  Aren’t many of the skills we are talking about the ones that have been important throughout history? And do we, only 12 years into the century, really know what skills our students will need for their future? The answer to these questions is that the past few years have seen a very different world than before, especially in the area of globalization, which has been encouraged by advances in technology. We have moved from the industrial age to the service age and students who are now entering our schools will end up in the service sector, having jobs in many different fields over the course of their working lives.  While we don’t know what new jobs will emerge, these students will need to be able to learn new things and adapt to new situations as the world continues to change.  They will need to be innovative and creative and will need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

The big difference between 21st century education and education that went before it is the embedding of these skills into the curriculum.  A few short years ago we didn’t do much problem solving or decision making.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school we went to work where we were told what to do – and if we had a problem or if a decision had to be made we were expected to take that to someone higher up rather than make it ourselves.  In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision making at every level – we are all expected to be self-directed and responsible for our own work and autonomy, mastery and purpose are the factors that lead to more personal satisfaction with our work and therefore to more motivation and ultimately a better performance.

The 21st century competencies depicted above are not ones that were covered in yesterday’s schools. Academic rigor was defined by the “3 R’s” and the coverage of a large amount of content – and knowing this content was more important than understanding it.  Today content is not so important, as information is changing constantly, so today’s students need the competencies to be able to apply previous experience to new situations and they need the ability to be lifelong learners because they will need to keep learning as the situations they find themselves in change.

Today, schools (and teachers) need to be engaging students in more inquiry and project-based learning. They need to be encouraging students to develop higher-order thinking skills.  They need to be guiding students as they direct their own learning.

Without a doubt technology can be used effectively to promote the building of 21st Century competencies. But just putting an interactive whiteboard into a classroom or giving a student a laptop is not automatically going to bring about the changes in learning that we so obviously need. We need to rethink how students learn and we need to rethink what they are learning.  By ensuring that 21st Century competencies are embedded into all curriculum areas, all teaching, all assessments, and into the professional development teachers receive, our children will have the best chance to be prepared for the society they will enter as adults a few years downs the road.

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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