As with Part 1 of this series of blog posts, Part 2 continues with the thoughts and visions of other parents regarding parent leadership and parent engagement in education.  This time it is my pleasure to have Heather Robinson (@UberParent), and Tracy Bachellier (@bachtrac) guest blog and share their thoughts about leading and supporting parent engagement at the local and provincial levels.

Like both Heather and Tracy, there are many parents who have devoted much time and commitment to leadership volunteer roles in this area of education.  The knowledge about the education system and the history of parent involvement initiatives is tremendous when you put a few parents like them in a room or on a conference call!  Currently parents in these roles rely mostly on informal networking and connecting for support and the sharing of resources and strategies for problem-solving.

I think we are always looking for ways to share this knowledge, continue to support other parents support their children, as well bring together the experiences and perspectives of informed voices working within their communities.

Heather Robinson, Parent Involvement Committee Chair (2009 – 12),

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

When my oldest child started school, 14 years ago, I realized that for 6 hours a day, his teachers and other staff at the school would be a major influence on his life.  Considering that he slept for close to 11 hours a day back then, that meant 46% of his waking hours.  I wasn’t in a position to volunteer in the classroom on a regular basis, so I joined the School Council.

Joining School Council was an eye opening experience, as I became party to a great deal of information about the school and its priorities.  When I chatted with the parents of my son’s friends, I soon discovered that a great deal of that information was not common knowledge, so that started my quest to make sure parents were aware of what was going on at our school, and how they could influence policies and decisions.

Along the way I’ve held numerous positions on our School Council, Regional Council and our Board’s Parent Involvement Committee (PIC).  I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with educators, administrators and fellow parents who all share the belief that parent engagement matters.  I’ve also encountered a number of educators, administrators and sadly, parents who believe that parents have no place in the school unless they are fundraising.

One of the biggest barriers I see to parental involvement is a lack of a clear status for Parent Involvement Committees.  It’s wonderful that the Ministry of Education had regulated that each School Board must have a PIC, but how the PIC is treated is up to the individual School Boards.  I listen with envy to the relationship some of my fellow PIC chairs share with their School Boards, and with dismay to others.  At the recent People for Education conference, it was obvious that there is a huge gap between PIC’s, some are very well established, while others are having difficulty getting started.

If we really want to make a difference, we need to have a clear and common goal.  It’s not enough to say that we want to increase parent involvement, if we can’t define what parent involvement looks like, or how it is measured.

I’d love to see  a OAPIC – Ontario Association of Parent Involvement Committees, that meets regularly, if not in person then via teleconference or web conference, that shares ideas and presents a united voice to school boards and the Ministry of Education on how we, as parents, wish to see parental involvement in our schools.   If anyone else is interested in sharing my vision, please feel free to contact me.

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Tracy Bachellier

Hamlet Public School Council – Recording Secretary (former Vice Chair & Chair)

Co-Chair – Stratford Regional School Council (SRSC)

Chair – Avon Maitland DSB Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) @AMParentvoice 

My neighbours are parents for the very first time today. With tears in our eyes, the five of us huddle around my husband’s blackberry trying to catch a glimpse of little Sarah.* At a worldly 12 years old, my eldest declares that she will be the first to hold Sarah. Without missing a beat, our almost 11 year old twins chime in that they have their babysitting course, too, and can hold Sarah. My husband and I can’t even look at each other without losing it as we instantly find ourselves back in the delivery room reliving the births of our own children, like it was yesterday…

And yet, in 4 years, Sarah and her parents will most likely be preparing for kindergarten. I wonder what education will look like then. I wonder what changes will take place in Ontario’s public education system over the next 5 years. Will there be a shift away from the current over-emphasis on grading, standardized testing, accountability and the ideology of homework? Will Sarah have the opportunity to be an active participant in her own learning? Will her desire to learn be motivated by creativity, active exploration, in-depth inquiry and discovery? Will she be challenged to develop and apply her knowledge using critical thinking, evaluation and problem solving skills? Or will she find herself limited by a predetermined, standardized curriculum for all? Will she be able to engage, connect and share her learning on a global level? Will Sarah be inspired to learn, not just for the sake of learning, but for the love of learning?

And what opportunities will there be for Sarah’s parents to be active participants in her education? Will they be valued as partners in education and encouraged to be part of the dialogue? Will there be opportunities to not only be involved, but truly engaged alongside educators; contributing, collaborating and sharing their knowledge, experiences and perspectives? And when I say educators, I include all educators: from teachers, assistants, principals, superintendents, trustees to school board staff, ministry, government…all stakeholders in education.

And parents are educators, too. A parent is a child’s first teacher. And that does not have to end once a child begins school. It should continue to grow and evolve with new parent, teacher, school and community relationships; relationships that are strengthened by engaging in meaningful dialogue, mutual respect, trust and collaboration.

Parents, students and educators ALL matter in education. They are the foundation of education. Not top down, mandated, knowledge-based instruction to measure accountability according to an arbitrary, standardized Provincial percentile. Parent, student and educator partnerships form a foundation, a “triad of trust in education” if you will; a foundation that can strengthen schools and communities, possibly even entire education systems…or tear them apart. There must be continued support, resources and respect for all parents, students and educators as engaged partners in education.

This is what has kept me going over the last 8 years. Why I keep doing what I do at the school, regional and board level. Because I believe so passionately that we are all learners with a shared goal…our children’s education. And it’s getting easier to collaborate and share our thoughts, ideas, practices, knowledge, research, experiences and more. Technology and social media have had a huge impact in education and I believe it will continue to effect positive change in our system. Through personal learning networks (PLN’s) I have seen the engagement and enhanced collaboration between educators and parents across the globe. There is much we can learn from one another. Collectively, we need to truly embrace that and continue working together…continue taking the necessary steps that guide us forward and drive education improvement. And this is where I see the future of leadership and parent engagement.

As for Sarah and her family, I hope that in 4 years the school doors are open and inviting. I hope that Sarah’s parents are welcomed as valued and respected voices in their child’s education. I hope for an enriching education experience for her and her family. I hope for a strong foundation of relationships and partnerships in education that nurture a love of learning in Sarah, to last her a lifetime.

And so I will continue to volunteer, advocate for parent engagement and strive for all that I hope for, not just for Sarah, but for my own children and for all children. Because for me, the future of public education is looking bright. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

*Out of respect and privacy for my neighbours, I have changed their daughter’s name

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Thank you, Heather and Tracy, for guest blogging here to share your insight and vision ahead for parent engagement. Wow!  Feel free to leave questions or comments for these two visionaries, or connect with them on Twitter!  You will also find Tracy’s vision posted on her blog as well: http://bachwords.blogspot.com/

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