A blog series for and by parents

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This article was shared by a few I follow on Twitter: Parent Involvement in Schools Matters: A Teacher’s Perspective.  It is from the “Smart Parents” blog series, an initiative in the U.S. welcoming stories for and by parents about student support and education involvement.  Larry Ferlazzo posted information about it on his blog.  Although the author of this article referred to parent involvement, I think she still captured what many view as “parent engagement”,

Success happens when families, students and educators work together and holistically approach a child’s education, focusing on a child’s academic, social, and emotional needs.”

The article ends with suggestions to create meaningful parental involvement in schools.

The first one listed is, “Join the PTA.. or not“.  I found the elaboration interesting, given some recent conversations and posts about Ontario’s school councils,

Join if you have time and the desire, you can see how that goes. But don’t be certain that just because you are part of the PTA, you are having the right conversations. The PTA could also be a lot of organizing and planning that could distract from larger conversations that push the school to be better.”

The remaining suggestions include:

  • Get to know the teacher(s)
  • Talk to other parents at the school
  • Get knowledgeable about policy
  • Go to school board meetings
  • Become a mentor

Examples and rationale are given for each of those suggestions as well.  This list might be a good conversation starter with parents and parent groups.  Would there be agreement with them all?  There may be differences of opinion, but all of the suggestions could each be an “entry point” for parents.  Sometimes it seems to me that parent engagement expectations often “come with a catch”.  Although the list seems a bit like telling parents, it does seem for parents and respectful of parent involvement within the context of education as a whole.

There is more information in the article about submissions to this series.  I wondered how the title of the initiative/series, “Smart Parents”, would be received by parents.  It looks like articles will continue to be posted here and there is also a hashtag: #smartparents

Is there anything similar to this in Canada?

Appointed vs. Elected School Boards

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I got curious about an active hashtag on Twitter last night: #ElectedBoardNow

From what I could determine, Chicago’s school district has been in debate about appointed vs. elected school boards.  Currently and for some time now, the mayor has had the power to appoint school board members to 4-year terms, but recently there have been opponents and challenge for change.  From this article about the debate,

Many Chicagoans are unhappy with the condition of the city’s public schools and all four of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s opponents support a change to the 20-year-old referendum giving the mayor power to appoint school board members to four-year terms.”

I found it interesting that the mayor is also held accountable for school performance.  I can’t claim to understand the complete context and process there, but there were good points made about pros and cons of both appointed and elected boards.  The main issue was well described in that article, I thought:

The main issue seems to be the balance between keeping the community’s concerns and involvement at the forefront of educational policy while simultaneously ensuring that the board has diverse and qualified members.”

This article covered the debate well too, and includes a link to a report done by the University of Illinois:

The report calls for an elected, representative school board in the city, though researchers acknowledged that there is “no guarantee” educational policies will become more equitable or effective after such a switch.”

That article also mentions their local school councils, with the current mayor maintaining that “the city does have elected school boards in the form of Local School Councils (LCS).”  That statement was also challenged referring to the undermining and lack of “power” of the LCS.

But back to the updates via the hashtag: Elected School Board referendum wins by a landslide.

The discussions and debate about Ontario’s elected boards of trustees have quieted some, but the Chicago situation got me thinking… Ontario’s school councils are supposed to be elected, but often aren’t, and may or may not have governing bylaws.  Ontario’s Parent Involvement Committees can be elected or appointed, and are more likely to have bylaws (being board level committees).  Ontario’s boards of trustees are elected and have extensive governance processes to follow.  I referred to their governance guides in a previous post.

It can easily seem like a lot of inconsistency and politics and it leaves me wondering where elections matter and where they don’t… if governance matters more… and who is accountable to and for what?

Who wants to follow up on Chicago ahead?

Cows and Elephants in Education

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I enjoyed this ASCD EDge article that listed and described of number of “sacred cows” in education settings and conversations.  The author included:

  • Assessment
  • Collaboration
  • Communication with Family and Stakeholders
  • Grading Practices
  • Homework
  • Learning Space
  • Professional Development
  • School Schedule
  • Summer School

It’s a good list.  Schooling sure has created a lot of topics for debate :)  These topics are also frequently discussed and debated by educators and parents in my Twitter network.

