“They’re just texting…”


I have posted before in attempts to understand and discuss the impacts of texting and “instant” messaging on youth.  As parents, we attempt to monitor who are children are associating with — in person, via devices, and online. When children are younger, it may be easier to chat about the experiences and communications that they are having with friends – both positive and negative.  When they are older and relationships become “romantic”, it gets a bit more challenging.  Experiences and communication become more private from parents.  Parents may also try to give more “space” and privacy.  It can be a tough and delicate balance though.

I often hear the messages of “letting kids fail/fall/make mistakes”, etc.  I believe kids can learn from bad experiences and relationships just as much as good ones.  They have to navigate friendships and relationships and learn from that too.  The advice to parents may also be: “Let them figure it out for themselves”.  But does this serve well as support for their “instant connecting” worlds?  How do parents know when things go too far or become unhealthy given all that can be “unseen” with communication technologies?  How do they know when to intervene and how?  I am not sure there is enough discussion or clear advice available on this, especially when kids are in their late teens and in relationships.  Are there conversations that need to happen sooner?

This is my attempt to provide some support and useful reading.  I may add to the list over time ahead:

Know the Signs:  Spotlight on Nonstop and Excessive Texting

Text Messaging:  Effects on Romantic Relationships and Social Behavior

Obsessive 24/7 Texting From a Partner or Ex Isn’t Cute

In(ternet) Love: Have a Healthy Online Relationship (a lot of good resources for relationships on this site… do explore for other relevant topics)

12 Alarming Ways Texting Controls Modern Relationships

MediaSmarts recently posted a guide for post-secondary students.  I think it is excellent and practical, as well as useful for parents to read or have handy as a resource:

On The Loose: A Guide to Life Online For Post-Secondary Students

The Impact of Cell Phones on Romantic Relationships

Have you got other useful resources or articles? Please suggest!


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!

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!)

Principal prep for parent communication


I haven’t been sharing resources for parent engagement in education as much as I have done in the past, but a few articles still catch my attention on Twitter.  This summer I saved a few to read that covered the topic, including this one, “The Principal’s Summer Excellence Checklist“.  It is always encouraging to find parent engagement strategies included in articles for principals.  Three specific questions regarding parents in this one were listed under “communication” and included:

  • How and when will you communicate student progress to parents regarding grades, attendance, and behavior?
  • How will you leverage social media as a tool to show the great things happening on the campus, and how frequently will you do that?
  • How will parents have a venue to express their concerns or frustrations to teachers and administrators in a constructive way, and how will you promote this form of transparency?

I thought they were really good questions to nudge practices and plans into place early in the year.

Another post I read (h/t @Philip_Cummings) was for new principals at the middle school level.  It offered 6 success tips, with #5 covering family/community relationships as follows:

No school is successful without effective communication and good relationships with families. But principals know that families are a very small part of their total community. Therefore, they create networks that allow them to advocate with key constituents and influential policy makers whose support is critical. Effective principals:

  • Build support networks that reach into all segments of the community, tapping into civic, religious, community, service, or other youth-serving organizations to advocate and build support for their school.
  • Talk with and learn from those who can share the history of their school and its role in the community.
  • Meet with both supporters and critics of the school to keep lines of communication open and build collaborative relationships.”

I like how both posts highlight open lines of communication and similar considerations.

The ASCD also recently posted, Rethinking Parent Engagement (I think many educators and parents have been rethinking it in the last 5 years or so).  The post mentions a proactive approach to parent outreach efforts,

Focus early outreach on relationship building, not information sharing.  This will build trust and open those crucial lines of communication, which will be helpful in the future.”

Parent engagement in education may be getting less attention in general now, but I hope the positive practices and outcomes continue to be shared ahead.  Communication with parents will always need consideration and planning.


A parent’s vision leads to research


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!

Report Cards: Cycles of Change?


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:












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:










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 🙂



The trustee – parent connection in #onted


There has been a fair bit of discussion about the role and relevancy of education trustees in Ontario lately.  There are many questions, if not confusion, about their role and purpose.  The topic can get quite complex and it is not an easy discussion.  I suspect there is something unique about the culture of every single board of trustees that is in place at each of Ontario’s 72 school boards.  I don’t know the answers regarding what they should be doing, or if they should exist or not.  How can an unbiased discussion about alternatives occur? How can the discussion be kept to be about the role, and not personalities and politics?

