That One Post

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My blog is becoming less and less about education and I have been thinking about starting an alternate blog site. I often wonder about the value of my posts of the past, but they remain as archives for the time being. Visits to my blog are few now, which makes sense given I seldom post now. When I do post, I don’t always share further to social media. There has been some comfort with that — my blog is just my blog, a space of my own, but with an open door. I doubt a podcast would ever suit my needs.

But this was about one post…

From time to time, I check my blog stats and clear out spam comments. There is one post that consistently gets “hits” over the months, and now years, according to my stats. It isn’t a post that gets repeated spam comments either. I don’t have details on where the visits to the post originate, just the “via links to my blog site” information. The post isn’t about parent engagement or EQAO standardized testing, or even music ūüôā It is this one:

Appointed vs. Elected School Boards

I wrote it in 2015.

I did a quick follow up about the Chicago school board that I discussed as an example. A short internet search informed me that the board is still an appointed one, but a new mayor has promised to take action to bring back an elected board.

I will go with the assumption that the debate about the value of “appointed vs. elected” board members comes up a lot and the title of the post gets prompted when searching online for the answer. I suppose it might also be linked somewhere as a resource on the topic. But it is one blog post the lives on, for whatever reason.

Parenting: Styles or Responses?

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About 7 years ago, I wrote a post asking, “How Do Parent Labels Help?”.¬† I was concerned about the value of this in helping parent-teacher interactions and in supporting children.¬† I was also concerned about generalizations made about parents and the labels assigned.¬† I later wrote a post to emphasize “seeking to understand” parents in the education context.

I don’t think the labelling has lessened much since I last wrote on the topic.¬† Others have written in concern about it, but it seems to continue being something that is used to help understand parenting behaviour.

Sometimes parental behaviour is also examined or explained in terms of generational influences.¬†¬†I still also read references to past times when parents didn’t question educators and demonstrated more respect for their children’s teachers.¬† I think we have to accept that much has changed — in our world, in parenting and in teaching and education.¬† And also, if some things don’t change, some behaviours will not.

Recently I read a Parents article, A Year-by-Year Guide to the Different Generations and Their Personalities.¬† I still have concerns about generalizations in such articles, but it provided a useful timeline and good contrasts to examine the evolution of parenting.¬† It was the first time I read the reference to “parennials” (Millennials who are now parents) . The writer claims that Gen X parents (born between 1965 and 1979) were the first to use “helicopter” parenting styles.¬† I am not sure there is a full or common understanding what a helicopter parent is — same goes for “snowplow” or “lawnmower” parenting (etc.!).¬† The article links to a previous article that provided some definitions and examples of helicopter parenting.¬† I am glad it also offered some possible reasons, or “common triggers”, to help understand what might be behind the parenting behaviours and choices.¬† They include:¬† Fear of dire consequences, feelings of anxiety, overcompensation, and peer pressure for other parents.

Others look to study and explain parenting behaviours in other ways.¬† An article called, “What’s so wrong with helicopter parenting?”, highlights research and a book written by two university economists.¬† They categorized parents according to three types (authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive).

Developmental psychologists use parenting categories to figure out which styles favor better academic and personal outcomes. Doepke and Zilibotti use these types to try and understand why parents make the choices they do, and why those choices look so different between countries and generations.”

Their research and data analysis could only prove association and not causation.  Some further statements from the article include:

Their message is clear: Contrary to popular stereotypes, those who succumb to the lure of helicopter parenting aren‚Äôt hysterical or illogical.”

‚ÄúParenting has become very unequal,‚ÄĚ said Doepke. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs one of the big social problems we have because we have high inequality now, and if kids don‚Äôt get the same starting conditions, it‚Äôs just going to get worse and worse in the future.‚ÄĚ

Wisely, their prescription is not to fix the helicopter parents, but the institutions that are perpetuating inequality.”

