Parent Involvement or Parent Engagement?

This conversation comes up over and over. Are parents involved or engaged in their child’s education? But does that label matter?

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Looking at these pictures can you tell which parent is engaged vs involved? Neither can I. Why? Because a word doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define them. Actions do; and unless we looked at what these individuals do at school AND home with their children…we cannot tell. So as a parent, how do I define involvement and engagement? First, neither is defined by how much or how little one is physically present at school, the events and/or activities.

Parent Involvement: In my opinion, it’s participation that has a start and finish time. For example, signing off that a child has read 20 minutes, attending a classroom activity, volunteering at a concession stand for a few hours. It is participation that doesn’t require digging deep to have background knowledge in order to participate. I can honestly say, I have no issues with parents that are at this level. I get that some people do not have the time, or energy to exert, to do anything more than that…and I know that their child is happy to have any little time they are able to contribute.

Parent Engagement: This is that next step. I see engagement as requiring one to ask more questions, provide additional learning opportunities outside of school. These parents are finding resources, engaging in conversations and/or reading how they can better, advocate for, and support their child’s education. They are part of the decision-making conversations that impact the student, school and/or district.

So now that I have defined them, what does this label accomplish? It isn’t a motivator to change behaviors, nor does it provide opportunities for engagement. Engagement is a product of actions. One is not an engaged parent, nor an educator opening the doors for engagement by simply using a label. So I’m not saying a difference doesn’t exist, but I don’t think the label is worth spending more time on then the actions you’re doing to make it possible. The label isn’t going to provide a child with a superior education. What we do will.

So I say, take the time you are spending putting a label on the parent, and use it to plan how to move involvement to engagement. Educators, what are you doing to set the stage for parents to be engaged? Parents, what are you doing to take responsibility for, and partnering to help educate and advocate for your child? It is these actions that will make a difference.


What Makes a Parent Leader?

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The more I hear parents say that they didn’t think they could do or have a say in  x, y or z because they are just parents, the more I realize the importance for someone to be there to say, yes you can.

Serving as a parent leader isn’t just about planning meetings and recruiting. When I first took my position I didn’t want to ever be referred to as the president of our group. I preferred to simply inspire and contribute, in the same way I always had, alongside all the other parents. I believe it does not matter how wonderful of an idea you have, if those around you don’t support or practice it, it is nothing more than an idea (and ideas alone don’t make you a leader). I don’t know that I will ever come to feel comfortable with the titles…but I have come to see that that role for one, is not a role only one person fills. There can be many. Although a HUGE part, it is more than someone who is willing to just work beside others. It is also (in no particular order, other than how the thoughts passed through my head)…

Someone who is willing to step out from the crowd, at times, to push the group to be better or achieve more, based on community needs. Someone who chooses to expect more and not just the status quo.

Someone who understands the importance of building relationships with not only the families in their community – but also the school principal, staff and beyond. A positive relationship is what helps you work together as a team. I’m not saying a parent group can’t achieve a lot on their own – but in the last year of going through times of not having that strong, positive relationship with our building (not me alone – but our parent community), I saw firsthand the impact it has on what we can achieve. We cannot do it alone. The parent group and school achieve more by working together.

It requires you to not only set an example of how to build partnerships – but also share (and share often) why those partnerships are so important. These partnerships go beyond your building. They are with the others in your district and community. I don’t think they prevent building level achievement – but I do think they can amplify them.

It is someone who remembers to see things from an outsider’s perspective or view point. To be realistic at times, but also wear the rose colored glasses often.

For those using social media, it is setting the example of how to use it, and having no fear in asking and reminding others to follow suit. Personally, I take that beyond our building because social media has no boundaries or walls.

It is someone who can have those difficult conversations. Every single one of these things on this list will require a conversation that you would much rather ignore or run from (and that would be the easiest option). But the easiest option is almost never the best.

To love learning. This might be a deal breaker for me. You cannot lead if you do not love to learn. Leading requires constant learning both from your experiences and how to address and work with the  new challenges, and/or individuals, that come with each new day.

Passion. This (at least for me and those I know) is a volunteer position. There is no paycheck…no money to serve as a motivator.

Someone who has the ability to say no. This one I often fail miserably on – but have become far better in the last year. There’s no way to do everything, everyone asks…no matter how much you want to. I have begun to pick my battles and say yes to those things I have the most passion for.

