That topic again…

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“Doing away with” trustees seems to be a topic once again in Ontario.  I think it was prompted in part by a recent Globe and Mail article.  It appears to me that the responses and debates quickly become polarized, but it is a discussion that keeps returning.  The election for trustees is every four years — next year, 2018, brings that around again.

I often wonder what the main concerns are about not having boards of trustees in place.  Is it the worry that public education will not remain public?  Do some fear it would mean one step closer to “school choice”?  Is there a concern that parents or parent groups would then have new roles and responsibilities in governance and accountability?  Other?

It might be said that only “a few” school boards are dysfunctional in Ontario — but how do we know for sure?  Are they all transparent?  Should they be?  It can seem very complicated the more one digs into the questions.

I knew I had written one post about Ontario boards of trustees in the past, but upon further looking, I see I wrote two on the topic.  Although not specific to Ontario, my stats tell me that this one still gets a lot of search hits/views:

Appointed vs. Elected School Boards

The other post is more specific about the working relationship between Ontario trustees and parents:

The trustee – parent connection in #onted

If anyone has thought or written on the topic more recently, please let me know or add.  Thank you.

**Update (April 28):  Paul McGuire had posted on this topic and in response to the G&M article early this week.  Good questions and points to consider from Paul:

Should we still have School Boards? A Public Challenge

Doug Peterson featured Paul’s post in today’s, “This Week in Ontario Edublogs“.  Doug added his response there as well.

I wonder (if either ever happens…), what would happen first:  No Catholic school boards, or no school boards at all?

Paths and Gaps: Part 3

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I have written about about “gap” years a couple of times — in both the general and personal sense:

Graduation Caps and Gaps

Paths and Gaps: Part 2

My daughter who took a “gap year” before going away to another city for university was recently home on her study break or “reading week”.  It is also now that time of year in Ontario when many Grade 12 students are starting to receive and consider their acceptances to university and/or college.  My daughter is now in Year 2 at university and I asked her again if she was still glad she took a gap year.  She gave me permission to document her answers and thoughts on my blog:

I benefitted by the exposure to the “work world” that year.  It gave me a new perspective on ways to live life and be successful in different ways.  It helped me improve other qualities and skills other than just “book smartness”.”

I had time to find out a bunch of things I wasn’t … in order to be able to start finding out who I am.  This happened in both my gap year and also during my first year at university.”

I thought the gap year would give me time to figure out what I really wanted to study at the post-secondary level, but it was really about learning other things instead of discovering what I wanted to study.”

In the end, I realized I just needed to try something at university in order to find what I wanted to do.”

My daughter included the subjects she was passionate about in her first year of university.  I think that this is one advantage of a first year at university — she was expected to take courses in different faculties.  This worked well for her as she could include her love of science, math, art and women’s studies.  It was through this “sampling” that she was able to decide what she didn’t want to study in depth while also leading her to what she did want to focus on.  It was something she hadn’t thought of initially at all.

My other daughter didn’t take a gap year after high school.  We had discussed the option with her, but it just wasn’t something she found comfort in doing.  As it turned out, a gap year after university before a college program was more beneficial to her.  We are happy with their paths and choices and I am sure other decisions would have worked out fine too.  There will be bumps regardless of the path!

Given all my thinking and reflecting on this, People for Education’s report released this week about career and life planning in schools caught my attention.

The press release here.

Career and Life Planning in Schools full report here.

I still need to spend some more time with the report, but they have made some recommendations for improving student portfolios for career/pathway support, the community involvement requirements, guidance counselling, and more (for a quick look start at page 14).  “Multiple paths, multiple policies, multiple challenges” indeed.  I don’t recall the mandatory “career/life planning portfolios” that my daughters brought home here and there as being very useful at all, but their community volunteer hours proved quite valuable in different ways.  I will be curious about what changes ahead.  What do others think?  What are the areas that need to change the most… and when?

Conversations about parent-teacher interviews

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It wasn’t too far into summer when I started to catch blog posts in my Twitter feed about parent-teacher interviews.  Well at least educators were discussing the merits of… not sure many parents were yet. 🙂

I have posted on the topics of parent engagement and report cards on this blog, but not necessarily about parent-teacher interviews specifically.  I thought I would attempt a post on the topic to pull a few threads and ideas together.

In late July, Doug Peterson posted a personal story and reflection about parent-teacher interviews in his “Whatever happened to…” series.  He offered some good questions for educators that are worthy of repeating now that “the season” of interviews is well underway.

He states in the post,

Parent/Teacher interviews are still the lifeblood of communication and I do hope that Faculties of Education are not failing their students like mine did.  But, is there a more effective way of communicating with home?”

