Guest Post: What’s in a Word?

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Once again, I am pleased to publish a guest post by Nancy Angevine-Sands (@WithEqualStep).  She has provided thoughtful and insightful posts about parent engagement to my blog in the past here and most recently here.

I appreciate her thoughts regarding Ontario’s School Councils and also her on-going work with parents and staff as a parent engagement advocate.  She asks…

What’s in a Word?

Responding to a half-hearted “Sorry, Mooom,” I’ve been known to tell my children that words are cheap; actions matter. However, I’ve seen the effects of words – both good and bad – on the faces of my children and students. They can inspire or deflate. Words have meaning. Words speak volumes. Words show intent. In the last few weeks, there have been many places where I’ve read the word “Parent” council – newspapers, twitter, school signs – when they mean SCHOOL council. One word. A world of difference.

In 1996 (confirmed and revised in 2001), Ontario’s provincial government established SCHOOL councils, whose purpose was “through the active participation of parents, to improve pupil achievement and to enhance the accountability of the education system to parents.” Among other things, they would do this by making recommendations to schools and Boards. (most provincial school councils are similar to Ontario in makeup and intent)

Complete School Council Guide here.

Each council is to be made up of parents, teachers, support staff, community members and, at middle and secondary level, students. They are not parent groups, meeting within schools to support decisions made by others. They are official SCHOOL bodies where all stakeholders partner together for student achievement.

But words are cheap if Board officials, school staff and parents do not let their actions fit the intent of the word. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, parents should not be expected to understand and support education initiatives if they do not receive training in them. They will not adequately advise schools and Boards on school matters if they do not receive regular information on policies and procedures. They are not a SCHOOL council if they don’t help to build partnerships with teachers, staff, principals and their community. The word is SCHOOL.

When SCHOOL councils work effectively, they are able to determine how to meet the needs of their whole community. Information workshops, sharing parent/guardian ideas and talents, developing resources for home and school, involving parents/guardians in training on new methods in education, finding numerous ways to communicate with each other, and building ways to problem-solve school issues are all within the purview of councils. This is part of what Dr. Karen Mapp encourages in building the capacity of parents to support their children’s education. (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/14/11/building-capacity-family-engagement) I believe that this is the intent of SCHOOL councils.

All parties need to understand that the word ‘partnership’ is a fundamental building block supporting the intent of SCHOOL councils. Ignore this and we’ll only have “parent” councils. And then our aim of improving student achievement will not be fully realized.

Words are cheap when they aren’t respected or understood by the user or receiver. But when the correct words and their intent are realized, they can be powerful. Great things may happen when everyone involved in a common cause are on the same page. Remember this when writing articles, tweeting, announcing meetings, speaking about your work, and supporting the infinite possibilities of SCHOOL councils.

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Nancy welcomes your feedback and comments here, or you can connect with her on Twitter at @withequalstep

Read, filter, share… repeat.

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I read a few posts this week regarding the “echo chamber” and “filtering” in regards to social media networking and reading information online (via my Twitter feed).  Aviva Dunsiger wrote about the importance of connecting with those who challenge our thinking and present us with new ideas to chew on.  Doug Peterson wrote about reading, accessing, and storing information online and through our social media networks.  He also featured an article that helps the awareness about “snake oil” in a PLN.  The article and Doug’s post offer good guidance about the information we process and who/what we choose to read via social networks.  At the time of my reading it, I found the comments added by Brandon and Lisa very valuable and insightful as well.

I think we all use different strategies to make our online and social media experiences personally suitable and I suspect those strategies change continually — people read and share online for different and varied purposes.  I am not sure what contributes the most to an “echo chamber” — maybe a number of things.  Social media itself keeps changing how information is received and shared as well.  I find I continually reflect why and how I am using social media, as well as about what I share.  I think it is easy for an individual to feel that what they share is not on the radar of anyone and that it would be much easier and more comfortable to just “lurk” and read.  But then does that just allow for the “big” content sharers to keep being the big “content” sharers and/or “thought leaders”?

I think decisions about what to share (of ourselves and of others) is often impacted by a concern about one’s own “brand” and/or about how one might be perceived by others in these spaces.  We could also be very unaware just how much we might miss about a topic or a side to a story, even if we think our networks are diverse and openly sharing.  Also, we all choose how deep we dig into any particular topic or story.  Last week I read this article and interview with Gabor Maté, “How Capitalism Makes Us Sick”.  His points about the internet caused me to ponder.  For example,

And the Internet, whether it’s the amount of information or the way it’s accessible, it may actually be causing people to remain more on the surface than actually digging into ideas.”