And finally, someone who has a strong support system. People that you can depend on, to support you emotionally, serve as a resource and also not be afraid to tell you no or when you’re wrong. Last night (as I have said many times), I would not have taken on this role without having a support system…and there is no way I would have been able to continue without them. From those who are literally my physical neighbors, to those that are a tweet, DM, message or vox away…they are my strength and oxygen.

So now I realize this is a crazy long list of qualities, and I thought about editing them for the most important ones (in my opinion) – but I can’t choose (and this post has now been sitting on my screen for a week). These though, they all just seem to be uber important to me. I don’t believe one is strong in all of these, all of the time; but possesses these qualities more often than not. Your thoughts? Would you take any off? What would you add?


Brighten Someone’s Day

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This past week I took my kids to a well known fast food chain. Not something I do often, but I was tired and so were the kids…not sure any of us would have held up long enough to sit in a restaurant. From the minute we walked in, we were greeted by a smile and warm welcome by this employee. After placing our order we waited…and waited, for our food. Two mins became almost fifteen. I can tell you, after a long day of being out, there was a reason why I gave in to fast food…it because we would get our food fast. Each passing minute, I feared we were closer to one of my children melting down. They were like little ticking timebombs. Every few mins this sweet girl would check on our food and us. When it was finally ready, she apologized and offered us a free dessert.

Whether she knew it or not, this girl working behind the counter controlled this conversation. Although normally all smiles, today I was tired and done. This lovely girl could have followed my lead, taken our order and simply blamed the delay and my dissatisfaction on someone else. But she didn’t, she set the tone and steered the conversation and experience in a positive direction, starting with her smile, and although I passed on the dessert offer, her genuine concern during our wait was much appreciated. In the end it was not what I got, but the experience I had. She not only prevented me from becoming upset over the longer wait, but she had improved my mood overall. For that I thank her.

When dealing with others, I think we need to remember that it isn’t only what we do for them, but how we do it. We have the power to change someone’s mindset, brighten their day…starting with something as simple as a smile. How we greet others, from our body language to the words that come out of our mouths, can set the tone for the conversation going forward. Empathy and patience, can do as much for the conversation as our actions.

 

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,

but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh


A Parent’s Takeaway of the White House Working Families Summit

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Friday, I received an email from the White House that I was selected to attend the Working Families Summit that following Monday. I had no idea what I would take from this experience. But it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Before the summit, someone said to me, “I hope it’s worth it.” I have to say, I think that a day’s worth is what we make of it. It was up to me to make sure I created an experience “worth my time”. My measure? The quality of the people I meet and get to know.

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By the time I had checked in, stood in line to pass through security and got my coffee, I had already met several amazing people who make other’s lives better through their work. Then there was the beauty of social media; the ability to know someone wherever you go; and if you don’t know someone, then the chance that you know someone who knows someone there. For me, I knew of one person also attending from my PLN on Twitter…and within a short time of arriving at the Omni, a friend I met through Twitter connected me with another person attending (turns out when we got talking, face to face, she is a real life neighbor). So before Vice President and Doctor Biden had even taken the stage, I was on cloud nine.

But this is more than a local social networking event. Although I was ecstatic about those I had met in the first hour, I really needed to take more from this event. So what was this day about? Some of it was what I expected the 9 hours to be about. How can we, the United States, provide families with a better quality work-life balance? What can be done so that an employee can provide for their family financially while also being there for them physically and emotionally? What basic necessities do we as a country need to provide for our citizens, and what can employers do? (You can learn more about the day at WorkingFamiliesSummit.org and see an archive of tweets from some of those in attendance, here.)

Then there was an aspect of this summit that I didn’t anticipate, yet it had the biggest impact on me. Women. I don’t know that I have ever been in a room with so many amazing women not only achieving  their goals and happiness, but also helping others do the same. A true WOW!! There were the featured speakers such as: the President, Vice President, First Lady and Dr Biden, all of who were completely down to earth; sharing stories of triumph and failures, struggles and what they see needs to be done to ease those struggles for others. There were top executives (mostly women) who spoke about breaking glass ceilings, inspiring girls to jump into the STEM field, and creating work environments accepting of families and all that comes with them (FYI…more pros than cons).