The article also offers an approach to opening up the conversation about these sacred cow areas, as follows:

Questions for School Staff To Consider:

1.  What are the “Sacred Cows” in our school?

2. When do we plan to schedule time to discuss the “Sacred Cows”?

3.  Is it unsafe to address “Sacred Cows” in our school?

4.  What is the protocol for discussing “Sacred Cows”?

5.  Are there “Sacred Cows” that are preventing our school from supporting all students?

It can seem that there are “sacred cows” and elephants in the room for every group, staff, and stakeholder in education.  All “levels” may be faced with them.  I think this list and the guiding questions might be helpful for parent groups and meetings as well.  Talking with parents will lead to insights as to how policies made in many of these areas are affecting students.  I suspect that the sacred cows and elephants are similar and present in those rooms too.  The worry about getting bulled over or stomped on is understandable, but what if you care more…?  Consider this post: We don’t care enough to give you constructive feedback (Seth’s Blog).  Change requires some challenging of ideas, but it can still be respectful.  Chris Wejr captured that well in his post, Challenge Me.  If the cows and elephants are avoided too much, this may be more of a concern (Why schools are in trouble when the most honest conversations occur in parking lots by Dennis Sparks).

Feel free to share any successes with an approach in this regard.

The always controversial “RT”

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If you use Twitter for education connecting, learning, and conversations, you have likely read some of the blog posts that are circulating regarding some concern about being “connected” in education.  There seems to be some disappointment with “Personal Learning Networks” (PLNs) and some examination about how social media is being used for education networking, sharing, promoting, etc.

I have been reading some of the posts and trying to understand what the main concern and conflicts are.  I haven’t shared or commented on the posts — these are networks that I am not really a part of and I see the posts via an “RT” usually.  I see educators using Twitter this way and that way, just as I see many people and organizations using it different ways.  It can be easy to wonder who is actually reading and learning via Twitter and blogs and not just posting their own links, status updates, and news.  People will use it as they wish, want different things from it, just as people will read, share, “RT”, and ignore different things.

I wonder if some of the disappointment has to do with the expectations that one has coming into Twitter and building a PLN.  Do some want to be a “rock star” for many, while some just want to be rock for a few, or connect and share within a smaller network or community?  Doug Peterson posted today and shared some aspects of this topic and conversation.  I appreciated his reflection, as well as Tom Whitby’s post regarding “RTing” that Doug linked and reflected on.

Being someone who tweets and blogs mostly about parent roles in education, I knew I would never be a top tweeter or receiver of RTs, and I didn’t expect or want to be.  I have read some concerns about the lack of comments on blogs, while some don’t even get many views of a post.  I rarely have a blog post that gets over 100 views, but after 115 posts and 4 years later, I still post.  I think I am waning though, but that is both about me and what I have learned about social media.

The post of mine that got the most views on a single day is not one that is necessarily my best or most thought provoking.  I know it got those views because somehow it got on the radar of an educator with many followers.  That one day.. that one tweet (and no, I didn’t RT it).  The person has never shared another post of mine that I am aware of… the numbers would have told me :).  I do understand the frustration with people RTing people (and the same people more), instead of it being about the ideas (even if only a perception).  Do the “influencers” who are well established in networks understand the perspectives and actions of others who are trying to find purpose and value in the use of social media?

People “RTing” their own compliments and the tweets of others who have shared their posts can bother me too.  But when I see that many people seldom get their tweets or posts shared/RT’d, I can understand why they might use a different strategy, even it if appears self-promotional.  These spaces and the hierarchies that still exist within them affect our choices and conduct.  I don’t think there is a science or perfect protocol for it all.  I don’t know… but just thought I would write about my perspective and observations.  I don’t claim to understand it all either.

The trustee – parent connection in #onted

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There has been a fair bit of discussion about the role and relevancy of education trustees in Ontario lately.  There are many questions, if not confusion, about their role and purpose.  The topic can get quite complex and it is not an easy discussion.  I suspect there is something unique about the culture of every single board of trustees that is in place at each of Ontario’s 72 school boards.  I don’t know the answers regarding what they should be doing, or if they should exist or not.  How can an unbiased discussion about alternatives occur? How can the discussion be kept to be about the role, and not personalities and politics?

