Not in Kansas…

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I am extending a conversation started by Lisa Noble on her blog and a response by Doug Peterson on his blog.  Both posts have further comments and responses that extend this “not in Kansas anymore” theme.  I think the conversation is a good one in light of the many on-going discussions about “kids these days” and the concerns about their resilience, independence, and mental health.

Lisa, through her post, reflects on past experiences and travels away from family and compares them to the context of today with technology impacting those experiences and the connections made with others.  Her “not in Kansas anymore” experience (I will refer to it as NIKA from here on in) was a continent away from her family.  Doug’s “NIKA” experience was his time away at university.

I think many of us can recall our own “NIKA” moment:

From Lisa’s post,

That “out here on my own” thing we were all experiencing together, with no opportunity for helicopter parenting – no cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype or FaceTime. I sent a couple of postcards, but my parents were very far away – literally and metaphorically.”

Lisa’s questions:

What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world?”

And also,

Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?”

Doug shared about two NIKA experiences in his post — away at university and later returning to his home that had changed.  This part made me giggle, but well said,

No matter how tired and tough the day was, we had to cook and clean or go without.  How can people live like this?  And raise kids?  My parents were saints.”

Doug answered the rest of Lisa’s questions on his post with references to current issues of travel and added this point about technology,

Why wouldn’t we use the available technology to ensure a certain level of safety or, in this day of the selfie, fully document the experience?”

It all got me reflecting on my past and now my children’s lives.  I will extend the discussion to a parent perspective as well.

I had a few school trips away from my parents:  3 nights in a cabin for outdoor education in Gr. 6, a trip to Toronto in Gr. 8, and a trip to BC for about a week in Gr. 11.  I have no idea what my parents worried about, but I am sure they did.  I don’t recall having much worry or apprehension about the trips and I only have memories of the fun.  Maybe such shorter trips also help parents prepare for even more natural separation that will occur as their children grow and mature.  I am trying to imagine what it would have been like for my parents — there would be no contact from me and if there was, it would be an emergency or for a serious reason.  As a parent now, I haven’t had to go through that with my own children.  They haven’t had that many trips away, but texting easily provided assurance and helped put worries aside for all.  But do we come to rely on that too much?

Like Doug, my own NIKA defining moment would have been going to a different city for university.  I don’t think I thanked my parents enough for driving 2 full days to drop off their youngest in a city they had never been to (not to mention their drive back to an empty nest).  I was eager and felt ready for the experience (did Gr. 13/being 19 help?), so I don’t recall too much sadness on my part.  My contact ahead with my parents would be letters in the mail and usually a phone call on Sunday nights (cheaper after 6 pm 🙂 )  I did get a landline in my residence room and my phone cord would stretch into my closet to get some privacy from my roommate.

And so, for Lisa’s question, I was okay with this defining experience — no regrets.  As for people who I shared it with, some connections have faded away.  Two close friends from my program travelled to my northern hometown for my wedding a few years after graduation.  Unfortunately, I have kept contact with only one of them over the years (Christmas cards, Facebook.)

Fast forward 30+ years to the experiences of my own grown children away for school in other cities.  We often have discussions about the impacts of communication technologies and the many differences of life experiences — then and now.  The capacity now to stay in touch is great, but it can also feel like “too much” at times.  It also sets us up in a way, as now when a check in or confirmation isn’t received by text, it can be easy to worry the worst.  The convenience of technology to stay in touch can ease worries and create them!

I believe that the some NIKA experiences can help independence, maturity, and confidence.  Families will “scaffold” supports in different ways for each child, with or without technology.  Ideally, I think it would be good to have a few NIKA experiences during a time when one knows that they can return to “Kansas” as they knew it.  Life and hometowns can change fast.  Similar to Doug, I recall how I struggled with my parents selling our family home while I was away for my 4th year of university.

I haven’t really come up with any definitive opinions about “today’s” NIKA experiences vs. the past, but I suppose there are many ways to nudge the independence of children, teens, and young adults.  The process will have its discomforts for parents as well, but the confidence building and letting go can go both ways.

Whenever I came to write a bit more on this topic, I would find myself humming the song by Melanie called Kansas.  I found a cool video created for the song.  As the description says, “Trippy little rocker…”.


That topic again…


“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?

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


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


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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