So with that and add in the possible pressures to be positive and considerate about a reputation in social media, such as suggested in this article, it does make we wonder a lot about what we are tailoring and filtering for and of ourselves in these spaces.

I guess we are all still figuring it out… as users, learners, networkers, promoters, and products in online/social media spaces. It’s complicated for adults too. Or is it just me? If anyone reads this to the end… :)

 

 

Innovation for Learning?

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I have been reading with interest this week regarding an Innovation Forum that is being hosted by the Thames Valley District School Board.  There is a description of it on the board’s website,

Parents, students, teachers and community members will gather for a unique public forum aimed at questioning whether schools are preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s economy.

Today I read this article about it in the district’s local newspaper, “Students bored out of their minds”.  It has generated a number of comments.  Tony Wagner will be presenting via videoconference and it sounds like it will be a good discussion and it will engage many education stakeholders.

In a previous blog post, I included a mention and an article about Tony Wagner’s work,

A recent Wall Street Journal article by Tony Wagner about his examination of what helped students become innovators caught my attention.  He interviewed innovators and their parents, teachers and employers.  He concluded that the most important research finding was that innovators are intrinsically motivated.  He also noted that his interviews with parents of today’s innovators revealed some fascinating patterns, “They valued having their children pursue a genuine passion above their getting straight As, and they talked about the importance of “giving back.” As their children matured, they also encouraged them to take risks and learn from mistakes.”  As Wagner concluded, “There is much that all of us stand to learn from them.”

Of course, the reference to intrinsic motivation interested me.  I wonder if it will be a part of the discussion at this forum.  The questions that I ended that blog post with are still ones that I have:

Do schools accept, encourage, and allow parents to support their kids in these ways?  Are we examining and communicating what supports these kind of things? Are we looking in the right direction?

Parents at the Table

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There is often concern about the parents who are present and heard “at the table”.  It may be easy to dismiss the voices of those who “show up” by saying they are just a vocal minority and/or not “representative” of the parent community or district. The avenues for parent input may not appeal to all parents. Who is invited and empowered to participate at the table?  Are those who ask the hard questions or challenge mindsets welcomed and accepted as much as those who agree with staff or support the status quo?  Are voices of dissent engaged, or ignored? What if the ones at the table are really informed or want to be informed about education? Are attempts to reach out to those not present at the table encouraged? How much willingness is there to change and do something different in this regard and who should lead this?

Should the concern be more with why parents are not at the table or leave the table?  Do they come to get informed about the school and get handed a fundraising task instead? Do they come to ask a question or share a thought or idea but others do most of the talking?  Do they come for a first time and not get welcomed or introduced?  Do they come and find the process of the meeting confusing or lacking?  Are they invited in the first place?

Maybe parent groups should not be involved at all in aspects of school planning and governance, but would that really be ideal?  I continue to believe that there is much to be gained from parent perspectives and consultation on different matters.  I think good leadership and facilitation skills can help ensure good outcomes, but it does take time and commitment.

I am no longer involved with school councils or parent committees, but I have been a member on a number of different school councils and I have dialogued with many parent members of school councils and parent groups locally and provincially over the span of many years… but maybe I am still missing something on all this.

A recent blog post by George Couros directed my attention to the Ontario’s Leadership Framework.  George is doing a series of posts to examine its components.  In this post he focused on: Building Relationships and Developing People.  Some of the strategies in the framework extend to parents as well.  George included a mention about “critical conversations”:

Once we start to build relationships and show people that they are valued, it is important that we are open to having critical conversations.  People are less likely to challenge and feel comfortable being challenged if they don’t feel valued.  This is highlighted a couple of places in the document:

  • School leaders will…demonstrate respect for staff, students and parents by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas, and genuinely considering their value.
  • School leaders will…establish norms in the school that demonstrate appreciation for constructive debate about best practices.”

In this post, Developing the Organization, George included some statements about parent engagement vs. parent empowerment.

As it should be, tapping into our parent community is expected under the framework…”

**Please read his post for his elaboration on this.

Another question might be:  Are parents at the table because the school culture is not open and transparent, or are they there because it is?  How might “the tables” differ? Are the relationships and participation improved if the principal is “leading from a transparent place”? (See this article, “How Transparency Can Transform School Culture”.)