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And then there were those “everyday” people changing lives one at a time. They were as inspiring as the guest speakers if not more so. There was the professor sitting next to me that is working to educate her community on cultural differences and how those can be used to work together and strengthen the community. The mom who didn’t want to have to choose between being present for her children and a career, so she started her own business that accommodates that for her…and other moms looking for the same. The businesswoman sitting with me during a keynote, working to build 1 million mentors in the STEM industry (mentoring young people to help build our “pipeline” of future talent prepared to enter the fields). And the lady who I shared an outlet with to recharge our phones, who is working to help low-income women achieve more through education, financial counseling and more.

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At the end of the day, what were my personal takeaways from this summit? First, although women were a big part of the conversations, it is ultimately about advocating for better conditions for working families in general, male or female…regardless of their title (because children are not only raised by mom or dad – sometimes it is a grandparent or other relative, or even a foster parent). But my biggest personal takeaway had nothing to do with politics. It is what I can do to make a small difference in the lives of my children and those I know and/or meet. Growing up I never thought I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. As a mom, I always tell my children that they have the ability to do anything they set their hearts on. After the summit, I realize that we need to do more than simply tell our children they can achieve anything; we need to continue to expose them to all that is out there, surround them by those achieving their dreams, and inspire them to follow their dreams. How? Serve as role models and mentors ourselves. Seek out individuals that can serve as a mentor when we are not capable. (The beauty of social media can help ease that task.) And we can’t forget about the power of reading about someone and their achievements; in a book, newspaper or online.

For individuals in those positions; give back. Share with young people what is out there (one cannot dream to be something they don’t know exists), how their lessons in school are relevant to the real world, what your job entails and what skills are necessary, and the story of your journey and navigating obstacles.

Was this day “worth it”? No doubt! I am beyond honored to have been a part of this summit and inspired to continue to share the messages that came out of it.

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Coffee Talk – “New Math”, Discuss

 

The idea for this post originated from an email discussing experiences with the “new math”.It evolved into this collaborative effort; a discussion between parents (and a Lead Learner as well) from two different states sharing their perspective on the new math method adopted by the Common Core Standards. We welcome your opinion – please share your thoughts in replies.

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Tony Sinanis – Parent of a 4th grade student and Lead Learner

On June 2, 2010 the landscape of public education was changed dramatically when the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics for grades kindergarten through 12 were officially released to the nation in their completed form. These proposed national standards, which came as a result of the 2004 report Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts, were developed because both employers and colleges were demanding more of high school graduates than in the past and because these same graduates were lacking in the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed. The Common Core State Standards were developed as an opportunity to create a clear and consistent vision and understanding of what students are expected to learn in school so that educators and families know what they need to do to support their students. Furthermore, the CCSS are intended to address the “educational crisis” that exists in our country and is reflected in our inability to compete in the current landscape of the global economy. Our children are reportedly lacking the literacy, mathematical and critical thinking skills necessary to compete with learners from other countries and secure jobs that are relevant in today’s world. These standards and the aforementioned crisis have led to the “new math” unfolding in classroom across this country.

New math, as it has been coined on social media, by educators and families, is extremely concerning to me as an educator and lead learner. You see, I was educated by the “old math” way and I turned out fine. I am able to compute numbers, shop in a store and manage myself at the bank. I think the math experiences I had as a child prepared me for a success life where working with numbers has never been a problem. Unfortunately, the current landscape of public education tells us that way of teaching was good enough; didn’t go deep enough and didn’t challenge students to master important concepts. So, here we are today, struggling with the new math – educators, students and families – all struggling with new math. I mean come on, who really understands bar modeling? And does it really matter in the end? I am not sold on the idea but for some reason many elementary kids in this country are being exposed to this concept, and many other new math concepts, and are being told that is the way they must solve the problem. Really? We want all our kids to use the same strategy no matter what their learning style? For me, this is one of the biggest problems plaguing our schools today as a result of new math!