Doug’s curiosity/questions:

  • did you ever get good advice before your first parent/teacher interview?  Have you mastered them now?
  • do you use report cards and attachments as communication tools?
  • do you have a class blog/website and use it effectively?  How?
  • does social media fit into your communication plans?  Is it effective?
  • do you worry about the privacy of student/parent information in any of these formats?
  • where would you be without computers to facilitate this?
  • is a physical meeting a thing of the past?  Couldn’t you just do a hangout or Skype instead?

Please read his full post and I am sure he would welcome comments still.

Also in the summer, my friend Nancy aka @withequalstep shared this post with me (and probably on Twitter): Reporting to Support by Janet Goodall.  It is also a worthy read to challenge ideas about traditional parent-teacher interviews and reporting on learning.  The idea of shifting reporting to supporting is interesting.  The article has some good suggestions and insights.  I was left wondering about the delicate balance that K – 12 teachers must face.  How do they communicate (be “accountable”, as much as I don’t like that word) what may be expected about how they are teaching to support learning, and then also determine what is appropriate to suggest to parents to support learning at home, especially during a short “interview”?  Perhaps that comes clearer over time and through relationships and partnerships, as the post mentions:

What if, rather than being focused on the teachers, the event was focused around a partnership between parents and the teachers to support learning?”

Another August post that I read and appreciated was by Rusal Alrubail.  She wrote, as her title suggests, How To Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom for Refugee & Migrant Students.  I also took note of some good suggestions for connecting with immigrant and refugee parents, including:

Another piece of advice is to connect with parents on a regular basis, whether that may be through messaging, letters, phone calls or face to face, to update them on their child’s progress. Many immigrants and refugee parents might not feel comfortable asking about their child’s progress as they don’t want to take the teacher’s time. In some cultures, asking about the child may seem like an act to undermine the teacher’s authority. So it’s important to let them know you’re available if they have any questions or concerns.”

With all this reading, it prompted me to wonder what I learned about communicating with parents while taking my B. Ed program (over 20 years ago).  (I posted previously about the research that Tracy Bachellier conducted to look more closely at current programs in Ontario’s Faculties of Education.)  Since our family moved houses recently, I found and tossed all kinds of stored paper and files.  I did find a few good notes and handouts specific to preparing for parent-teacher interviews and being sensitive to parent needs.  This was before much technology of course, but I was still rather impressed with the tips that I had noted during a lecture.  Interestingly, I found this quote copied down in my notes:

Teachers in consultation with parents must strive to know each child as soon and as thoroughly as possible in order to provide learning opportunities which will help their child.” (Min. of College and Universities, 1979-80).

We still may not have all the answers or best approaches, but it is clear to me that the conversations about parent-teacher interviews carry on through the years and over the summers!

Pushing Back (together)

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I noticed “The Professional Pushes Back” post on Seth’s Blog being shared on Twitter, but I didn’t get around to reading it until I read Doug Peterson’s post and expansion on it to include teachers and invite further thoughts.  Doug asked:

  • Do you consider yourself a professional?
  • Give an example of how you pushed back in the manner that is used in the original post

Soon after, I read Aviva Dunsiger’s post in response to Doug’s post.  She took on the challenge to post about ways that she has pushed back as a teacher.  She ends her post inviting and questioning how other members of the school community push back,

If pushing back means helping children more, I’m happy to push back. What about you? Educators, administrators, and parents, how do you “push back?”

Whether a professional or not, I am sure it isn’t an easy task to push back within a school system.  Pushing back can be met with disagreement and conflict.  I am sure I have a blog post or two where I have stated the worth of collaborating with parents to help create and support change.  The conversations aren’t always easy, but parents might be able to push back in ways that an educator might not be able to — or together they can make even more of an impact.  (Some related points in this UK article here)  I think it might be best to have a supportive team of mixed roles and voices when it comes to pushing back in education.  Aviva extended the conversation to administrators and parents.  I noticed that trustees weren’t mentioned, but I think they could be a part of push back efforts too.  It has always been my hope that education stakeholders could work/push back together, but maybe individual efforts and leadership are still really needed and important.  Do these individuals get the support they need?

 

 

School Councils: Sustained

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A recent Canadian Education Association (CEA) article (spring 2016; Education Canada), written by Jim Brandon, was an interesting read and examination of school governance in Canada. It discussed district leadership in strengthening governance at the different levels of education — school, school board and provincial.

