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?

 

 

A consistent question about parent involvement

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There may not be as many articles and posts about parent involvement in education as there were a few years ago, but I still notice a number of posts on the topic circulating on social media.  The various terms are used and referred to: Involvement, engagement, empowerment, etc.  There seems to be a consistent question though.  I was reminded of that recently after reading an article about parent involvement plans in Scotland which included the statement,

One of our challenges is a lack of common understanding around what ‘involved in learning’ actually means in and around schools.”

I have written before (for example, this post) about defining and understanding the meaning of parent engagement (in schools, learning, education). I think it is important to remember:  When the different terms are used by one person, another person may understand them in a completely different way. Maybe a further question would help clarify references and appeals for parent engagement: Involved in/to do what?… Empowered in/to do what?… Involved in learning how?  If parents are to learn how children learn, is there enough agreement on that amongst educators (let alone parents)?  Would a fuller discussion and analysis help all decide if and how the goals can be supported?

Feedback and thoughts appreciated.

A blog series for and by parents: A follow-up

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Earlier this year I posted about a blog series for and by parents.  I recently caught the follow-up on the project and news about a book that represented the stories and the parents who participated.

The follow-up post, 8 Ways Educators Help Parents Promote Powerful Learning, suggests four things that schools can address in support of student-directed learning and also shares how the blog series taught four lessons about parenting for powerful learning.  There are some great points about student learning and support, so please check out the full post.

I especially liked the list of questions near the end to help spark conversation amongst school staff in regards to planning and thinking about parent involvement.  From the post:

  • How are parents involved in their child’s education? Are they coming in regularly and participating in genuine parent-teacher conversations for and with their kids that help drive and encourage student-centered learning?
  • Do they understand how their children are being assessed? Can parents read and understand the reporting system and/or assessment system?
  • Are parents getting phone calls from educators?
  • Are parents being given the opportunity to mentor their own kids and/or other kids in the school?
  • Is their genuine collaboration and communication occurring between home and school?
  • What school work and/or projects might create genuine and authentic parent and student collaboration?
  • What opportunities and/or ways can the school promote and invite parent participation at assemblies, at other student gatherings and at parent nights?
  • How are parents invited to the school to participate and provide genuine feedback at project nights and/or student exhibitions of learning?
  • How does what is on the wall/in the office/in the classroom invite and welcome and/or inhibit parent involvement?
  • To what degree is parent involvement a priority and what would it look like if that was indeed the priority? What does it mean to the school staff to have parents involved? Is it a hassle or a genuine partnership?

Good stuff… and that is my follow up on the follow-up 🙂

(I had to search for that rule:  Follow up or follow-up? I am still not sure if I got it right!)

Paths and Gaps: Part 2

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In January of last year, I wrote Graduation Caps and Gaps.  I included some discussion about life after K-12 schooling and following paths and passions.  I referred to a few other related posts written by others.  I also discussed the “gap year” in that post.  Somewhere in between that post in January and June of last year, our own 2 adult children had decided, with our support, to take a “gap year” before post-secondary and graduate studies.  We, individually and as a family, have been reflecting about the past year and its outcomes.  We used the list of the benefits of a gap year which I provided in my January post (although the full article I linked is not accessible now):

  • experience the world of work in a real way
  • become more mature
  • become more independent and experienced in your decision-making
  • clarify your study and career future, and make new or more informed decisions
  • work with people from different walks of life
  • experience different types of workplaces
  • learn new skills.

We feel quite confident that the past year of work and life experiences has provided our daughters with these benefits and more.  However, the year was not without some doubts that the choice was the best.  We may not even realize all pros and cons until a later time.  But now we are looking ahead to the planning and tasks that come with heading back to school and moving. It seems to be the right timing again and comes with some renewed excitement.  It has mostly worked out for our family, but I am not saying that it would be the right choice for all.  There is a lot to consider, eg.: knowing and listening to your children, the family situation, the opportunities in the community, personal goals, etc.

I thought this article (provided by a university in the UK) was another good one on the topic, Take a Break? The pros and cons of a gap year, but a search for “gap year benefits and disadvantages” will prompt a number of articles and resources.

(photo credit: me ~ taken during a family trip to Vancouver)

 

 

A Canadian refresher

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I’ve never learned so much about Canada until I had to teach about it…

For a second time, I taught an evening class in May to help adult newcomers learn about Canada and prepare for the Canadian Citizenship test.  They learn about Canada in English classes and elsewhere, but this session provides further support and review, as well as practice test questions.  The study guide, Discover Canada, is an excellent resource from CIC .  Students receive a hard copy, but there are also options to read and listen online.  I would suggest it for anyone who would simply like to rediscover Canada as well.  The information can seem extensive, but it does cover challenging topics such as history and government quite well.  The new things I have learned (relearned?)… and I was born in Canada!

This past May, there were a number of “anniversaries” that related well to the content of the course.  Social media brought such tidbits to my attention.  For example:

May 3 marked 100 years since the poem, In Flanders Fields, was written.  More here.

May 10 marked 45 years since Bobby Orr’s famous goal. More here. (yes, we covered Canadian sports!)

May 24 marked 97 years since Canadian women received the right to vote in Federal elections.

And of course, the Queen’s birthday in May, but June 2 marked 62 years since the Queen’s Coronation.

January 2015 also marked the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

Did I miss any?

There are many resources for the study of Canada, but it is important not to overwhelm newcomers with too many sources of information. I enjoy supporting their individual needs and inviting their stories, while still including the specifics that help for the citizenship test.

My enthusiasm for the wonders of Canada may still not be enough to do service to the beauty and diversity of the country.  (I have yet to visit every province myself.)  One “home study” suggestion I give (for those who can access) is this video, an aerial adventure over Canada.  It can be viewed in 3 shorter parts as well — a bird’s eye view from coast to coast at least! (Part one, two and three, if you wish)

Let me know if you would like a test! 🙂

Report Cards: Cycles of Change?

