A Seat at the Table
I joined Twitter as a way of hearing new and different voices in the field of education and parent engagement. I found amazing people blogging and having great online conversations about these topics. (And I see only a minute fraction!) Some inspire me; others almost cause my head to explode; a few make me stop and reconsider my beliefs, while many confirm my convictions. But here’s the problem – I am a member of the converted, being preached to by my brethren. What about all those parents who are not connected – to twitter, to blogs, to their schools? How do they hear the many viewpoints expressed? How do they participate in the discourse? How do they learn about, argue over, and understand all that is happening and could happen in education?
Too many of the postings I’ve read bemoan the lack of support parents give to education initiatives. But how many of those authors/educators have taken the time to provide ‘inservicing’ for the parents? How many have created opportunities for parents and guardians to learn about an issue and “engage meaningfully and concretely in dialogue…?” How many have viewed parents as partners in the education of their students?
Let me give an example. Many online discussions have been about student awards and “losing”. This is a hot-button topic. I remember arguing with my children’s principal about this 18 years ago. “Awards are necessary and to deprive hard working students of the chance of winning is unreasonable”, I argued. The principal, a wise woman, took me to a meeting on the topic to engage my point of view. And so began my conversion, aided by watching how awards were handled, working with students who would never win the awards being given, and learning more about the topic. I now see things differently.
How many parents will get the opportunity for thoughtful consideration of this – or any – issue? In twenty-four years of parent engagement, I have rarely seen opportunities for parents to sit around the school table, learning and debating the latest trends in education. Yes, the school council might offer a workshop on Cyber safety. But will the staff present seminars on using technology in the classroom? Or open up discussion on the concept of flipped classrooms? Resilience may be addressed in ‘parenting‘ sessions, but will schools teach their communities how it is demonstrated in their building. Will they seek advice on implementation?
Is it any wonder that parents balk at the newest initiatives? Many educators, themselves, resist change and they are schooled in the topic. Why do we expect our communities to shift beliefs and practices without support?
If we don’t treat parents as partners, we restrict the information they receive, underestimate the value of parent knowledge (Dr. Debbie Pushor), neutralize their input, and convince ourselves that a monologue is really dialogue. The disconnect leads to misunderstandings and grievances with the system. The result affects student achievement because what is learned in the school is not supported in the home.
But let me not put the onus for partnership-building solely onto schools. In workshops with school councils, I encourage members to use twitter and other social media to connect not only with their parents, but the education community at large. In today’s world, information and discourse is at their fingertips. If we encourage the concept of life-long learners, that should include understanding how our children are being taught. Let parents take part of the responsibility for learning, questioning, and supporting their schools in the 21st century. This means school councils, teachers and principals must first send that information out into their communities and then encourage a discourse with parents/guardians on the wide variety of educational topics. That is partnership.