Rec·i·proc·i·ty

1the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit

I was listening to “Ideas at 50” on CBC radio. One of the segments involved the late Dr. Ursula Franklin – Canadian metallurgist, research physicist, author and educator. She was speaking about communication technology and its effect on reciprocity, which she described as “some manner of interactive give and take” or “genuine communication”. I was intrigued as the programme continued and I kept thinking about family engagement.

The new world of technological devices inside and outside the classroom is a subject of great debate, worry…and opportunity. Many schools, and school councils, use technology as their road to home-school communication. Most think it means they are engaging their families. Posting events, news, happenings to a website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc, makes everyone feel they are bringing the school into the home. And they are – to some extent. But let’s not be too quick to assume so it’s engagement.

There is already a distance between what is taught in our schools and what parents feel capable of understanding. If we rely too much on the new forms of communication there is a danger, as Dr. Franklin warned, that

once technical devices are interposed, they allow a physical distance between parties; the reciprocity is distorted, it can be reduced, it can be eliminated”. In other words, will we become too reliant on these devices as a quick, easy method of contacting parents?  In doing so, will parents become more and more isolated from their schools? Is Dr. Franklin correct in calling this “non-communication technology”?

Genuine communication occurs when “face-to-face discussion or transaction between people, needs to be started, it needs to be carried out, and terminated all with a certain amount of reciprocity.” I have often warned that advising parents what is happening is not a dialogue – it is a monologue. Schools and councils will argue their devices allow parents to reply if they wish. I am not convinced that this is reciprocity. At best it is feedback.

Dr. Franklin argued that feedback is a “technique of systems adjustment…(it’s purpose) is to make the thing work… it can improve performance but it can’t alter the design.” When parents receive information, do they know they may respond? Do they believe their responses have to be supportive? Are they confident that any suggestions or comments will be received and reviewed with improvement in mind? Is there any possibility that responses will “alter the design”? Should we be concerned, as she suggests, that this absence of reciprocity in communication technologies can lessen the need to listen and thus the need to understand, accommodate…and engage?

So how do we bring reciprocity into the building of partnerships between home and school? We could begin by considering Dr Franklin’s advice that how we absorb an event is very different when we only see it, as opposed to experiencing it. Therefore, administrators, their staff and School Councils could:

1. work to provide opportunities for parents to learn what is being taught in the classroom and how, building their capacity to support that learning at home;

2. encourage staff to talk with parents about teaching practices and how they impact learning, increasing understanding and support;

3. teach parents how to be effective advocates for their children, as well as the education system, resulting in beneficial home-school partnerships;

4. keep abreast of Board or Ministry initiatives and seek meaningful input, allowing parents to affect the design of education in positive ways;

5. provide avenues for reciprocal communication – opportunities that result in a give and take, “bring(ing) in new and unforeseen things” for consideration. In other words, face-to-face gatherings where parents and educators discuss and learn together on a regular basis.

All of these things create constructive parameters for engagement. Of course,  these actions must be done with “a need for listening… (a need) to understand or to accommodate” on the part of parents and educators.

Reciprocity is work. Dr. Franklin said it requires “the tools of co-operation – listening and adjusting”. It begins and ends with relationships built upon respect for what each brings to the table, an acceptance of our strengths and shortcomings and an acknowledgement that we are here for the same person – the parent’s child and the teacher’s student.

Note:

“Ideas at 50” http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/ideas-at-50-part-4-1.3296382  Dr. Franklin’s segment begins at minute 25:24.

@stephen_hurley posted this link. It’s good place to begin learning how to have conversations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6n3iNh4XLI

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