With that being said, I think there are some significant upsides to the entire new math experience. First and foremost, we are introducing less concepts to children and we are challenging the children to explore these concepts at a deeper level. This focus on deeper understandings is important because it challenges the children to move beyond basic computation and apply concepts to different real life situations. Another piece of new math that I value is the idea that we are seeing an increase in the use of manipulatives during the introduction of new concepts so the children develop a concrete understanding before moving on to a more abstract one. It is a powerful evolution to observe. Finally, our children are developing stronger problem solving skills, which will serve them well in any scenario or situation. So, do I love everything about new math? No! Do I think we need to make some improvements? Yes! And the main thing we need to remember is that each of our children learn differently – some like the old way while others embrace the new.

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Lisa Davis, Parent of kindergarten, 5th grade, and 7th grade students

Being the mom of 3 school aged children, you can be sure that the subject of “new math” has often been a topic of conversation. I also held the position of President of my elementary school PTA last year, the first year of implementation of common core in the state of New York.

I cannot tell a lie, none of the feedback from parents has been positive. For my daughter in 4th grade, the new math seemed less of an issue than for my 6th grade son. He had a rough time. As a matter of fact, so did his entire grade. The gaps in the curriculum proved very challenging. The pace was incredible, and the new “rigor” was certainly there. These factors on top of a transition from elementary school to middle school did not play in the favor of my son and his classmates.

At PTA meetings, I heard frustrated parents share homework questions, and discuss issues with helping with their children. Pictures were posted on Facebook and Twitter, showing 1st grade math problems that made even math majors scratch their heads.

Even with these experiences, I am not ready to definitively say that the new math is a failure. I still question where it came from, why it’s so different than the way we learned, and what created the need for such a change. But my inquisitive mind also wants to figure it out. I want to see why this is meant to be the answer we’ve been waiting for, that I didn’t realize we had questioned.

So we’ve been sold some promises. This new math will allow children to have a better number sense. They will be able to do “mental math” faster and at greater lengths than before. After a foundation of this math style, students will have a better understanding of math functions.

Ultimately, when asked my opinion on new math – I’m still undecided. There’s no question in my mind that new math was improperly rolled out. If the state had decided to begin new math in kindergarten last year, I think we would have been spared a lot of headaches. But as we can’t turn back the clock, I chose to be optimistic and hopeful that this new curriculum will deliver.

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Gwen Pescatore, Parent of 1st grade, 4th grade, and 7th grade students

When I was taught math, we weren’t often just given a formula and set of numbers to compute. We were given a problem; one filled with words and numbers. We then needed to take the scenario and pull the pieces of information we needed to solve the problem at hand. Sometimes this meant completing several steps – and we always had to show our work and label our answers. Math was always real. It was calculating the tip for a waitress, the amount of carpet we needed for our room, how long it would take to drive to our vacation destination, how much time we would save if we increased our speed, and so on.

This part of the “new math” I am ALL for. I believe we need to show kids how what they’re learning in the classroom relates to their real life today and in the future. From here, I think I disagree more than I agree. I think there’s truth to the statement that “one size doesn’t fit all”. Showing our kids a variety of ways to solve a problem is wonderful. We not only appeal to different learning styles – but also ways to solve a problem in a variety of situations…but at what point are we throwing too many options at them? When does it simply cause confusion? When does it create a larger issue that you are spending so much time sharing the various ways to solve the problem, and not enough time allowing kids to become proficient using a select few? Also, why are we forcing kids to use a particular method to solve the problem?In my opinion, as long as they can solve the problem, show their work and explain why they chose the method they did – I say let them choose.

Personally, I feel lucky to be in the position we’re in at our school. When the math program changed over, we had several options to learn about it, what to expect as far as the writing and reading to come, and the timeline we should expect it may take our children to adjust. I have yet to see or hear people in our school or district sharing out math problems that they, as adults, struggle with when lending their child a hand doing homework as I’ve seen done in other places. I’m not saying there aren’t kids struggling. We do after all have a large ESL population. But…I don’t feel the struggles are as extreme.

Changes can be scary, especially when it can make you feel helpless and/or inferior. Schools need to do their part to eliminate as many of those fears as possible by providing families with information such as why there is a change, what “new math” looks like, an approximate length of time it may take for their kids to adjust…and where they can turn for help, when they need it, to be able to help their children at home.

A special thanks to Tony for being our first post collaborator! You can find Tony on Twitter at @tonysinanis and his blog at http://www.leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com.


Recognizing the Unknown Edu-Celebrities

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Just my quick 2 cents…

I have read many posts lately about how there are so many award-worthy educators out there that aren’t connected, that deserve as much recognition as others that are (recently for a particular award ceremony).