In other research, helicopter parenting may also result in “hothouse children” — a term/label I came across reading, Helicopter parents and ‘hothouse children’ — exploring the high stakes of family dynamics.

There is also dismissal of “HP”.¬† Alfie Kohn offers and backs up this stance: “Helicopter Parenting” Hysteria: The Epidemic That Actually Isn’t.

I often hear the opinion that we parent how we were parented.  I suppose to a degree, but I think there are many influencing factors in play.  It can seem very complex and difficult to understand.  If certain parenting styles (responses?) and family inequalities continue, how can school contexts respond, partner, and support appropriately?  If there is the view that some parents are too involved and others are not involved appropriately, how does one proceed in family engagement?

I re-visited a blog post written by Nancy Angevine-Sands, a parent engagement facilitator (@withequalstep), entitled Sharing the Pedestal. She addresses the impacts of inappropriate judgment of parents.¬† She reminds of the realities of parenting and how educators may inadvertently alienate parents if they don’t share both their own struggles and “the pedestal”:

Would authentic partnerships develop that allowed schools to understand the vulnerabilities of families, and families to accept the imperfections of schools?”

Another great reminder from Nancy:

Rhetoric extolling the virtues of schools shouldn‚Äôt seek to boost the morale of the teachers at the expense of families.”

I agree with Nancy.  I think it is important to reflect how that affects relationships with families, for whatever reason such extolling occurs.

I thought this recent article with parent engagement advice from school administrators offered some solid, respectful approaches for today’s families:¬† What We’ve Learned: Administrators share advice for engaging families.

If readers know of other examples or strategies that focus on seeking to understand parents and getting past labels or assumptions, please share.

Minding the Children

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Whether it is the end of the school year or at the beginning, the posts on social media that poke fun about parents or teachers “handing off” the kids don’t always sit right with me.¬† Maybe they are just for a chuckle and mean no harm, but they often seem inappropriate to me.¬† Whether it is, “Tag, parents, you’re it!” in June or parents doing the happy dance posts on the first day of school, I am sure that both transitions are often bittersweet for those involved.¬† I am also not sure if such humour does much to support working relationships and respect between teachers and parents.¬† It doesn’t have to be about the teachers or parents, if the focus is on what students and children need from us — in and out of school and from our communities (it takes a village…).¬† I get it — sometimes teaching becomes parenting, and parenting is teaching.¬† If there is a sigh of relief about a break from either role, I don’t think it has to be jab in either direction.¬† Both roles are hard work.¬† Teachers and schools can have limitations in support, as do many families.¬† Communities may also vary in the support (of schools and families.)¬† Both teaching and parenting can be lonely and isolating.¬† The school year presents difficulties to parents, as well as the summer months. Playing in the community has changed for children and it can be hard to transition from the structure of school to the open-ended days of summer.¬† Many parents have to work and adjustments are plenty for the months the children are off school — regardless of work and family schedules.

Do I need to lighten up about this?¬† I would hope such “jokes” are really an expression of and/or a reaction to the lack of support that can be the case for each role.¬† If support improved (for parents, teachers and children), would such “handing off” jokes even be a thing?¬† I have to wonder…

Featured post re: Effective School Councils

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I haven’t seen much written about Ontario¬†about school councils lately (although I am not paying as much attention to the topic anymore).¬† Today I appreciated reading a post, Effective School Councils,¬†by an education superintendent from Alberta, Chris Smeaton.¬† I have followed Chris (@cdsmeaton) on Twitter for many years.¬† Although he writes for the Alberta context, I thought his insights and list of discussion questions would be useful to Ontario’s school councils as well.¬† I thought I would post here to keep it handy.

Chris mentions a workshop presented by their provincial school council association,

The presentation reminded me of the important work that should be done by this group but often gets lost because of well -intentioned volunteerism. I don‚Äôt believe that staffs will ever say no to the work that many of our parents do in schools today but, the true essence of their role is far more reaching than simple involvement.”