One argument I often read and hear in favour of keeping trustees is that they are the “voice” of parents and the community — that an important link or “level” would be lost without them.  I recently read an article that suggested that the newly established ombudsman oversight of school boards may not be necessary because trustess are part of the support network for parents.  There is a guidebook about the elected role, as well as a new governance guide which can be accessed from the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association’s website here.  These guides do mention school councils and parent involvement committees in regards to how a trustee can be connected to their communities — how it is done can vary.  From the 2014 Governance Guide, Ch. 4, The Role of School Board Trustees, under “Political Accountability” (p. 43):

Individual trustees interpret “representing their community” in different ways. Some community members expect a trustee to be very active, others do not. Because Ontario’s communities are so diverse, the job of school trustee varies widely. What all trustees do have in common is serving the community as elected representatives while focusing on the primary task of acting as members of a board that makes policy decisions, oversees curriculum and program delivery and fulfils its responsibilities as an employer.”

Chapter 11 is titled and covers, “Working with School Council, Parent Involvement Committees, and Communities”.  There is one specific section with suggestions as to how they “can” do so (I am uncertain if they must):

How Trustees Can Support and Promote the Parent and Community Voice

Trustees can support the work of school councils and parent involvement committees by:

  • promoting the value of school councils and PICs to the community;
  • facilitating communication among school councils within the trustee’s area;
  • helping to establish contacts between councils and their communities and between councils and the board’s PIC;
  • providing a communication link among school councils, the PIC and the board;
  • ensuring that the board establishes policies for school councils, in consultation with school councils;
  • ensuring that school councils are able to provide input into the development of board policies related to the areas listed in Ontario Regulation 612/00;
  • ensuring the board reports back to school councils or the PIC on the actions taken by the board in response to advice provided by school councils or the PIC (Note: Boards are not bound by school council or PIC recommendations, but they are required to report back on actions taken or not taken.);
  • evaluating the board’s method of reporting back to school councils;
  • making school councils and the PIC aware of relevant board policies;
  • ensuring that all those who are involved with school councils and the PIC work within the provisions of the regulations and any applicable board policies; and
  • promoting and encouraging collaborative relationships among the board, school councils, the PIC, and the broader school community.

It is a long list, but there is a focus on communication and consultation.  While there is a requirement for one trustee to be a member on the school board level PIC, the role they are to have isn’t clearing specified in the PIC regulations.  They cannot be members on a school council and their role and expected relationship with these school level committees seems less specified.  Also, in the list above, one bullet suggests that they can ensure that all those involved with school councils and the PIC work “within the provisions of the regulations and any applicable board policies“.  Do they?  Should they?  Is it okay if they don’t, or only connect with those committees that do, or are able to do?  A few of my previous posts have highlighted the conversations and debates about the roles of school councils and what they should be doing.  If these committees are the suggested avenue for trustees to represent parent voice and facilitate communication, how should they be supported to also be an effective representation of parents? Are there other avenues for trustees to do this effectively and broadly?

Are there some actions on this list that are more effective in supporting “the work” of school councils and PICs than others? Is the list fair? Honest answers might be difficult, but those are my questions in regards to one aspect of the role.

That science project photo

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There is a photo that makes a statement about science projects and science fairs that often circulates on social media.  It always leaves me feeling a bit frustrated.  I can understand its appeal though — who can’t relate to the frustration as a parent about science projects, especially if it takes up family time at home?  Same with science fairs — plenty of possible issues, frustrations, and competition.  And I understand that the popular photo gets a chuckle and is shared for a chuckle.  But yet the full story behind it doesn’t often get linked with it.  This is an article with the photo of the “project” and the reason and creator behind it.

Also in that article there is an appeal and suggestions for change or alternatives.  That is what I find encouraging to read. I also know there are people working to change approaches to project-based learning, inquiry, science, homework practices, and also science fairs.

