Why ParentCamp?

IMG_4979Having just wrapped up the first ParentCamp USA hosted at the U.S. Department of Ed in Washington DC, I feel like there are half a dozen takeaway blog posts I could write. But there is one topic I feel more passionate about than any other, and that is….Why ParentCamp? Why do I care so much about an event that I am willing to donate countless hours of my limited time (as does every other ParentCamp organizer)? So, here we go…

I wish I could somehow capture the energy and excitement that happens in a ParentCamp smackdown (the last session where everyone comes together to share one thing they took away from the day). Having attended many Edcamps, I can tell you the energy is triple that of an Edcamp smackdown. Why is that?

I think there could be a few reasons, but believe the biggest one is that parents (families) are not typically part of edu-conversations. They may be given information by their schools, they may talk to each other about education, but seldom are they truly part of the conversations where they are not only free to express concerns and ask questions, but also contribute ideas and to the solutions.

ParentCamp like Edcamp is nothing formal (which is a huge appeal, because it’s hard to be real in a formal setting, and if we aren’t real, then we likely aren’t digging into the real issues.). It is not a bunch of presentations. It may even be more about the relationship building than informing. ParentCamp is a group of people coming together (often community – but in this case, it was our entire country) because they all care about the same thing…supporting our children and their education.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to educate them. To best do that we need to first recognize titles are irrelevant (I’d also add, to some extent, so is the level of your education). EVERYONE has something valuable to contribute to the conversation. Each one of us has a unique lens and perspective that others cannot speak from. Each one of us has triumphed over an obstacle in a way that someone else has not. For that, each one of us can offer something to the conversation that will help our kids reach for dreams they never knew existed. It is difficult to get people to attend and participate in something (without being bribed with a prize) if they feel inferior, so…goodbye titles!

So how do we engage families and the community in education? Should topics offered at ParentCamp focus on relationship building? I can tell you that is what I assume many thought ParentCamp was about at first, because we had more discussions submitted on relationship building than anything else for ParentCamp USA. So this may sound a tad crazy, but no. We should not have so many sessions built specifically on how to engage with families. I’m not saying to have none, but in all reality, that’s not where parents struggle (we often struggle with getting the real information, not with speaking to our child’s teacher), and it really isn’t what is going to entice the average parent to take a few hours out of their weekend to attend. If we want to engage families. If we want to entice them to come and share and learn with our teachers, we need to give them information that they can use. We need to give them information that is relevant to them and their family, today. We need to start conversations that talk about what education looks like today (both the struggles and crazy amazing things) – because it likely looks little like what they experienced when they were in school. We need to come together to share ideas on how to make it easier to be a parent. The world changes so fast, and we all have so little time to do the research/reading to stay up on how to use social media…or what it is, or what is STEM and why we should care. Parents don’t need another 2 free hours each day to be a partner in their child’s education, they simply need to tweak what/how they do things already.

Here’s the other piece…I always love when you go to a Back-to-School Night, read the welcome newsletter, meet with the teacher, and they all stress how important it is for us to “support our child’s education/learning at home.” How many families know what the heck that means, or how to go about it? I remember when my oldest first started school. Based on what the teacher and school shared with/told me, the way I was to support my child and his education was to read the newsletters, show up at events, contribute to the fundraisers, volunteer my time, make sure he did his homework, and sign off on a piece of paper that we read 15 minutes a day. I’m sorry – but THIS drives me insane! This is being his cheerleader. It does little to ensure he is getting the most out of his education. It sets me up to only play an active role after the fact, when something has gone wrong. To be reactive versus proactive.

To support learning parents need to know what that means, and how to best do that. We need to know about what and how our children are learning. We need to know about the tools they are using, and a general idea of how they are using them. We need to ask questions, but in order to do so, we need to have some basic knowledge first.

Going back to discussions offered at a ParentCamp…we need to not only offer feel-good sessions, but also sessions that provide concrete information and resources families can use/turn to tomorrow. By default, we will build a working relationship between home and school when we can all hold a conversation about helping our kids read for passion, navigate the mind-boggling IEP process, or use the technology that our kids are using in AND out of school.

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Remember, the average parent has just a few hours to give each year to be physically at the school. They’re going to be selective when choosing those moments, and right or wrong, they’re almost always going to choose moments that are about and for their child…not ones to help make the school prettier, or community better. One could argue though that if they are helping their child be a valuable member of their community, they are in turn helping make the community better too.

At the end of ParentCamp USA, those of us who planned the event sat down to quickly debrief the experience. The question came up about what we are doing to help prepare educators on how to engage with families. A valid question, and something our schools needs to be better at. A question that I personally believe we make far too complicated (a conversation for a separate post). But a question that is not to be addressed at ParentCamp.

What makes ParentCamp so wonderful and exciting is that it’s unique in that it is about the parent piece in this puzzle. It is about helping engage parents through inviting them into these conversations they’ve seldom been a part of, and how they can better support their child’s education because they now are beginning to understand what the heck that means, and how they can do it without trying to find more time in their day. If we want to talk about helping educators become better at what they do, we have Edcamps. (Side note: although educator focused, I highly encourage parents to attend and participate in an Edcamp. The participants are extremely welcoming and you can learn SO much. Most things being done or used in a classroom, can also be done and/or used at home. And the bonus? If you see something great, you can bring it back, and serve as an advocate for these great practices to be applied to your own child’s classroom, school and/or district.)

