Monday, March 30, 2009

Where Do Parents Plug In?

I'd like to thank @plind for this guest post. She was kind enough to respond to my Plugged In Parents Post. In my enthusiasm for both technology integration and the power of effective formative assessment, I had not given thought to the following perspective. I hope that this post encourages some debate from educators and parents alike:

By: @plind (I follow her on Twitter)

I have been mulling over the $64,000 question "Do parents want this level of involvement in their child's education?" in my mind for quite awhile now and I'd like to up the ante and ask the million dollar question of "Should parents be that involved in their child's education?"

My answer is no on both counts. I don't want to be at the "edge of my child's learning" (nor do I think I should be) -- I want to be at the fringe. I want to be close enough to cheer them on or rush the field if they are injured but far enough removed that I don't interfere with the game. I want my child to own their learning, own their successes and own their failures. They can't do that without some distance from me. The ongoing debate is -- how much distance is too much or too little?

I'm certainly not opposed to more meaningful assessments of my child's learning. Honestly the "letters" change every year on report cards -- who can keep up! I put more stock on the one paragraph written by the teacher than the alphabet soup that precedes it. However, frequently receiving 140 character updates to my phone or computer would likely drive me mad. Several different teachers using this approach with my 3 children would become overwhelming fast. Expectations would have to be clear as well. When I receive a message that my child is struggling with multiplication what does that mean? Am I to intervene? Is the teacher forming a plan to address the problem? Is the whole class struggling? Feedback without context or direction only creates anxiety and uncertainty.

When we talk about engaging parents in children's learning I think it's important to remember that there is a difference between engaging with my child to learn together and engaging with my child's schoolwork. I want to be engaged with my children and as school is a large portion of their lives of course it is an important component but not the only component. I appreciate the window into their lives that blogs, newsletters, and websites provide. I value the ambient awareness that allows me to ask better questions at the dinner table, point out signs of lifecycles on a walk or reminds me to delve into fractions while baking. However, I also have my own knowledge, passions, interests and heritage that I would like to share with my children. Over-involving me in their formal education slowly erodes my ability to engage in those moments and those moments are both precious and fleeting.

As new technologies emerge that allow us to be embedded deeper and deeper in our children's lives we all have the responsibility to ask if that is really what is best. From GPS enabled phones that track every movement, webcam enabled classrooms that we can peek into, instant, continuous feedback, and digital records of schoolwork that can be freely accessed -- when and where do children have the space to become independent? We have to be cautious as we engage with these tools and ensure that there are measures in place that allow children to become progressively more responsible for themselves and allows (even forces?) parents to step back. While the notion of involving parents more meaningfully in their child's education is a sound one, we need to do so judiciously to ensure that there is still time left in a day for parents to engage with their children around all aspects of their being, not just school.

The infinite possibilities for communication and engagement are mindboggling. However, just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

Your thoughts are solicited...



elaan said...

Wow. I am so pleased you wrote this - and I absolutely agree with what you have written.

I hadn't considered how being too involved would actually be negative for the student and the parent - I was only thinking of myself as a teacher, and assuming that of course it must be best for us to do MORE (aren't we as teachers always doing more?).

Having read what you wrote, I found myself nodding and smiling, and saying "yes, yes." I appreciate how you have articulated this issue so well. I wonder what parents & admin have to say about the issue...

Well done, @plind. And thanks for the fresh perspective!

Frank said...

Wow, @elaan beat me to it by about 45 seconds...

I will probably end up rambling (as it is getting late) however, here it goes!

I as well found myself nodding and agreeing with what you had to say. Often we (educators) have trouble seeing the other side of the coin. However the question still remains, what is the optimal level of involvement / interaction?

As an administrator there are parents I never see who I really wish I did, and others I see far, far, too frequently! (both, potentially, to the detriment of their child's education) Others, however, seem to appear when needed to help solve a situation or support their child and then disappear until the next 'perfect moment' for their involvement!

I would however argue that there still may be a place for a 'twitter style' method of reporting information. Maybe the teacher keeps track of their notes this way and then shares with the parents on regular intervals? Maybe the information is linked to a secure website and the parents can log in, on their own time, to get information on their child's development.

You do make an excellent point however about expectations of what to do with the information. This would need to be very clear, and if not followed could lead to major misunderstandings between the teacher and the parent.

I would really like to hear @HHG's thoughts on this topic.

rdrunner said...

Perhaps we are focusing on how much rather than what kind - although I think you were headed there Penny.

I like your point about the other perspectives and responsibilities parents bring to their childrens' lives. So here's my thoughts:
1. Teachers and parents are partners in childrens' learnings. You can't be a partner if you don't have a relationship. It starts there.
2. Teachers and parents have different roles and bring different information to the partnership. Even when the parent is also a teacher, in the relationship that involves their child they bring the parent role.
3. How welcomed parents are in the school is most dependent on the culture of the school. The principal plays a key role in setting that landscape.