One argument I often read and hear in favour of keeping trustees is that they are the “voice” of parents and the community — that an important link or “level” would be lost without them.  I recently read an article that suggested that the newly established ombudsman oversight of school boards may not be necessary because trustess are part of the support network for parents.  There is a guidebook about the elected role, as well as a new governance guide which can be accessed from the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association’s website here.  These guides do mention school councils and parent involvement committees in regards to how a trustee can be connected to their communities — how it is done can vary.  From the 2014 Governance Guide, Ch. 4, The Role of School Board Trustees, under “Political Accountability” (p. 43):

Individual trustees interpret “representing their community” in different ways. Some community members expect a trustee to be very active, others do not. Because Ontario’s communities are so diverse, the job of school trustee varies widely. What all trustees do have in common is serving the community as elected representatives while focusing on the primary task of acting as members of a board that makes policy decisions, oversees curriculum and program delivery and fulfils its responsibilities as an employer.”

Chapter 11 is titled and covers, “Working with School Council, Parent Involvement Committees, and Communities”.  There is one specific section with suggestions as to how they “can” do so (I am uncertain if they must):

How Trustees Can Support and Promote the Parent and Community Voice

Trustees can support the work of school councils and parent involvement committees by:

  • promoting the value of school councils and PICs to the community;
  • facilitating communication among school councils within the trustee’s area;
  • helping to establish contacts between councils and their communities and between councils and the board’s PIC;
  • providing a communication link among school councils, the PIC and the board;
  • ensuring that the board establishes policies for school councils, in consultation with school councils;
  • ensuring that school councils are able to provide input into the development of board policies related to the areas listed in Ontario Regulation 612/00;
  • ensuring the board reports back to school councils or the PIC on the actions taken by the board in response to advice provided by school councils or the PIC (Note: Boards are not bound by school council or PIC recommendations, but they are required to report back on actions taken or not taken.);
  • evaluating the board’s method of reporting back to school councils;
  • making school councils and the PIC aware of relevant board policies;
  • ensuring that all those who are involved with school councils and the PIC work within the provisions of the regulations and any applicable board policies; and
  • promoting and encouraging collaborative relationships among the board, school councils, the PIC, and the broader school community.

It is a long list, but there is a focus on communication and consultation.  While there is a requirement for one trustee to be a member on the school board level PIC, the role they are to have isn’t clearing specified in the PIC regulations.  They cannot be members on a school council and their role and expected relationship with these school level committees seems less specified.  Also, in the list above, one bullet suggests that they can ensure that all those involved with school councils and the PIC work “within the provisions of the regulations and any applicable board policies“.  Do they?  Should they?  Is it okay if they don’t, or only connect with those committees that do, or are able to do?  A few of my previous posts have highlighted the conversations and debates about the roles of school councils and what they should be doing.  If these committees are the suggested avenue for trustees to represent parent voice and facilitate communication, how should they be supported to also be an effective representation of parents? Are there other avenues for trustees to do this effectively and broadly?

Are there some actions on this list that are more effective in supporting “the work” of school councils and PICs than others? Is the list fair? Honest answers might be difficult, but those are my questions in regards to one aspect of the role.

What’s in a Word?


Once again, I am pleased to publish a guest post by Nancy Angevine-Sands (@WithEqualStep).  She has provided thoughtful and insightful posts about parent engagement to my blog in the past here and most recently here.

I appreciate her thoughts regarding Ontario’s School Councils and also her on-going work with parents and staff as a parent engagement advocate.  She asks…

What’s in a Word?

Responding to a half-hearted “Sorry, Mooom,” I’ve been known to tell my children that words are cheap; actions matter. However, I’ve seen the effects of words – both good and bad – on the faces of my children and students. They can inspire or deflate. Words have meaning. Words speak volumes. Words show intent. In the last few weeks, there have been many places where I’ve read the word “Parent” council – newspapers, twitter, school signs – when they mean SCHOOL council. One word. A world of difference.

In 1996 (confirmed and revised in 2001), Ontario’s provincial government established SCHOOL councils, whose purpose was “through the active participation of parents, to improve pupil achievement and to enhance the accountability of the education system to parents.” Among other things, they would do this by making recommendations to schools and Boards. (most provincial school councils are similar to Ontario in makeup and intent)

Complete School Council Guide here.

Each council is to be made up of parents, teachers, support staff, community members and, at middle and secondary level, students. They are not parent groups, meeting within schools to support decisions made by others. They are official SCHOOL bodies where all stakeholders partner together for student achievement.

But words are cheap if Board officials, school staff and parents do not let their actions fit the intent of the word. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, parents should not be expected to understand and support education initiatives if they do not receive training in them. They will not adequately advise schools and Boards on school matters if they do not receive regular information on policies and procedures. They are not a SCHOOL council if they don’t help to build partnerships with teachers, staff, principals and their community. The word is SCHOOL.