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As a parent, I didn’t get into much of a fuss about report cards, but who doesn’t forget their own and/or having to write them?  The debate and questions about student report cards are on-going in education.

I recently saw this post, “Debating Report Cards”.

The grade 3 report card in the blog post is an example from the U.S. in 1971-2 and it is compared to an example of a portion of a current Ontario elementary one.

Here is an example of a grade 3 Ontario report card from 1971:

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It’s not the best image, but the brevity is clear and obvious — one page, no letter grades, general comments.  I am not sure if it was a “provincial” template at the time.  I still have copies of all my report cards.  After digging out the dusty bin, I was able to confirm that I did not have letter or numerical grades on my reports cards until grade 7.  I found this really interesting for my grade 4 report in June:

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The current Ontario report card templates can be found on the Ontario Ministry’s website here or in the appendix of Ontario’s evaluation and assessment policy document, Growing Success. (note: at the time I posted, I could not open the elementary templates for public boards, only Catholic boards)

A parent sent me an example of a comment on her child’s current grade 4 report card. In addition to letter grades listed for each “strand” in math, this was the comment for the math section on the report,

“(student name) independently reads, represents, compares and orders whole numbers to 10,ooo in standard, expanded and written forms with accuracy.  He should continue to practice solving more complex problems involving the addition and subtraction of multi-digit whole numbers. (student name) is able to clearly measure angles using a protractor.  He identifies quadrilaterals and three-dimensional figures and classifies them by their geometrical properties. (student name) should continue to practice using mathematical language to describe right, obtuse and acute angles and geometric figures. (student name) can precisely describe, extend and create a variety of patterns with accuracy and complexity.  He should continue to practice creating, describing and extending a variety of repeating, growing and shrinking number patterns. (student name) is able to thoroughly collect, organize and read primary data represented in a bar graph, pictograph, circle graph and table.  He should continue to practice collecting and organizing data by conducting surveys on a variety of topics of interest to him.”

Wow… and that is just for one subject on this 4-page report.  I don’t recall my parents having any issues with the brevity of my report cards!

The “Debating Report Cards” post ends with the suggestion that reports cards haven’t changed much, but I think they may have.  The author/blogger, Amy, also asks,

With all of the changes in our world and with technology, shouldn’t our report cards have evolved as well?”

The parent I chatted with suggested these questions:

  • When did it change?
  • Why did it change?
  • How long did it take to change? Was it progressive? Did it change every year.?

I also welcome any insights on the 40+ years in between 🙂

 

 

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.

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.

 

Innovation for Learning?

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I have been reading with interest this week regarding an Innovation Forum that is being hosted by the Thames Valley District School Board.  There is a description of it on the board’s website,

Parents, students, teachers and community members will gather for a unique public forum aimed at questioning whether schools are preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s economy.

Today I read this article about it in the district’s local newspaper, “Students bored out of their minds”.  It has generated a number of comments.  Tony Wagner will be presenting via videoconference and it sounds like it will be a good discussion and it will engage many education stakeholders.

In a previous blog post, I included a mention and an article about Tony Wagner’s work,

A recent Wall Street Journal article by Tony Wagner about his examination of what helped students become innovators caught my attention.  He interviewed innovators and their parents, teachers and employers.  He concluded that the most important research finding was that innovators are intrinsically motivated.  He also noted that his interviews with parents of today’s innovators revealed some fascinating patterns, “They valued having their children pursue a genuine passion above their getting straight As, and they talked about the importance of “giving back.” As their children matured, they also encouraged them to take risks and learn from mistakes.”  As Wagner concluded, “There is much that all of us stand to learn from them.”

Of course, the reference to intrinsic motivation interested me.  I wonder if it will be a part of the discussion at this forum.  The questions that I ended that blog post with are still ones that I have:

Do schools accept, encourage, and allow parents to support their kids in these ways?  Are we examining and communicating what supports these kind of things? Are we looking in the right direction?

Are parents the “sleeping giants” in education?

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The post with the title, Disrupting Education: 8 Ideas That Will Permanently Break Education As We Know It, was shared a few times in my Twitter stream, so I was curious.  It’s an interesting read by Terry Heick posted to the TeachThought blog.  I was surprised to see a section about parents in education.  Idea #7 is:

Parents don’t understand teaching and learning.

Parents speak in the language of terms and compliance because that’s how we speak to them.

They understand grades, behavior, some of the fundamentals of literacy, and other abstractions like effort, inspiration, success, and failure.

But what if they understood how people learn even half as well as most teachers? What if they understood the pros and cons of certain assessment forms (this isn’t rocket science), the inherent limitations of letter grades (there’s no way they don’t already have an instinct for this), or how to coach critical thinking and observation on a daily basis?

Parents are the sleeping giants in education. Think of them as students with 25 years of life experience added on. If they had any clue how poorly education serves most students (no matter how “successful” the student navigates education in its current form), they’d redirect anger currently pointed at teachers and principals, and point it instead at policymakers, and perhaps even take up the task themselves as entrepreneurs.

Hey, there’s an idea.”

I thought some points were valid, but I am still reflecting on the message and if it is one that will help “disruption” or lead to more understanding.  It is written from the context of education in the U.S., but I think there is relevance to Canada.  I wrote a post in the past with my own questions regarding where parents fit in effective change in education.  I am not sure that “redirecting anger” is the most effective approach, but maybe that ends up being the route for parents.  Hopefully parents can also work with teachers, principals and policymakers.  The avenues to do so are not always clear though.

I welcome your thoughts on this idea or any of the other 7 ideas in the post.  All are good food for thought and action.

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