Let's focus on quality of the relationship with our children at the centre. And in that relationship, let the teacher ask the parent about his/her child, and ask how the parent wants to be involved. And let the parent ask the teacher for advice on how their children can best be supported in theirlearning. Caring is the root of relationship-building.

And Dave? From my own perspective, I often found it hard to enter the school as "parent" rather than "central office" (my usual role). I found that striking a relationship with the teacher that was just about my daughter helped.

@cgseibel on Twitter

Dave Truss said...

Great post!
This line struck a chord with me:
Over-involving me in their formal education slowly erodes my ability to engage in those moments and those moments are both precious and fleeting.
I think homework plays a large part in that, at least at the younger ages. Some days I get about 3 hours of awake time with my kids after school, take out an after school activity, dinner and homework and I'm down to less than an hour. When I spend that time on fairly trivial homework the last thing I want to do is feel more connected to my kid's school work.

I don't want to be connected to my kid's teacher digitally because if there are issues then I'd like to do that face-to-face, or make a phone call, not get a 140 character update... However, if I'm getting an update from my daughter sending me to a link to see what she has done, (and is proud of and wants to show me), well then that is a level of contact I'd love to see.

Lorna Costantini said...

When I listen to Penny, it is as if I am listening to the woman with her pulse on the heart of the school. That every day common sense approach to child rearing and parenting. Penny and her children have their faces dirty with the joys of learning so I think we should listen carefully to what she has to say. I, like others, have envisioned a world where the latest tech tools simplified the connections between parents and the classroom.

When I read some of the comments to Dave’s original post , my head, which usually starts others spinning, was overwhelmed by the endless possibilities technology could bring to help parents help their children learn. In steps Penny to bring clarity to the subject and I agree with her. My work as a parent involvement facilitator has identified three things. Parents care about their children. Parents want to know what is going on in the classroom and Parents want to know if they can trust their child’s teacher. If you can build on those precepts, then the subject knowledge, the support for homework , the volunteerism in the school and all things parents engagement fall into place.

As Cindy said when the relationships are built things go together to support student learning. IMHO The expectations around the relationships must be clearly communicated and not assumed. How many times have we asked parents to help with homework? There is an assumption that parents know how to help their children with schoolwork as if it is an inherent characteristic of being a parent. Lots of good advice on that one from Dr. Joyce Epstein, “ parents should not be expected to teach math but they should be expected to advocate for their child.” That is my idea of a parent being plugged in.

Tech Mom said...

Wow -- I am so amazed an honoured that so many of you took time to respond to my post. I hesitated to publish it because as a parent the pressure is to do MORE (the same sentiment @elaan referred to regarding teachers) and it is difficult to come out to the contrary.

@Frank -- I agree that there may be a place for "Twitter" style assesments/comments but they should be directed towards the learner not the parents -- at least initially. You have to be careful about how much information you give to which parents. By your comments I think you have a pretty grasp on that one -- otherwise you will end up seeing the wrong parents way more often!

@cgseibel you are exactly right when you say we shouldn't focus on quantity but rather quality of interaction and every parent/child team needs a different strategy. Just as there are some students that can plug along independantly - so too are there parents that can do the same. I may do well with only ambient awareness but others may need more support. Your notion of working together to find the method that works best for each individual team is great.

@dave -- I feel your time crunch! I am always upset when we are "assigned" trivial reading that gets in the way of the reading that I want to share with my children. There are only so many hours in the day and I guard each one of them jealously.

@Lorna -- you are, as always, way too kind! Your three core points of caring for kids, caring what happens in school and trusting the teacher distills things so wonderfully. The best thing I can do for my kids is show them that I think the work they do in school is important -- to care, to advocate and to explore!

Finally @Dave MacLean -- thanks for the opportunity to add a parent voice to the conversation


Dave MacLean - Elementary School Principal exploring pedagogy, technology and the odd educational epiphany. said...


It was my pleasure. I think it is so important to listen to feedback that, on the surface, may not compliment the original idea. Your post forced me to really take a serious look at the involvement level of parents.

Since your post, I have had numerous conversations with the parents at my school. Many echoed your sentiments. Many, however, really like the idea of being able to get a better understanding of what was going on in the classroom.

This has led to further questions on my part. With the spectrum of parental involvement need/want how do I differentiate the opportunities for all my parents?

I am working on a follow up post that will hopefully help me work through these ideas. After all there is really no better way than blog posting to help me sort through my thoughts.

Again, I really appreciate you taking the risk of posting and I hope that you will be so inclined in the future.

And to those who responded. Thank you for enriching the conversation.