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


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…


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?


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.






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 :







Governance Roles of School/Parent Councils

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I found this article about school councils in Australia interesting.  The role of school councils in Ontario is often discussed and it was interesting to compare.  This article outlines new “sweeping reforms” for school councils after “two long-awaited reviews” of their roles.  Their Minister of Education is quoted,

We’ve got a range of school councils that are extremely effective, but their actual governance … is actually very shallow. So we’re giving them a deeper role in a whole range of educational aspects in the school.”

The article mentions the controversy and tension surrounding the changes, especially in regards to performance of principals:

The government considered giving school councils full authority to hire and fire principals, but decided against it, averting a major backlash ahead of November’s poll.  But in another move that has already proved contentious, council presidents – who are usually parents – will be able to take part in the performance management of principals, advising the education department on how they are faring and what could be improved.  School councils will also provide feedback on the delivery of the school strategy, a move critics fear could lead to some principals being unfairly punished if there are personality clashes with council members.”

The article states that school councils in Australia have three broad responsibilities:  Overseeing the school budget, strategic planning, and implementing policies.  It also states, “But the way they operate varies depending on the school and the level of expertise on each council.”  Ontario school councils don’t have those responsibilities, but the statement about the variance in the way they operate would still apply, I think.  Ontario school councils can advise on many educational areas, but do not have the “powers” that are mentioned for the Australian school councils.  I am not sure I fully understand the context, but the reference to merging and sharing supports and expertise sounds interesting.  These responsibilities and options seem more aligned with Ontario’s boards of elected trustees though, not school councils.  It was the intent initially that members of the school council would be “elected” by the school community, but again, various operations across council groups.

Ontario school councils can give input regarding the expertise and a “profile” of a principal that they believe would be suitable to their school community, but it remains just that: input and advice to senior administration to consider in the placement of principals.  I suspect that participation and interest in that process varies across Ontario’s schools.  The adjustment to the Australian approach became “advice and feedback” (not decision-making) which is more similar to the Ontario role in this area.

There are a number of roles that school boards and staff are required to support school councils in doing, but they are often not activities that the school council membership is interested in and/or feels prepared or supported to participate in.

I am no longer directly involved with school councils, but I still wonder if changes will ever come for their role in Ontario.  People for Education initiated a dialogue in this regard, but I am still left feeling that it is a topic that few want to dig in deep about, let alone lead a full review.  But where does that leave parents if that is the only formal structure in place to help them be informed about education and have input?  If the input isn’t being supported or facilitated to be beneficial, should there be adjustments to the role and membership structure?  Parents don’t have a lot of choice in education settings and matters, so I still think it is important to support their participation in meaningful, appropriate, and respectful ways.  Some barriers and uncertainty remain, I sense though.



Communicating With Parents: Posts and Resources

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I often forget which of my past blog posts covered communication with parents more specifically, so I am pulling some together in this post.  I hope this might be useful for communication plans for schools, principals, and teachers.  Each post links to other writers on the topic.  Communication is key to parent engagement and support, as well as being aware of the “messages” that are being sent in the way communication occurs.

Educators and Parents: Communication and Conversations

Parent Communication in Education

Is the message in the medium?

Also, a guest post I wrote for principals which focuses on communication:

A Principal’s Map For Parent Involvement

This is another good one for principals via ASCD: Connecting with Parents: Five Tips for Principals

Larry Ferlazzo has also been gathering ideas to help teachers with communication with parents at the beginning of the school year.  There are good examples in his post that should help get the school year off to a good start and sustain further positive communication with parents.

Parent groups and associations also facilitate good communications with parents, so I encourage connecting with those efforts in your local area as well.

There are many other good resources available on this topic.  I will add others as I come across them.  I welcome your posts, resources, and ideas for communication strategies with parents and families in your school community.

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