Educating parents

A few months back, I received an email from Jack, an ed tech company director who had finished reading Educating Gen Wifi.  He felt compelled to write a post on his blog about the book and sent me a link to it.

Jack confessed that it wasn’t until he was half way through the book that he realised it wasn’t about technology per se but about making schooling relevant in today’s world. Admittedly, the book’s cover and graphic may have contributed to his initial assessment but Jack’s comments were interesting because the premise of writing this was to open up discussion around the nature of schooling in today’s world.  Technology has certainly forced us to think about schooling differently but it is the question of ‘why’ that I want readers particularly parents to reflect on.

Parents have a valuable role to play in the learning process but I think they have been under-utilised or overlooked. We talk about school as a community of learners but do we view parents as learners and importantly, do they understand the language of learning?

John Hattie in Visible Learning states that ‘parents should be educated in the language of schooling, so that he home and school can share in the expectations, and the child does not have to live in two worlds.”  (p70)

Hedley Beare wrote in 2001, that “part of the school’s formal task is to provide systematic ‘teaching’ of parents so that they know how to ensure that learning-in-family, incidental learnings at home and out of school, and parent nurturing are in harmony with and reinforce the student’s formal learning programme.” (Creating the Future School p190).

When we educate parents, we move them from learner to learning partner. Silverton Primary School in Victoria is a good example of how parents have become partners in their learning journey.  In wanting to create a 21st century learning experience, the leadership team recognised the vital role that parents could and should play.  They encouraged parents to observe and discuss what happens in the learning spaces.  The school sent research literature home so that strategies were not seen as experimental but grounded in good theory and research. Parent and student voice has become a common feature of their newsletters.

Silverton is just one example – there are other examples in the book but ideally this should be happening in all schools.  How do we work together to build a language of learning that extends across home and school?  How do we utilise technology beyond communicating with parents to changing how we collaborate with them?

According to Michael Fullan the research is clear.  “Nothing motivates a child more than when learning is valued by schools and families/community working together in partnership.  These forms of involvement do not happen by accident or even by invitation.  They happen by explicit strategic intervention.

7 thoughts on “Educating parents

  1. Good article. Parent involvement is always hard due to increasing pressures on time, however a level of parent-school collaboration can inspire kids to recognise the importance of education and desire greatness. This is why my focus on Internet safety education and empowerment has always been to foster collaboration between everyone – schools, parents, industry and, most importantly, kids. It is fundamental that kids not see Internet safety as something they’re taught and forced to obey, but rather a continuous part of their life in collaboration with their school, parents, peers and the wider community. Being ethical, moral, empathetic and careful is a learning journey best undertaken together.

  2. Fantastic post Greg. At our school we have been trying to embrace parents as partners by having them work in classrooms as experts for inquiry. The learning experience for all has been so rewarding. So many parents have seen themselves in a different light because of it!

      1. Just posted about your thoughts on my blog:
        We’ve tried to include parents as experts across the school, in any class. What they have brought to the classrooms has been inspiring. Also helps them to truly develop their self efficacy and sense of worth. I work at St Thomas More Primary in Melbourne. It’s such a beautiful place to work and learn!

  3. Thanks Greg. As a principal who values the partnership and role of parents in a school, it is something that I have actively advocated. I have a fortnightly informal coffee session where I can sit and talk with parents about many school related topics. It’s been a good way to explain what we do. Newsletters and workshops have also assisted to educate parents. With economic pressures many parents find it difficult to come into school and be active within the classroom, because of work commitments, however the growing use of class wikis and Google docs has opened a new window for parent education. Parents are beginning to access some of the ‘shared docs’ and regularly visit wikis to access information that is directly used by their children. This is a great way to educate parents through the work of their children. We are slowly embarking on the use of student blogs to further enhance writing and hope that the wider audience interaction, particularly from our parent body, may give students greater impetus and purpose.

  4. Excellent post Greg – it’s an area I am deeply passionate about as you know. In my work with schools I stress the qualitative difference between ‘involving’ parents in the life of the school (think about the ways we have traditionally invited parents to participate – P&F, canteen, board, social functions where parents are spectators, audience, fundraisers etc) to ‘engaging’ parents in learning (think of parents a collaborators and partners where there is a shared language of learning and parents have the skills, knowledge and confidence to support the learning of their children in a ‘real-world’ context).

    Professor Alma Harris argues that in order to raise achievement we need to provide opportunities for parents to be BOTH involved in the school AND engaged in learning. Unlike most traditional ‘involvement’ activities, engagement has a direct and measurable link to enhancing learning and well-being. I tell schools – if they want to make a difference to learning, they have to engage families in meaningful ways – and that doesn’t always mean parents have to be on the school site [Think: portals, video tutorials, apps, pinterest, ‘just-in-time’ resources, google communities, blogs, wikis….]**.

    The best ‘partnership’ schools in my experience are ones where the school:
    a) supports the staff to develop an understanding of the role of parents in learning and see parents as an extension of the pedagogic process
    b) provides opportunities for parents to experience what learning looks like, feels like and sounds like
    c) provides meaningful opportunities for parents to combine their knowledge of their child with that of the teacher – the traditional A-E school report and parent-teacher interview just doesn’t cut it anymore frankly.
    d) lets parents know just how much they matter
    e) has a thoughtful strategy and intent behind their work with parents – they plan for it, they resource it and they seek to continually improve on their efforts

    **We seriously need to re-think the home-school interface and the way we communicate with and ‘engage’ families. The current approach of providing parents with discrete ‘chunks’ of information and drip fed them undermines effective engagement.

    As a busy parent I want a one-stop shop – a ‘hub’ that I can go to and access the school calendar/events, the syllabus/curriculum overview (‘what are the kids in year 3 learning this week?’, ‘what assessments do Year 9 have coming up?’ etc), links to resources to help me support the learning, links to resources that help build my understanding and skills as a parent. I want updates and alerts pushed out to me to remind me that I need to check in and see what’s happening…

    1. Danielle, great feedback – thanks for sharing your experience. I’d love more parents to comment on the blog because parents are an important part of the process but we often give them the least attention. John Hattie in Visible Learning For Teachers, reflects on the positive when schools/parents speak the same language of learning. The family dynamic has changed and as a system we need to think about how we engage more deeply with parents, how we open up learning and make information more transparent and of course, how we utilise technology in the process.

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