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?

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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!

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?

A School Council “poem”

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Many schools and school boards in Ontario host appreciation nights for their parent volunteers and school council members.  Appreciation can be shown in various ways throughout the school year as well.  Sometimes the nature of volunteer work on a school council can be met with tension and not always appreciated. Parent representatives have to be voices of dissent at times and tread tricky waters as volunteers in education. 

I often can’t find this short school council “poem” when I am looking for it. I have no idea who wrote it, but I thought I would post to my blog for easier retrieval and sharing. I have sent it to parents in the past, especially when they were feeling conflicted about their continued involvement on a school council.  My days of school council involvement are well behind me, but in case anyone else would like to make use of it:

 

No one said that recruiting volunteers would be easy.

No one hands out gold medals.

No one waves flags for the work accomplished.

But you know. You are keenly aware of the value of the work

of the volunteer who makes a commitment to a school council.

*author unknown (let me know if you know of the source though)

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!

Supporting Family Engagement: An interview @WithEqualStep

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Since connecting on Twitter with Nancy who is behind the @WithEqualStep Twitter account, we have chatted a lot about parent engagement in education.  She has mentioned the workshops that she does in her district to support school council functioning and parent engagement, but I didn’t really know the details of her work and outreach.  Nancy agreed to answer and clarify through three direct questions of mine and I am happy to share her responses on my blog.  I appreciate the wisdom she articulates behind what she supports and facilitates for school councils — for all its membership and the schools they serve.  I am also excited to hear that she is close to launching her website with more resources and information about her work.  In the meantime, an interview…

1.  Tell me about the kinds of workshops you do?  Why do you do them?  Who are they for?

Nancy: “We work to support family engagement in education. Our workshops are designed for parents, educators and community.

For councils, possible workshops include the legislation that governs school councils, writing practical bylaws, and suggesting best practices for effectively supporting their parents. We do the same for the province’s PICs. For educators, we assist them in creating sustainable engagement that is integrated into the curriculum and life of the school, for example building beneficial two-way communication. We also work with principals to understand the legislation so they may establish effective partnerships with councils. Finally, working with community organizations, we have developed and delivered workshops for newcomer parents on the Ontario education system and their place within it.

At the end of the day, every parent and teacher wants only the best for their children. We help councils, PICs and staff build the capacity of our parents to do just that.”

2.  What will school council members learn about in your workshops?

Nancy: “Few councils have a clear understanding of what their role and responsibilities are or could be, so they may learn more about the legislation governing school councils. This begins with the writing of meaningful bylaws that govern how the council will work in their community. Once established and working, we can help councils learn how to operate efficiently, developing methods for strategic planning. We also feel there is a need for councils to learn how to assess and evaluate their work. Too often, good ideas are abandoned because they didn’t work well; or bad ideas continue because they’ve “always done it.” Effective councils have a vital role to play in building parent capacity to support their children.”

3.  What do you say to a parent, an educator or council member when they say that the School Council regulations and/or bylaws are too overwhelming or that they scare parents away?

Nancy: “Many councils think bylaws are scary. Perhaps they’ve seen long, complicated ones. But really, bylaws are there to give structure to the council. Without structure you risk a collapse at some point.

Here is how I like to think of it. Regulation 612 is the framework of a house – it tells you what the structure will look like in style and size. The bylaws are similar to the walls – what will the interior of THIS house look like? How many rooms? Where are they? I don’t want to know what colour the walls are or what furniture you’ll have or who gets what room. That will change each year. But I do need to know what type of house it will be.

Regulation 612 tells Councils how elections must be run; what the makeup, minimum number of parents and roles of their membership must be; how conflict of interest and dispute resolution must be handled (the framework). Bylaws describe the membership size for each school; how their finances will be handled; what permanent committees they will have; their voting procedures, etc (the walls). Bylaws do not have to say what days the meetings will occur; who will sit on committees; what projects the council will undertake; how decisions will be made. (the wall colours)

When writing their bylaws, Councils should think about their community now but consider that it will change every year and make allowance for that. Build the structure but let each council decorate!”

Thank you, Nancy!  I wish you all the best in continuing your work and sharing your expertise and insights with others.  I can’t wait to see your new “home” online!

If you would like to contact Nancy directly, you can email her at withequalstep@gmail.com or tweet her via @withequalstep

 Update!:  Here is the “With Equal Step” new website with resources and more here!

 

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