Achieving Excellence in #OntEd: The parent engagement part

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Ontario’s government released a renewed vision for education today.  I have blogged and reflected in the past about the province’s vision and goals.

The entire vision and associated documents are on the Ministry of Education’s website here:

In my previous and related post, I focused on one (of three) of the priorities, “Increased public confidence in publicly funded education”.  From the website at the time (two years ago):

“Our goal is to create strong community-school partnerships and to make publicly funded schools the schools of choice for all parents. We are promoting two-way communication with the public and strengthening the role of schools in communities. By engaging the public and working collaboratively with school boards across the province, we are building a supportive learning environment.”

The renewed vision, “Achieving Excellence” continues to build on the three current priorities but reaches “deeper and broader”.

The four renewed goals are now listed as:

  • Achieving Excellence
  • Ensuring Equity
  • Promoting Well-Being
  • Enhancing  Public Confidence

Once again, I took a closer look at what was outlined in the “Enhancing Public Confidence” portion of the document.  It stated that “Parent Involvement Committees are ensuring that the parent perspective is incorporated into provincial policies”.  Also stated was, “We need to consider how to give more parents opportunities to engage in their child’s learning in the future” and also, “…we must continue to explore new and creative avenues for parents to engage in their child’s learning.”

There are plans of action provided for each goal.  Under “Enhancing Public Confidence“, here is one bullet pertaining more specifically to parent engagement:

  • Foster increased parent engagement through ongoing communication about what their children are doing in school and how parents, guardians and caregivers can further contribute to their learning.

I trust we will see more details and initiatives ahead for all four goals… what will be built upon and what will be promoted and enhanced.  Also, please share if you have examples of how the PIC in your district, as a committee as a whole or beyond, ensured the incorporation of parent perspectives into provincial policies.

Homework: Assigned or a consequence of…?

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I feel reluctant to post about homework.  There are already so many good blog posts, articles and Twitter chats that have covered and debated the issues well in regards to homework.  However, I particularly appreciated a recent post by John Spencer, a teacher and parent.  I think he really did a great job at presenting and examining the main arguments about homework in his list, “Five False Claims About Homework”.  After reading it I thought, “There… no need to read or write anything else on the topic.” (Please read it in full before reading on :) )

John’s summary near the end reminded me about something that I had wondered about lately –  Has there been enough discussion or distinction made about “homework as a consequence of seatwork not being done in class” as opposed to “assigned homework”.  Like John, I can understand the considerations that a teacher has to make when a student doesn’t use class time well,

I see a place for homework in some circumstances. If the parents really want it and the child really needs it, then it can be seen as an extra support. Also, if a kid is being lazy in class and wasting time, I can see why a teacher would say, “Go finish this at home. You’ve already used up your free time goofing off at school.” However, I don’t see the need to give every child homework. 

I would hope that a conversation between home and school would occur if the latter scenario was ongoing, even though not the easiest to address.  I often recall being confused by the amount of “finish up” and “seatwork” kind of homework my own children would bring home when they were younger.  It was not always the same amount as some of their friends had.  Although I did not receive feedback that my children were goofing off during class time, I am sure they may have at times.  It was through dialogue with them that I learned that there were often class assignments that they just preferred to do at home.  I often thought it was “the introvert” in them and they did describe feeling that they needed their home space to complete the work, or that they couldn’t focus on it in class/in school any longer.  I often wondered if they had been sitting too long and thus their concentration was affected as well.  Given that I was not in support of homework, this presented some challenge for me while still supporting them and their needs.  I knew that the classroom environment was not going to change much in their present situation at the time.  It wasn’t easy to sort all this out as a parent.

It also can’t be easy to create a classroom environment that can balance the needs and expectations for both quiet and active activities and school work.  This article was shared on Twitter a lot recently, “Why do we make students sit still in class?”  There is plenty of “why” to consider in this aspect of school, as with many.  Is there simply just too much “seatwork” – in class and with what is sent home (for whatever reason)?  How much homework is active?

 

 

Dancing in the Dark — Then and Now

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Another day of snow in spring… maybe a music-related blog post will help (also stealing an idea and theme from Doug Peterson’s blog.)

I often enjoy “covers” of songs, especially when new musicians refresh some of my favourites.  It leads to a lot of conversation, discovery and comparison in my household.  My youngest recently told me that one of her teachers referred to “that dancing in the dark song”.  She noticed a few of her classmates looking a bit surprised so she clarified for the teacher, “I think she means the song by Bruce Springsteen…”.  Apparently there is another song about dancing in the dark….