So…Why ParentCamp?

  • It builds and strengthens relationships and community
  • It provides a forum and starts crucial conversations
  • It provides us with information and ideas
  • It opens our eyes to new perspectives…and helps us see we all want the same thing for our kids
  • It proves even difficult conversations can prove to be productive and positive when we toss titles, put kids at the center, and approach the issue with a “we” mindset
  • It proves that families and educators can come together to talk about more than class parties and grades


  • For those inviting kids to lead, it proves how incredibly bright and talented our children are, and what we are missing out on by not inviting them into these crucial conversations (Student, Ben Cooper stole the show with his discussion about technology used to support students with dyslexia/learning disabilities at ParentCamp USA). Parents & educators, take that as a compliment as to what an amazing job you are all doing.

To learn more about hosting your own amazing ParentCamp…go to www.parentcamp.org

To catch a glimpse of the inspiring day, conversations had, and energy at ParentCamp USA, check out #parentcampusa, the Twitter account @parentcamp and the Facebook group “parentcamp”.

A huge thank you to the U.S. Department of Ed for opening their doors to host a ParentCamp in our nation’s capital, and to all those who participated and made it such a phenomenal day and event. 

BrandEd comes to WPED – We’re talking Student Voice!


Gwen and I had the honor and pleasure of having Joe San Felippo and Tony Sinanis join us to discuss Amplifying Student Voice. We discussed not only the importance of developing student voice, but how to use that valuable information by putting it into action. Both guests share their own experiences where student voice has not only influenced but changed their schools and districts for the better.

Dr. Tony Sinanis is the principal of Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, NY. Cantiague was named a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School and Tony received the 2014 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year Award and the national 2013 Bammy Award for Elementary School Principal of the Year. Joe Sanfelippo, PhD is the Superintendent of the Fall Creek School District. Prior to taking on his current role, he was an Elementary Principal in two rural school districts. #GoCrickets!

For more Tony and Joe, check out their BrandEd homepage at Bam Radio where you can listen to their variety of programs:  http://www.bamradionetwork.com/branded/
You can also buy their books – Principal Professional Development: Leading Learning in the Digital Age and The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story on Amazon.Com.

Quick link to the program Amplifying Student Voice:


How We Dumped the Culture of Compliance and Encourage Real Learning


“In a true culture of learning, titles go away.”

This is not just a politically correct phrase. It isn’t even limited to a school environment. The #COLchat team (Michele, Rod and Adam) share what the culture of learning is, isn’t and how they have worked to achieve it in Swartz Creek.


They used the “R” word. Talked about compliance. Shared their learning.

Within minutes of first joining a #COLchat conversation, you can tell, this trio, truly believes in those 3 words…culture of learning. They walk the walk and lead by example. For that very reason, it is an honor to have them join us on #ParentED for How We Dumped the Culture of Compliance and Encourage Real Learning.

After pouring through thousands of archived tweets, the #COLchat team has put together the 12 components for building a culture of learning. #COLchat to Action, will be released, September 1!

WPED – Encouraging a Passion for Life-Long Reading with JoEllen McCarthy


We had the pleasure of speaking with JoEllen McCarthy (@JoEllenMcCarthy) about encouraging a passion for reading on our latest WPED program. Aside from the plethora of information that JoEllen has at her fingertips, she has a magical way of delivering it with enthusiasm and fun! If you haven’t had the opportunity to see her present, do yourself a favor and mark your calendar for any upcoming events. Her website with dates, blog posts, and many links to the resources she shares can be found here:



Check out our latest program where we discuss encouraging a passion for reading for all students. We talk about the importance of a learning community that incorporates teachers, students, and parents. Also discussed is the transition from elementary to middle school and the needs students have as they grow. Resources are shared throughout the discussion – making this a fun-packed, information rich program!






Creating a Warm and Friendly School Environment

Unable to sleep or eat. Chewing at the fingernails. Hyperactive. Silent. Emotional. Just a few symptoms a student may have leading up to the first day at a new school, or even classroom. Let’s face it, that first day can be scary…and not just for the student, but the parents too.

But, as school leaders (be it admin, teachers, or parents), it is our job to ensure that once they step foot into our schools (and hopefully before because our reputation precedes us), that anxiety dissipates.  Our schools should not ever feel scary or intimidating for any student, family…or staff member. To create a thriving learning environments, we need to create safe learning environments. Carrie Jackson and her Timberview MS team have done just that. She shared with us HERE on our ParentED program a few ways they not only create a warm and welcoming environment, but also what they have recently begun to do to create, build and strengthen relationships in AND between grade levels.

To continue learning from Carrie and her team…you can follow them on Twitter at @Jackson_Carrie, @TimberviewMS and their hashtag #TMSHawkchat.