I think it’s easy to recognize those using social media because, just as McDonald’s ads keep their Golden Arches fresh in our minds (even if we don’t eat there), so do the names of connected edus and their efforts appearing in our news feeds. I wholeheartedly agree that there are many out there doing amazing work and no one outside of their community or possibly even, building have any idea. But….I think that if we believe that these people are true “rockstars” or “change makers”, then shouldn’t those of us who are connected, be nominating and/or recognizing them when we get the chance?

Just as I am not a fan of showing our loved ones how much we love them only on Valentines’ Day, I don’t think we should limit our efforts in recognizing our heroes in education to award ceremonies. We can recognize them in our school (and community) newspapers, letters, announcements; on our social media accounts like Facebook or Twitter; in our blogs or weekly chats…and anywhere else we have access.

So if you know of an educator whose work and efforts is worthy of sharing….please share. We all love to read positive news.


PD for PTO Leaders

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As I listen to educators on Twitter (and again in a meeting last night) speak about the importance of professional development (or PD), it made me think…parent group leaders need this. Whether you start in a small way on your school’s board and work your way up to an executive position – or do as I do and go from chairing events to taking on the president’s position, you most likely do the best with what existing knowledge and experiences you’ve had, to lead your community’s families. I understand the big differences is that for one, parents are volunteering for these positions, they are not paid, and two they are not long-term. At most, you will serve in the duration that your children are at the school. But are we selling our communities short by not providing groups with the training necessary to work with and best engage those from lives unlike our own?

As I wrap up my first term as president, I do not think that I would have been a disservice to our group or school if I had simply gone through these two years with the knowledge I brought and never exposed to how others were doing things outside of our district. I have always wanted everyone’s participation…but I think we would have continued to serve more as the fundraising and party planning committee and less as a resource for families. We each bring our own passions, and this particular one is mine. I honestly feel if all we do is support our schools during parties, we send the wrong message (as a group) to our children.

So where do I go to learn and share with others? 99% of it is free. Just like most anyone volunteering, in all reality, I cannot pay too much out of my own wallet to learn how to better serve in a short-term volunteer position.

Obviously Twitter is a place I use extensively. Lisa is a perfect example of one person who beyond sharing a blog with, is one who (like many others on Twitter) inspires me; helps me reach solutions; opens my eyes and pushes me to think from another lens. But the best part about Twitter is that I am not in a parent bubble. In most situations, parents and teachers/educators are not learning from each other. On Twitter, I am able to freely learn from and with educators. They have not only provided me with valuable information about topics in education, but helped me to see through another lens…their’s. If we want to have “a seat at the table” with teachers and school admin in planning for things to come, it helps if we understand how these issues/requests effect not only our children and families, but also the teachers and schools or districts.

This year, to help our own district parent groups connect and share with those outside of their own building, I created a Facebook group for us (most are not on, nor are they comfortable with or interested in Twitter). As much as I would love to see them all on Twitter, the WHERE isn’t what’s important; it’s the conversations that lead to sharing and learning that matters. I have to say, I love reading the Facebook feed. No it is not a massive learning forum like Twitter…but there is still extremely beneficial learning, sharing and connecting happening. We have lenses from 13 elementary schools, 3 middle schools and a few additional groups like gifted resources and special ed participating. Today I posted a question to see if they all are interested in doing a book chat. We did one at our elementary school, and would love to do one with all of our parent groups in our community, given we all come from such a variety of lenses. We’ll see.

But, as always, the ultimate way to connect…face to face. This happens in our monthly PTO meetings and in the school. We take it a step further at our school, and learn from a larger population when we host ParentCamp. These are not only free learning opportunities – but also relationship builders. And when we build and strengthen relationships, we open the door to inviting other people joining us in leading. Not only feel comfortable with us, but feel confident when participating in the conversations.

Now….as much as I learn from the above for free, I have found in the last year and half, great value in attending educational conferences. The world of education is far different now than it was when we were in school…plus just because we attended school, does not mean we know the least bit about the world of education. These conferences are geared toward the educators, but we can take this same information and apply these ideas at home. In addition, it also can provide us with information needed to be able to “sit at the table” when our schools and districts are planning for the future. With knowledge we can effectively advocate.

