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 :

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Voice and choice

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I adjusted my time using social media when summer arrived and even more when the weather finally felt like summer.  But as August creeped up, I have been dipping back into the social media sharing and news more.  With recent events and news in our communities and our world, I do appreciate that I can sign into Twitter and catch more perspectives on events and issues.  But there has been a lot to take in lately, if one chooses to take it in through these spaces.  So I am plopping down some thoughts in reflection… many of which I am sure have been said before by others.

I have no doubt that social media has impacted how we choose to communicate, if not what we communicate and with whom.  I think it has also impacted how we process and react to events and news – positive and negative.  It is not hard to pick up on the dissatisfaction that occurs when some don’t like what others are posting (or not posting) into the timelines on Twitter.  There is often debate about how Twitter should (or should not) be used, and there seems to be no shortage of articles suggesting ways to use social media better to increase one’s influence, etc.

But really, I don’t think anyone can tell another how they must use Twitter or other social media platforms.  Each platform does have its own “psychology” and communication norms which can impact how users share and behave, but I think it is important to remember that our experiences and perceptions of social media can be impacted by those we follow/friend and what we attend to.  We can choose or adjust our experiences and time in these spaces.  I can understand that can be easier said than done.  I get that these online connections can build and lead to close relationships.  I can understand that there may be pressure in maintaining a network to support our work and purpose.  These pressures exist for adults and youth, I believe.  But in the end, we still have many choices in this experience and in these spaces.  We may have to accept that we can’t tell someone how to use or what to share on social media any more than we can tell someone how to live their life.  It has been reassuring to see some response in this regard from some social media platforms and representatives in some situations.

However, I find it most unfortunate that there are individuals who may decide that the best choice is to stop using social media completely.  I can respect that — there are some horrendous stories.  Choice and adjustment of one’s network and sharing may not be enough to feel safe and comfortable or worthwhile for some.  I hope such situations lessen ahead, but I am not sure how confident I am that they will.  It can seem so complicated at times.

Some other related reading that helped me think about voice and choice:

Web Trolls Winning as Incivility Increases   (NY Times article)

Important Voices (blog post by Mark Carbone)

 

Parent Engagement: Ledger or Leverage?

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I suppose the examination of where parents best fit in terms of involvement in education and schools will always continue — as will the debate about it.  Larry Ferlazzo recently linked an interesting post to his blog.  Its title was blunt and bold regarding a question about parents: Assets or Liabilities?  Please read Larry’s commentary and further information on his post.

Since reading the post, I have been monitoring the comments on it.  It certainly got some reaction and response.  There are some good insights shared there, including some dialogue about summer learning loss.

I particularly liked a comment added by Diana Senechal:

This issue is not monolithic. It makes a great difference how old, mature, and academically advanced the student is. A high school teacher (and parents of high school students) must find a mean between recognizing the student’s growing independence and providing the instruction, structure, and help that he or she needs. There is no fixed ideal here–but basic communication, sensitivity, and goodwill go a long way.

I tend to feel awed by the parents–not being one myself and recognizing that it is a round-the-clock commitment that changes in nature and intensity over time but does not end. I have difficulty picking up the phone (to call anyone, not just parents) after teaching 170 students in a single day; I am far from perfect in that regard. I do make phone calls when necessary, and I keep parents updated by email. I know I could potentially do more.

I have dreamed of bringing parents, students, and teachers together for intellectual discussion, and this has started to happen. Two years ago, I started holding philosophy roundtables for parents–where they would discuss texts and ideas from the students’ philosophy classes. These events caught on and expanded to include students, staff, and outside guests. In June 2013, fifteen students led a roundtable attended by over thirty people; people were amazed by the quality, dignity, and liveniness of the discussion. We continue to hold roundtables every few months and to have a crowning student-led event at the end of the year. The parents’ participation throughout the year has been wonderful.”

I appreciated her respectful and honest comments about parents and her own reality, as well as the efforts and idea she shared about roundtable events that engaged parents in student-led discussions at the high school level.  Parent interest can be very topic and dialogue driven and I think it is important to tap into that.  It may or may not be what is desired in parent engagement, but it is often an entry point for parent participation.  Parent engagement initiatives may not directly involve students very often and it may not be their responsibility or interest, but I would think there would be many appropriate ways to welcome their leadership and ideas in age-appropriate ways.  Asking them in itself would show respect for parents and adults in their lives, I think.  Assets, not liabilities.

Please share any examples where student ideas were invited and/or students had a role in a parent engagement plan or initiative – school or district level.  What were the outcomes?

 

 

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