I know that my youngest would be familiar with the Springsteen original as we have showed her and her sister the popular video where Courtney Cox joins him on stage.  Perhaps “staged”, but if you would like to enjoy again (direct link, if viewing is not available):

 

 

But it is through my daughter’s interest in Laura Marling’s music that brought my attention to this cover of Dancing in the Dark:

 

I really do like it – maybe even more than the original by Springsteen.  On Doug’s post, he invited us to vote for Springsteen’s recent cover of a Bee Gees song or for their original.  I am going to be lazy and skip a poll, but feel free to comment as you wish or mention your favourite cover, or any cover that you find particularly well done.  It might help us all pass this extra long winter :)

And I must say, I do like how social media and youtube seem to help connect my children to our “old stuff” … rather than us just pushing our vinyl records at them. :)

Those “pesky” involved parents…

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An interesting article from The Atlantic this week regarding “a ground-breaking study” on parent involvement.  The title will certainly grab attention: “Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework”.  The subtitle elaborates a bit more, “And other insights from a ground- breaking study of how parents impact children’s academic achievement.”

It is a good read and I appreciate the questions it raises about what we may assume and pursue in regards to parent involvement in education.  I have examined similar points in past blog posts regarding definitions, intents and purposes of parent involvement/engagement.  I found the last paragraph particularly interesting:

All in all, these findings should relieve anxious parents struggling to make time to volunteer at the PTA bake sale. But valuing parental involvement via test scores alone misses one of the ways in which parents most impact schools. Pesky parents are often effective, especially in public schools, at securing better textbooks, new playgrounds, and all the “extras” that make an educational community come to life, like art, music, theater, and after-school clubs. This kind of parental engagement may not directly affect test scores, but it can make school a more positive place for all kids, regardless of what their parents do or don’t do at home. Getting involved in your children’s schools is not just a way to give them a leg up—it could also be good citizenship.

I wish I had written that part myself.  If parent involvement is only looked at in the light of raising test scores or student achievement levels of a district, what is missed out on?  While I don’t think that parents ( i.e. their funds) should be solely relied on to secure the “extras” or that they should only be involved to give their own child the “leg up”, I do believe their time and presence (when/how they can spare it) can contribute to a positive place for all kids, as well as model good citizenship, caring, and community values.  Have measurement and false assumptions got us off track?

Social Media Menus and Venues: Home and School

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I often reflect on my social media “diet”… Is it balanced?  Should I consume more of this and less of that?  What should I skim… what should I take with a grain of salt?  Who should I listen to in regards to what is good or better for me?  Will it be suitable to me?  What am I role modelling for my children?  What do my choices, online activity and interactions say about me?  How and where do I choose to connect with others?

While we find ourselves asking these questions as adults (e.g. check out Bill Ferriter’s post), we are also trying to understand and support what is appropriate for children and teens.  Who should do what to nourish and balance the social media “diets” of our youth?  Where does the guidance start?  Can support in the school environment impact choices and behaviour outside of school?  Which has more influence on the choices and behaviour of youth online - home or school?

A related conversation occurred recently between a few education bloggers about supporting youth with social media.  Aviva Dunsiger started the conversation and wondered where lines could be drawn with using social media for learning and personal interactions,

I think that students need a safe place to make mistakes, and I don’t know that social media provides this safe place.

Maybe we need more candid conversations with students about what tools they’re using, how they’re portraying themselves online, and what to do when problems occur.

Please read her full post and the comments here.

Doug Peterson responded to her questions on his blog with the suggestion that student blogging experiences may address many concerns.  Mark Carbone joined the conversation and added his thoughts further in a post on his blog.

I certainly support Doug’s view that blogs are indeed an excellent starting point.  I also think that  the K12 educational experience needs to move beyond this.

I don’t think one can underestimate the power of positive role modelling.  Do you see this as an opportunity for educators? or perhaps a responsibility?

While following the comments of Aviva, Doug, and Mark on each other’s posts, I noticed a post by William Chamberlain in which he reflected about the value of blogging for students.

Doug also weighed back in on the conversation in a subsequent post and mentioned the research and book by Danah Boyd.  As I think by now, like Doug, we all realized, yes, it really is complicated.  Doug ends with,

If you’re interested in another perspective on networking, then you really owe it to yourself to read this book.  Armed, you’re ready to join the conversation.

I recently wrote a summary about Boyd’s work as well.  I posted it along with some questions for parent input and perspectives in on online forum.  There is a lot to consider and discussion is good.  We can all have good intentions to support our children and youth, but the world of online interactions can get very complicated and confusing.  We are all still figuring out this netiquette – as adults and teens.  It must be difficult for teachers as well.  I often wonder if we may just have to accept inconsistency in this area.  Like choosing our diet and habits, there will be inconsistent and conflicting choices between home and school.  Positive role modelling and support may also be inconsistent from place to place…and online space to online space… and home and school.

I would think it is confusing for parents as well.  How can we consider Danah Boyd’s insight to support and respond appropriately as parents and educators together?  I can understand Aviva’s questioning if the internet is the place to make mistakes, especially when consequences can be harsh, if not unwarranted.  I also think that role modelling by parents is really important.  But like diet and food choices, how much can the school impact behaviour online if the messaging at home is different?  As a parent, I have had more concerns with other parents not monitoring enough than over-monitoring.  I don’t have my children as “friends” on Facebook, but we have frequent conversations about the interactions that transpire in that space, and in others.  Yet, there are always new grey areas to discuss.