In a recent exchange on Twitter regarding that photo and its statements, I had replied that it didn’t have to be that way — it just takes leadership and some adjustments.  I have been fortunate in the past to be involved with such efforts in my local area.  For ten years, my husband and I participated in the planning and organizing of our region’s science fair.  The main reason we signed up for the committee was to help lessen the focus on competing and make it more fun and enjoyable for kids.  Our community was very excited about science and scientific discovery and was going to support and sponsor the science fair whether we were involved or not, so.. we committed to the volunteer role.

It was great to work with a number of other educators and community members with the same interest.  We made changes and added activities to the science fair to make it fun and friendly and not just about winning.  There remains the more competitive aspect, but in our local experience, there were students who were certainly up for the challenges of that and they were doing the work, not their parents.  We hoped that we had been a part of making it a science fair for all who participated.

I also saw leadership at the school level with integrating science and a project through other subjects and during school time — and not about sending the project home to complete.  Even as parents, we still have a choice as to how much we involve ourselves in that or not.  It is possible for the science project to be a part of math and language activities, instead of another “add-on” in a teacher’s workload.  Again, it can happen with leadership, support, and vision at the school and district level.  Did “everyone hate the science fair”?  I don’t think so.

One can also do an internet search for “non-competitive science fairs”.  A number of resources and ideas can be found.  I found this rationale and this resource in a quick search.

I welcome other stories or resources on this topic.

 

Parent group activities: “Top down vs. bottom up”

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In a recent guest post, Nancy Angevine-Sands shared her thoughts about the importance of referring to the school level parent groups in Ontario as “school councils” (as per regulation) instead of “parent councils”.  A good response and discussion continued in the comments and on Twitter.  The post also started some dialogue in the comments about whether there should be adjustments or a review of Ontario’s school council mandate.  This is not a new topic.  People for Education released a report in 2013 and started a discussion on the same.

Through my Twitter list of “parent/education advocates”, I follow a number of people and organizations outside of Ontario.  Through their twitter account (@parents_sptc), I recently had a closer look at the website of the “Scottish Parent Teacher Council”.  It is stated that they are the only national membership organization for parents and that any parent-led group can join.  My next click was to the menu of “Popular Resources”.  One that I found particular helpful and interesting was, “A User’s Guide to a Parent Council”.  The first “FAQ” answered was, “Do we have to have a parent council?”.  I thought it was interesting about the reference to the “Parent Forum”:

It is up to the Parent Forum whether they want a Parent Council.  A Parent Forum is made up of all the parents with a child at the school so all parents are automatically members.  The Parent Forum is the body who should appoint the Parent Council to run matters on its behalf, and they also have the right to decide on their constitution.  This should be done at an Annual General Meeting.”

The next question was, “Does every school have a parent council?”.  It clarified that most do but that they can name them anything the wish to, “Some groups have decided to use another name for their Parent Council and there is nothing to stop you doing this.  We have heard of Parent Partnerships, School Associations and Friends of …”

The remaining information covers expectations, responsibilities, duties, and accountability.  There is much that is similar to Ontario’s legislated school council membership rules and roles, but I noted another difference: “The duties of a Parent Council are not laid down in legislation so it is up to each Parent Forum to decide what they want their PC to do.  This should be detailed in the constitution.”

It is also stated that the first duty of the Parent Council is to represent the views of the parents at the school.  It also provides a list of examples of things that a PC could get involved in:

  • Supporting the work of the school, for example, by advising the school on its policies
  • Being involved in the appointment of senior staff
  • Organising social and fundraising events
  • Promoting contact between all parents and the rest of the school community
  • Discussing anything that’s of interest to parents

The “Top tips for parent councils” link is quite good too and could be helpful for any parent group.  Although the name of the parent group is flexible, as well as the activities they participate in, I like that it suggests that these decisions should include all parents at the school and that the active group must report and communicate to all their parents.

I don’t know what the successes and challenges actually are in Scotland’s school level parent groups, but it was interesting to compare the information there with Ontario’s more prescriptive legislation that is currently in place for all schools and its school councils.  The approach and activities of school level parent groups outlined for Scottish state schools are more “bottom up” compared to what Ontario established, while still having similar expectations of being responsive to and inclusive of the school community.  Would a similar model or approach lead to more effectiveness for Ontario’s school councils?

 

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