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference that was not only about education – but education with a focus on engaging families. I am still processing and excited about the people I met from around the country at the Families Learning Summit. For someone who loses sleep over knowing another school does not value a parent partnership or a PTO that doesn’t believe everyone in their community should have an equal voice regardless of the amount of time or money they have to give…this was like Disney World. Every conversation was about including families – from all walks of life. And that takes a lot of conversations, because how we engage an English speaking, stay at home mom is honestly not the same approach we will most likely need to take to engage an ESL family or one that the parents are working several jobs, early morning to late night. It was simply awesome to see firsthand how a school engages families through their STEM program by first exposing the families to the lessons. To hear a group of teachers share, tips not on how to help our children master their math facts, but a website that inspires so much wonder in their students that the children then take that excitement home with them; extending their learning to outside the classroom walls. And to a teacher who defines and shares with us the difference between cultural competence (which I feel is where many of us lie) and cultural proficiency (which is where we really need to be). Since not everyone can attend these fee-based learning opportunities (although I think it would be well worth groups setting aside a small budget to send 1 or 2 people each year), I think it is that much more important that those who do attend, share their experiences in some forum with others (in person with their community, in a blog, or through social media).

As much as I originally liked to think of this role of serving on our school’s home and school association (PTO) as just a way to help rally the troops to support our children and school, we are far more than that. When armed with knowledge and resources, we have the ability to really enrich our community and bring positive change.

Image Credit: CabotSchools.org


Twitter for Parents in the Eduworld?

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Image Credit : http://www.sxc.hu/

The Journey to Finding Your Voice and Place on Twitter

When I first began my Twitter journey, I was consumed by all the information available. I drank everything in; constantly re-tweeting posts so I could have a record of articles I wanted to read, jumping on every chat that showed up in my feed, and reaching out to authors and other individuals that I had respected from afar. The experience was exhausting, but so worth the late night info binges!

After much time, I feel that I have finally found my Twitter voice. As a parent interested in education, it has been a windy road. Finding a chat that genuinely wants, not just welcomes  a parent’s lens is not a given. There are certainly educators who are not interested in conversing with non-educators.  I may have also brought my baggage with me. I spent just as much time looking up terms in the beginning as I did sharing my thoughts. Cutting through the edu-jargon and acronyms took time.

One thing I had to remind myself as I got more into the Twitter world, which is easy to forget, is that there are people behind those posts. Some are nice, some not so nice.  Some with valuable information to share, some….. And some individuals have agendas that don’t include me or other parents. Twitter is a reflection of the workplace for educators. Some strongly hold on to hierarchies, even antiquated ones. Some really want to change those paradigms and reshape education as a true partnership with not only parents but students as equal players.

All those hours sifting through chats, hastags, and follows, I have found people that really challenge my mind, respect my input, and encourage more interactions. I have found educators who respect parents making the effort to learn more about education. I have found chats that appreciate and seek parent points of view. I am always appreciative of educators who are evolving and refining their perspectives. Those are the people I want to learn with. Those are the people who inspire me to push myself to reach for more.

One of my goals as a Parent Leader has always been giving parents a voice; enabling them to have a seat at the table. Twitter has been an instrumental tool in allowing me to contribute in conversations with teachers and administrators. In order to successfully find your way, you have to hit a few bumps and then pick yourself up and carry on. The journey is part of the prize.

Some of my favorite chats include:

#PTChat, #NYEDchat, #COLChat, #ArkEdChat, #TMSHawkChat, #FinnedChat

This post is dedicated to some truly special educators:

@TonySinanis, @DaisyDyerDuerr, @thomascmurray, @JohnFrtisky, @donald_gately, @timdwalk, @DavidHochheiser

Thank you!


Takeaways From The National Title I Conference

There is much I could write about from my experience this week at the National Title I conference. Before I possibly share what I learned from various sessions….I want to share the experience. I was invited to present with the National Center for Families Learning on Wonder and Inquiry Motivate At-Risk Students and Families. My role? To share a parents perspective. While there; I thought it only made sense to take in as much of the conference as possible. What kind of sessions did I participate in? Everything from Designing a School-Family Compact, to Literacy Instruction Through the Use of Mobile Technologies, to a session called Moving Targets, where a school shared their story of moving from a last place ranking by their state up to around the top 25%…in one year.

