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!

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Pushing Back (together)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

School Councils: Sustained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)

Principal prep for parent communication

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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 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)

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