Also from the Ontario Leadership Framework document, a mention about a meaningful role for school councils:


 

 

 

 

 

Some encouraging stuff.

 

 

Adjusting the sail…

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I am not sure why this song became a bedtime lullaby at our house in the day. I did enjoy Karla Bonoff’s singing of it myself for many years. I doubt I sang it that well, but one’s own kids don’t usually mind, right? I still find it soothing. I found myself listening to it yesterday. It has been many years since we tucked our girls in with a song and a story. I am now officially a parent of adult children. Yesterday our oldest boarded a flight to a much bigger city – first time by herself. Tomorrow our youngest has a driving lesson…  Yes, the days of parenting can seem long… the years go by fast, but yet I feel like we are still navigating wide new waters as parents and providing different supports. We gradually cross less and less water with them, but still provide paddles and sails as needed. It is a different part of the voyage, but it can still feel right too.

The water is wide…

Parent Engagement — By way of resources or a conversation?

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A recent conversation with a few people led me to some thinking about the various parent engagement resources that have been created by Ontario education organizations.  Since the Ontario Parent Engagement Policy was released, a number of resources have been created for parent groups, school councils and school staff.

The province’s principal associations created one in partnership with the Ministry of Education.  On the Ontario Principals’ Council website it states that the purpose of the guide is to assist and support school administrators in the implementation of the Ministry of Education’s policy.  The link to that guide and a web conference PowerPoint can be found here.

Ontario’s Council of Directors of Education (CODE) also created some parent engagement resources in partnership with the Ministry of Education.  They include parent toolkits and guides for school groups.  It was a little difficult to find the resources on their site at first, but they are linked here.  From the home page, I was able to find a link to CODE’s most recently developed resource – a parent toolkit focused on relationships.  It also has an associated guidebook for parents and schools.  There are messages listed for various stakeholders, as well an invites for feedback on the resources near the bottom of the page here.

These resources are all quite good and offer a breadth of options.  My question:  Are they being used?  Are they being distributed to schools, committees, and/or staff?  If so, who is facilitating their use?  There are suggestions for how parent groups could use them, as well as staff.  Do they remain mostly as optional resources?  Is more training or time required to use them more effectively?  Are they about the topics that parents want?  I often hear that the Ministry’s Guidebook for School Councils is too extensive and overwhelming — what about these other resources?  Has each organization defined and supported parent engagement in a unique way?

I know there are other guides and resources created by other education and community organizations in Ontario as well.  Are there some that are used more than others?  Are there other approaches that should be considered in parent engagement?  Should social media be given more attention and consideration instead?  Consider this post and this post.

Should the way parents are included in education conversations and topics be considered more?  Today I read a new appeal from Stephen Hurley regarding effective professional learning.  He invites dialogue and sharing from others to dig in deeper to describe what professional learning means and what makes it effective.  A few of his questions also ask consideration of students and the parent community,

As an administrator, what learning experiences have enabled you to create the environments that support your educators, your students and your parent community?

Inviting students and parents into the conversation, what types of Professional Learning experiences have educators in your life talked about as being particularly effective? What changes in practice have you noticed that might be attributed to these experiences? What educational learning conferences or events have drawn you into these conversations alongside educators?

Please share if you have had good outcomes with using a resource or would like to suggest a good resource.  Who led the use of a resource or workshop?  Where do you think the focus should be — resources/guides or conversations? Both? Other?

As I was writing these thoughts, I saw Donna Miller Fry tweet out this from a session she was attending.  I was intrigued and I hope she will elaborate or give examples on it further.

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If you look for it…

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I enjoy and appreciate some of the “viral” videos that have great messages, songs, or provide a good chuckle.  I also enjoy finding a video that someone created to music just to be creative and/or express a message that is important to them and probably not with the intent for it to become “viral” — just tucked away on the internet.

One of my favourite songs by Melanie Safka is Beautiful People, which led me to come across a video that someone created to the original song (there are many others to that song as well). The people of all ages and the scenes featured from around the world in this one are beautiful and powerful. The creator of the video ends it with a slide with the following quote as well:

“Listen with ears of tolerance! See through the eyes of compassion! Speak with the language of love.” ~ Rumi

I appreciated the messages in her images and video and wanted to post and share to my blog:

 

This video recording of Melanie performing the song live quite some time ago is the gem I was looking for :

 

 

 

 

 

 

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