First takeaway…ENERGY. If we want children to be excited about learning…the adults need to also exhibit excitement. The teachers and principals that I saw sharing their success stories were not just teaching their students – but I’m also sharing their excitement for learning.

By far, one of the greatest ways to kick off the sessions…Jeff Charbonneau, a teacher from Washington who was selected last year as the National Teacher of the Year, was Sunday’s keynote speaker. The title of his presentation…Welcome to Another Day in Paradise! (The title alone tells you his outlook) I think it’s hard to capture what makes a school or individual so great in one hour – but Jeff did a excellent job of sharing all the reasons one can celebrate being a teacher. The impact a teacher can make. His energy was infectious. (I would love to hear his students share their thoughts on him one time.)

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Before Jeff Charbonneau took the stage, the conference was kicked off with each of the schools recognized as a Title I Distinguished School stepping up on the stage and sharing with the thousands in the room what made their school special or what their motto was. These schools brought such energy, enthusiasm and pride, as they had every reason to be.

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The session I mentioned earlier, Moving Targets, how did they turn themselves around? Starting the day excited about the opportunity to make a difference, taking a honest look at themselves, stopped making excuses and doing whatever they needed to do to provide their students (or as the principal called them “her babies”) the education they deserved.

Second….as someone mentioned to me this week, “Technology, they’re all using it.” Smartphones and tablets have given many access to the internet and social media; regardless of their economic status. So not only should sessions be talking about tools to use in a classroom between teacher and student – but there should also be discussion of how these tools can be used to take the learning home; outside of the school walls and in connecting families with the learning.

If we want students and families to use technology and social media to enhance learning, I think it is also important for the schools to role model how to use it. I have been spoiled in that any education conferences I’ve have attended in the past are filled with educators using social media to share what they were learning throughout various sessions. Not only is it wonderful for those not in attendance (and that would include families following you/school account) – but for those wanting to be part of multiple sessions simultaneously. I’m not sure if it was the extremely limited wi-fi access at the venue, or if many of those in attendance simply don’t use social media. But sharing was almost non-existent (I pulled anything I could find from Twitter relating to this conference, and there were only a few of us tweeting out of around 3000 in attendance). The @natltitleIconf last tweet…note the date – Oct 23!

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I don’t care how information is shared…but I do think they are missing something big by not sharing. The schools and people that fill them, that were in attendance are doing great things…what they are doing should be put out there as much as possible, so other schools with similar struggles can learn from them. Plus, there were many phenomenal sessions there that I think provided great information that families could use in supporting their student and schools. What a thrill it would have been for a parent at home to follow along with a session such as “Multiplying Vocabulary Using Manipulatives”? It doesn’t sound like a party…but for a parent unsure how to help their child who may be struggling; these tips could make a difference.

Third…engaging families IN the process is a work in progress. This conference had more parents in attendance than most other educational conferences (meaning individuals not also considered educators), because of that and the fact that part of Title I encompasses family engagement, I expected far more sessions to share how to include families in these efforts, discussions, processes. The ones that did include them, did it well.

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But other sessions limited discussion to the admin and teacher. A few mentioned families as an, “oh, and be sure to have your families review this – or make sure to share a copy with your families,” but if you are doing what’s best for the students and you really want a full partnership between home and school…then you need to include families earlier on…not at the end as a “by the way, here is what we are doing.” Maybe this isn’t so much about tailoring the sessions as having voices in the sessions willing to share their ideas on how to incorporate the parents in the process. Either way, I think that this is an opportune time to provide tips to educators on best practices for engaging families during the processes and discussions….to help them build real home-school partnerships.

Below is a tweet that I shared with two of our teachers not in attendance, but then I also shared them with a few parents I thought would appreciate using them from home.

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As always, I think anytime a parent has the chance to learn from and attend a educational conference, they should. There is so much to take away from these conferences. They not only help to educate and inform on various topics – but you can add a much needed balance to discussions and meet lots of amazing educators doing amazing things with students each and every school day (which for me brings a sense of respect for what my children’s teachers endure each day while still serving as an inspiration). For those not able to pay the larger fees of conferences such as the National Title I conference, I encourage you to seek out a local EdCamp (which are free and full of amazing educators to learn from and with). 