When SCHOOL councils work effectively, they are able to determine how to meet the needs of their whole community. Information workshops, sharing parent/guardian ideas and talents, developing resources for home and school, involving parents/guardians in training on new methods in education, finding numerous ways to communicate with each other, and building ways to problem-solve school issues are all within the purview of councils. This is part of what Dr. Karen Mapp encourages in building the capacity of parents to support their children’s education. (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/14/11/building-capacity-family-engagement) I believe that this is the intent of SCHOOL councils.

All parties need to understand that the word ‘partnership’ is a fundamental building block supporting the intent of SCHOOL councils. Ignore this and we’ll only have “parent” councils. And then our aim of improving student achievement will not be fully realized.

Words are cheap when they aren’t respected or understood by the user or receiver. But when the correct words and their intent are realized, they can be powerful. Great things may happen when everyone involved in a common cause are on the same page. Remember this when writing articles, tweeting, announcing meetings, speaking about your work, and supporting the infinite possibilities of SCHOOL councils.


Nancy welcomes your feedback and comments here, or you can connect with her on Twitter at @withequalstep

Parents at the Table


There is often concern about the parents who are present and heard “at the table”.  It may be easy to dismiss the voices of those who “show up” by saying they are just a vocal minority and/or not “representative” of the parent community or district. The avenues for parent input may not appeal to all parents. Who is invited and empowered to participate at the table?  Are those who ask the hard questions or challenge mindsets welcomed and accepted as much as those who agree with staff or support the status quo?  Are voices of dissent engaged, or ignored? What if the ones at the table are really informed or want to be informed about education? Are attempts to reach out to those not present at the table encouraged? How much willingness is there to change and do something different in this regard and who should lead this?

Should the concern be more with why parents are not at the table or leave the table?  Do they come to get informed about the school and get handed a fundraising task instead? Do they come to ask a question or share a thought or idea but others do most of the talking?  Do they come for a first time and not get welcomed or introduced?  Do they come and find the process of the meeting confusing or lacking?  Are they invited in the first place?

Maybe parent groups should not be involved at all in aspects of school planning and governance, but would that really be ideal?  I continue to believe that there is much to be gained from parent perspectives and consultation on different matters.  I think good leadership and facilitation skills can help ensure good outcomes, but it does take time and commitment.

I am no longer involved with school councils or parent committees, but I have been a member on a number of different school councils and I have dialogued with many parent members of school councils and parent groups locally and provincially over the span of many years… but maybe I am still missing something on all this.

A recent blog post by George Couros directed my attention to the Ontario’s Leadership Framework.  George is doing a series of posts to examine its components.  In this post he focused on: Building Relationships and Developing People.  Some of the strategies in the framework extend to parents as well.  George included a mention about “critical conversations”:

Once we start to build relationships and show people that they are valued, it is important that we are open to having critical conversations.  People are less likely to challenge and feel comfortable being challenged if they don’t feel valued.  This is highlighted a couple of places in the document:

  • School leaders will…demonstrate respect for staff, students and parents by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas, and genuinely considering their value.
  • School leaders will…establish norms in the school that demonstrate appreciation for constructive debate about best practices.”

In this post, Developing the Organization, George included some statements about parent engagement vs. parent empowerment.

As it should be, tapping into our parent community is expected under the framework…”

**Please read his post for his elaboration on this.

Another question might be:  Are parents at the table because the school culture is not open and transparent, or are they there because it is?  How might “the tables” differ? Are the relationships and participation improved if the principal is “leading from a transparent place”? (See this article, “How Transparency Can Transform School Culture”.)

Also from the Ontario Leadership Framework document, a mention about a meaningful role for school councils:






Some encouraging stuff.



Communicating With Parents: Posts and Resources

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I often forget which of my past blog posts covered communication with parents more specifically, so I am pulling some together in this post.  I hope this might be useful for communication plans for schools, principals, and teachers.  Each post links to other writers on the topic.  Communication is key to parent engagement and support, as well as being aware of the “messages” that are being sent in the way communication occurs.

Educators and Parents: Communication and Conversations

Parent Communication in Education

Is the message in the medium?

Also, a guest post I wrote for principals which focuses on communication:

A Principal’s Map For Parent Involvement

This is another good one for principals via ASCD: Connecting with Parents: Five Tips for Principals

Larry Ferlazzo has also been gathering ideas to help teachers with communication with parents at the beginning of the school year.  There are good examples in his post that should help get the school year off to a good start and sustain further positive communication with parents.

Parent groups and associations also facilitate good communications with parents, so I encourage connecting with those efforts in your local area as well.

There are many other good resources available on this topic.  I will add others as I come across them.  I welcome your posts, resources, and ideas for communication strategies with parents and families in your school community.