Let’s keep talking, sharing, and learning from each other.  You might want to consider joining this online chat or “hangout” on April 3rd that Royan Lee has organized to reflect on Danah Boyd’s book.

Texting, Texting – Take 3

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blog picBetween the time I wrote Teens and Texting Part 1 and Part 2, I wasn’t aware that Psychology Today also published a 3-part series to serve as a parent’s guide to teen texting.  The series covered similar questions and concerns that I had.

Part 1 focused on “dating and talking”.  The author, a therapist who works with adolescents, asserted that “both are influenced by texting and both concepts are not what we adults remember them to be.”  The article provided good insight into how dating and talking may have become redefined with technology.  This segment also explored the impact on teens, as compared to adults.

Part 2 covered distraction aspects of technology and devices and offered some tips to help in this area.

Part 3 is a perspective from a parent and adolescent therapist.  This segment presented some good points about boundaries for texting between parents and children.  Identity and independence are also discussed.

Although the focus of the series is on texting, there has been some recent suggestion that texting is now “so old-school”.  However, children and teens are still using various platforms to instant message privately.  Regardless if it is “Snap Chat” or “Kik”, etc., it is connectivity and communication access that our youth may now have.  Even if parents are more familiar with this communication technology, supporting young people often needs a collaborative effort of parents, educators, and community.

There are many resources and supports available for parents regarding online safety, privacy and social media, but texting and instant messaging are not as public or as easily monitored.  I am not saying that all should be, but I hope the posts and articles that I have shared help awareness and encourage family conversations.  If you have other resources or insights, I welcome contributions and comments.

Parent Engagement by Association

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, research and articles about parent engagement are plentiful and shared frequently on social media and blogs.  Larry Ferlazzo recently brought attention to a new report on parent engagement (EdSource Inc., Feb. 2014) which he posted to his blog.  He mentioned that it was a good summary even though it sourced a lot of research that was from around 10 years ago.  I look forward to Larry’s review of some more recent research, as he mentioned in his post.

Given that Larry believed that this particular report, “The Power of Parents”, could have been THE best overview of research, I saved it for a thorough reading.  As I worked through it, I came across some great points and statements pulled together.  The title itself may deter some readers, but it really wasn’t about parents having power in terms of school improvement or school closures.  Its subtitle is: “Research underscores the impact of parent involvement in schools.”  Although the report reviews research and how it relates to some new mandates in California, there were a number statements and considerations from the report that I think will remain important to parent engagement planning in education.  To list a few:

“Much of the research on parent involvement is written for an academic or policy audience. often in a very abstract terms.” (p. 1)

“The emphasis — and desire — for parent involvement has spawned decades of research that point to a powerful connection between parents’ involvement in their child’s education and a range of other outcomes.  However, although a large number of studies show a positive relationship between student academic outcomes and parent involvement, the relationship is a complex one“. (my bold) (p. 2)

“Outcomes will depend on many factors including the particular way parents are involved, the achievement measures used to measure academic outcomes (e.g., grades or test scores), the academic subjects that are bring measured (e.g., math or reading), and the socioeconomic background of students.” (p. 6)

“Most teachers and administrators would like to involve families, but many do not know how to go about building positive and productive programs and are consequently fearful about trying.” (p. 9)

The report goes into detail about a range of barriers to parent involvement but states that, in light of the barriers, “Principals are key to providing leadership in their schools — including sending the clear message that parents are welcome.” (p. 9).

The report also discusses the multiple ways that the extent and impact of parent engagement could be measured but makes this point, “The challenge for schools is to not get too bogged down in a bureaucratic exercise of tracking and assessing parent involvement at the expense of placing their energies into making it happen in the first place.” (p. 11)

I particularly liked the report’s point about the complexity of parent engagement precluding the drawing of strict cause-effect conclusions.  It goes on to suggest that it makes more sense to discuss outcomes as associated with parent engagement, rather than as causations. (p. 6)  The report provides a good summary of associated outcomes.

The report also lists main conclusions that can be drawn from the examination of the research.  These include the positive impact of parent involvement at home and communication between home and school.  The report also pointed to the case that there is little controlled research existing about the impact of parent involvement in trying to implement or change policies at their school or district through “school site councils, PTAs, or school boards”.  It does not, however, dismiss this kind of involvement and mentions research literature that described and identified impacts and gains of community organizing initiatives in implementing programs and polices at these levels.

In terms of the new laws for reform in California, schools must now get input from parents as to how additional state funds intended for low-income students, English learners and foster children are spent.  Supporters of the new law still cautioned that given the absence of guidance from the state on how to best involve parents and the slow pace of outreach in many areas, districts may not change much in terms of broadening who they engage.  This may be interesting to monitor and assess ahead.  In Ontario, parents do not have a formal or expected role in advising how funding should be spent at school or board level.  They could choose to input in budget areas, but it is not mandated.  The reports ends with a comment on this new law, “Schools could view this requirement as another onerous state mandate — or, as this report indicates, as one that has the potential to yield considerable payoffs to individual students and the entire school community in the short and long term.” (p. 11)

Thank you for reading my reflection on points in the report.

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