I was pleased to see that it included an update on school councils in regards to school level governance.  Here is one section (but please do read the entire article):

Studies and annual provincial surveys indicate a general state of comfort with and appreciation of school councils’ involvement in schools and have put to rest past concerns that that school councils would evolve into de facto school boards. To the credit of provincial governments in Alberta and Ontario, a more evidence-based policy course has been steered since the introduction of school councils in the 1990s. In contrast to policy directions in places like New Zealand and England, school councils in Canada have not wavered from the path of serving schools and districts as collective associations who work together to effectively support student learning.”

I am no longer directly involved in Ontario’s school councils, but I was for many years. I became somewhat familiar with situations and structures in some other Canadian provinces through reading and conversations within my parent advocate network in the past.

It was reassuring to read that “concerns have been put to rest about school councils becoming de facto school boards.”  Should that have ever been a concern?  Should it have taken over 15 years? I think it was always the intent of the Ministry to ensure that school councils would be democratic and advisory. They were first mandated in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Regulation 612/00 provided clear guidelines for their role at the school and board level. This also led to changes to Reg. 298 (Duties of Principals) in regards to school councils.  I would think that the guidelines were to ensure fair and meaningful parent participation in schools, but the legislation may have been threatening at the same time. I am not sure — I was not involved with parents groups during that time of introduction.

I have also sensed an increased “comfort with and appreciation of school councils” at the school level, but I suspect there is still some variance. I have written and reflected before about their governance role here.

The author states that Canadian school councils maintained a focus on student learning. I had a discussion with a few parents on Twitter about this aspect, but it might be difficult to know the current reality, even with surveys and research. Each province is so different and it can seem that what is wanted from a school council varies as well. I am not sure what the measure of success should be, or who should determine that — the school community, the school board, or the province? All?

What will the next 15 years look like for school councils? Ontario’s history of school councils seems relatively short when compared to The Ontario Federation of Home and Schools (OFHSA). They are currently celebrating 100 years of establishment. Who will accurately summarize school council history and successes in Ontario over 100 years? Will it be possible? Will it matter?

For Joe

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Although I am not blogging and tweeting about education as much as I used to, I will always remember and value many people I “got to know” through these Twitter conversations and blogging. I still look forward to following their work ahead. Even if some of these people stop tweeting and blogging, I know they will still be busy trying to make a difference in education and in the lives of children.

Needless to say, I was so sad to hear about Joe Bower’s death. I didn’t think I would write a post about him since I struggled with whether it was my place to do so.  It is his family and their loss that matter the most.  Yet, I felt unsettled that I wasn’t writing something to honour him or say the thanks that I didn’t say enough.

Recently I read Jennifer Marten’s tribute post to Joe Bower, Mourning a Friend I Never Met.  She was also hesitant to write a tribute. Her words matched many of my thoughts. Her post nudged me to write as well.

Like Jennifer, I first connected with Joe on a few topics. I followed the changes to standardized testing in Alberta through Joe’s posts and it made my own personal stand against standardized testing a little less lonely. Joe reached out to so many… supported the voices of many, and he could be counted on to take a stand for children. His blog is so real, rich and well researched. It was so kind of him to reblog one of my posts to do with Ontario’s standardized testing on his blog. His wise words and influence extended over many borders. It is reassuring to read so many tributes and see the intentions of others to ensure that his impact continues. I am thankful to have known his work and efforts. I am now following the Facebook tribute page respectfully set up by Chris Wejr.

I hope the tributes bring peace and comfort to Joe Bower’s family and friends for years to come.

 

A parent’s vision leads to research

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Not long after starting this blog, I invited some parents to guest post and share their visions and thoughts about parent engagement.  It has been over 3 years since a few of those posts, but those same parents have continued to contribute to education and schools in on-going ways and in new roles.  I plan to catch up with all of them again soon, but for now I wanted to give an update about my good friend, Tracy Bachellier (@bachtrac on Twitter).

Tracy shared this as the second parent here and then to her blog in early 2012.  One of the hopes she stated,

There must be continued support, resources and respect for all parents, students and educators as engaged partners in education.”

Since that time she certainly has put more action behind her words and vision! Tracy has now completed her Masters in Education and a Master’s level research thesis on — you guessed it — Parent Engagement!  More specifically, and also the title of her research thesis, Parent Engagement Pedagogy and Practice in New Preservice Teacher Education Programs in Ontario.  You can access Tracy’s full research document here.  She has done some great work, reviews and analyses, as well as shared some good practices and recommendations for preservice teacher education programs to benefit new teachers, and ultimately students and their families.  I hope readers will take some time to review her research efforts further.  The table of contents reveals the areas she examined, compared, and related to the Ontario context.  A great read in its entirety, with an excellent summary in the Discussion section (page 74).

Congratulations, Tracy! Hat’s off to you! Cheers!

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