My Case For Social Media and Technology Use In School

www.sxc.hu hand_on_keyboard

Today, yet again, I have heard people question if and why we should be using various pieces of technology and social media in school. It has been almost 40 years since personal computers were successfully marketed and sold to the general public. It has been over 20 years since the “world wide web” (www) was launched. It has been 10 years since the launch of Facebook and 7 years since the first iPhone was released. These things will continue to evolve in capabilities and how they are used – but they are not going away.

Besides the fact that we are supposed to be educating our children for tomorrow’s world, here are the reasons I can  think of off the top of my head as to why social media  is of importance in our schools (some of it relates to tech – but honestly, I think it’s a no-brainer as to why kids should be exposed to and using technology).

  • Given the numbers above…these things are not going away. Our children will be using them whether we like it or not. Just as we role model proper table manners, or how to cross a street, we need to do the same for using technology and social media. That requires us to learn about them and use them ourselves.
  • I don’t believe that any job that our children will hold in the future will be sans-tech or the need to work with others from around the world. (Again, we are educating for the future – so they should be exposed to technology and collaborating from the earliest of ages).
  • The above ties into a global mindset, that we are part of something larger and all that we can learn a great deal from others outside of our “bubble”. This is hard for a child to grasp if they have never been exposed to anything/anyone outside their bubble.
  • Empathy. Although we may speak a different language or wear different clothing, we are all human. Learning about how others live, what their struggles are as a culture and their customs, can help children be more empathetic to those different from them when trying to resolve issues later on.
  • We are so concerned about test scores and how much learning needs to happen in a school year. These things extend the learning to anytime, anywhere. Empowering them to continue learning about a topic outside of the classroom, solely because it is of interest to them is worth its weight in gold.
  • In addition to when learning occurs, it’s also how and from whom. I love that you can participate in a conversation on a blog, or tweet a statement or question to the world and receive responses from experts, authors, artists, and those who have been through or are currently going through the experience firsthand. How insanely powerful and exciting for a child (and adults) to get that opportunity that might not otherwise exist.
  • Relationship building with not only families – but the community. Sharing, through a blog post or social media, moments from the day of kids learning is nothing less than fabulous. For parents and the community to have a window into the classroom and to be able to see the positive things our children and schools are doing, builds confidence and support. It reduces the number of reasons one can question efforts and spending when seen firsthand, the product and results. In addition, families can hold richer conversations at home about what their children have been learning because they aren’t dependent upon their child to remember moments of the 6+ hours prior. Instead, parents can ask about a particular lesson/moment. From there they can also tie in what they are doing during their family time, with the lessons at school. I know I have chosen a particular museum exhibit and what we have done while on a walk at the park because of what my children’s teachers shared from the classroom.
  • Not only can immediate family members support the learning outside of the classroom – but putting it out there online enables family members near AND far to follow along and support the child’s learning.
  • It brings the “great” things to life. A teacher can tell you all they want on back to school night that they have some great lessons, projects and/or activities planned for the year. But the definition for great may vary for some. And something the teacher thinks is great, may be over the moon to say a parent that never experienced anything like that themselves growing up. Why would you shortchange your efforts? Let others see the opportunities you are giving these children.
  • It is a way for busy families to keep up with what is happening while on the go, without having to depend on if a paper makes it home, if they have the info from the paper with them while out and regardless of if they are physically able to visit the school..
  • It helps maintain a regular, open line of communication in between those face to face moments. Instead of speaking once every few months – it could be weekly. That can drastically change a relationship.
  • And the other question I heard….but how many people are actually following and using? I think that grows over time. Our newer parents use the social media to communicate far more than the ones who went through 5 years without it at first, I believe because they don’t know any different. But many of the other families are, if nothing else, using it a resource for information. The more you use it for good and for sharing valuable resources though, I think the more your community will begin to use it to interact with you. But if you never start, or only give it a few months, you will never have these opportunities. And although I think it benefits the adults; if we don’t expose our children to this world of technology and social media now, they will be the ones suffering the most down the road.

So as a parent, I beg of you not to short change our children or limit the opportunities to engage more families and the community. I understand you may be unfamiliar with it – but ignorance will benefit no one. I will do my part at home, I ask that you do yours at school.


SheilaSpeaking

A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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