He describes the realities and challenges of engaging school councils and parents in school planning and improvement discussions but offers some good suggestions on how to improve these opportunities and make them more parent-friendly.  He also provides list of possible discussion questions for the school council table.  Please read his full post.  What would you add to the list he has started?  Have Ontario school councils made any significant shifts in roles lately?

Fixing or Fighting Public Education?

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I have become¬†more¬†selective in what I read about public education lately and I also pay less attention to the issues¬†now that my own children are out of the K – 12 system.¬† I spent years¬†trying to¬†be¬†informed of the issues and advocating where I could.¬† I didn’t always feel effective then,¬†but even more so now.¬† When I was more involved in education advocacy, I would always wish that the general public would also keep informed and care about education, but I get now¬†how easy it is to drift from the issues and feel powerless to make a difference.

As¬†I stated to Doug Peterson, I only read this article about fixing public education in Ontario¬†because he wrote¬†a response to it on his blog, here.¬† The author of the article is¬†a former president of an education advocacy organization.¬† She discusses 7 areas to¬†address in order to¬†“fix”¬†public education in Ontario, and claims that¬†6 out of the 7¬†recommendations¬†will save money.¬†¬†She also¬†states in the article’s subtitle, “It won’t be easy to implement any of these recommendations. The educational establishment will fight every step of the way.”

I thought Doug did well in addressing each of the 7 areas with his insights and thoughts (Non-Government Tuition Subsidies; Teacher Training; Curriculum; Textbooks; School Boards: Ont. College of Teachers; Provincial Testing).  I am only going to share some thoughts on one area/recommendation.

Given that I have thought and written a fair bit about school boards, that section jumped out at me. From the article,

The school board trustees, who theoretically represent the voters, are basically powerless: I have yet to hear of a parent who successfully sought help from his elected trustee. The trustees’ representational responsibilities would be better relocated to democratically-elected and influential school councils in each school.”

and with that,

Recommendation #5: Abolish the school boards”

Doug states a good case in his post,

This has long been a controversial issue but the fact that school districts exist ensure that local priorities can be addressed.¬† The notion of a High School Major is a perfect example.¬† The careful design plays to the importance of certain fields to the local community.¬† What works in a downtown community may not be appropriate to a rural location.¬† Having said that, within a community, there can be so much duplication of services with four school districts in operation.¬† Since they all teach in Ontario, there may well be significant savings by rethinking this way of organization and addressing the duplication of efforts.”

My thoughts:

As a parent, I received good help from some elected trustees — others, not so much.¬†¬†Trustees have their limitations in power¬†too.¬† Am I the only one¬†who “successfully sought help”.¬† As for school councils being the better representational structure¬†because they are “democratically elected and influential”, when has that been the case in any consistent and supported way across the entire¬†province?¬†(A post I wrote about representation here)¬†I highly doubt that the abolishment of school boards would¬†lead directly to improved functioning, representation,¬†or influence¬†of school councils.¬† Careful what you wish for?¬† What do others think?

I agree, the education system is hard to change.  There is also much disagreement on what change should look like.  I see the comments and exchanges are adding up on the original article though.  When I skimmed, most were about public vs. private schools.  Opinions are abundant, but no straight path to change.  I wonder if big shifts will occur anytime soon in Ontario.

Here is a podcast I hope to listen to soon, but if anyone else would like to beat me to it:

When Public Isn’t Public: Education in Alberta

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 ‚Äď 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.¬†ūüôā

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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs progress. Many immigrants and refugee parents might not feel comfortable asking about their child‚Äôs progress as they don‚Äôt want to take the teacher‚Äôs time. In some cultures, asking about the child may seem like an act to undermine the teacher‚Äôs authority. So it‚Äôs important to let them know you‚Äôre 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‚Äôm happy to push back.¬†What about you? Educators, administrators, and parents, how do you ‚Äúpush back?‚ÄĚ

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‚Äô 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?

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