Lessons Learned


Considering I have 4 blog posts written but not posted over the last month…I think I am going to just start posting without editing (content). So apologies it isn’t pretty, but if I start to edit…it will join the others of “to be posted…someday’s.”

One of my favorite things to watch is a group of kids, of all ages and skill levels, who don’t know each other prior, form a pick up ball game. Having 3 children, and spending lots of time at the baseball fields, I’m am blessed to have seen a few. The kids form teams, set ground rules and have a great time playing…with little thought or stress. It isn’t perfect. They may have differences in opinion, but they’re resolved and the game goes on. They don’t lose sight of why they’re there. AND…although they aren’t there to formally “get” anything out of it, they leave having learned so many valuable life-long skills that cannot be taught from a textbook…nor can they be measured or assessed.

I have immense respect for all the volunteer coaches out there. Coaching takes lots of energy, can be time consuming to do it well, and you go into it knowing you will most likely upset people for one reason or another. I have been on both sides (parent-spectator and coach) and have lived the struggles from both perspectives. Tonight an issue came up at my son’s baseball game where adults got in the way of the game (if just for a minute). I fully understand why the adults were upset tonight, but in the end it didn’t change anything. In the heat of the moment, we may believe we are standing up for our kids and/or team. We need to do a better job of taking time to stop and think about what we are choosing to argue. What (and who) really wins at the end of this? I’m going to bet our kids lose every time, in more ways than one.

As adults, we have so much to learn from kids. Below, in complete middle-of-the-night-thoughts random order, are a few things I have taken from watching these kids:

  • Recognize individuals for their unique strengths and weaknesses – but don’t hold it against them.
  • Keep “the why” at the center
  • Welcome any and all who are interested in joining in…no prior connections needed
  • Cheer everybody on…even those on the opposing team
  • Laugh, laugh and laugh some more
  • Take with you a lifetime of memories and new friends
  • Communication is crucial…you have to talk to and hear one another
  • Jump in and get to know others…you never know what may grow from it

Choose Not To Be Color Blind

Henri Martin - Vallee du Vert en Aval

This week I went home to visit family. It is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and filled with lots of people who look like me and many who even have the same religious beliefs. In my 12 years of school there, I can probably count on one hand the number of people I knew that were “different” from me.

While there, I got into a conversation with someone that led to them saying they were “color blind”. In a way, the statement didn’t surprise me. I didn’t know this person really, but in my years spent in the valley, people were always polite, gracious and respectful to all. AND — looking back, I’d say pretending to be blind to any differences. We weren’t to point out differences. We didn’t discuss them. We were to act as if we were all equals and the same.

Well, I am all for the equal piece. We are all humans with the same basic needs. We all should have the same rights and opportunities…regardless of the color of our skin, language we speak, clothes we wear, or size of our bank accounts. But, we are not all the same, nor do I believe we should pretend we are. I am not saying we need to treat individuals differently because they aren’t like us – but acknowledge, understand and respect the differences.

In ignoring differences (of any sorts), I feel we are expecting everyone to conform to the same beliefs or ways, risking sending a message that different equates to a bad thing or that discussing differences guarantees confrontation. In the case of the community I grew up in, I don’t believe it was intentional (and sure that is the same for others too). But what do we gain from this?

Today, I am raising my children in an environment unlike the one I grew up in. First, teaching them that different is not bad, and sometimes it can be quite awesome (while fully understanding that being “like” someone else is comforting at times). We don’t need to highlight differences all the time, but we also should never be ashamed of them.

Second, I don’t ever want my children to be “color blind” (or blind to anything). I want them to see people for who they are. See life and perspectives like, and unlike, their own; be it foods, beliefs, ways of life, struggles one faces, or things that make one happy. Get to know others and understand why they say and/or do what they do. Respect other’s choices and make a decision to associate with them because of who they are as individuals.

My why? I hope it opens their eyes and allows for them to better connect with the world outside of their bubble, making them much more empathetic human beings. Just a few weeks ago, my littlest guy told his brother who had just complained about a bathroom that, “at least there was a toilet,” because his friend came from a country where the toilet was just a hole in the ground. I don’t want my kids to settle for a less sanitary bathroom because they know that – but I think it helps put things in perspective.

So, I hope fewer people are color blind (or blind to any differences). I hope that we see the colors. Recognize that each individual has different needs. Celebrate and encourage people to share their unique perspectives, talents and strengths for others to learn from them. Just as the collection of many dots of unique color create beautiful mountain scene in the above painting; it is the collection of many unique individuals that make our communities and organizations resource and knowledge rich.

Above painting by Henri Martin

Thoughts and a Thank You


In recent weeks I’ve heard a parent say to me that they chose not to attend an educational conference because they feared they wouldn’t have been welcomed. I’ve heard of parents who have not engaged teachers in conversation because they felt they wouldn’t be heard. I know this isn’t one-sided. There are plenty of educators out there that make similar comments about parents…and ones that I have met that seem to have little respect for what a parent can contribute. But we do ourselves, children and schools a great disservice to make blanket statements and/or assume all are the same. I’m not minimizing the perceptions. They are valid and I know that individuals exist on both sides fitting those roles. But you will never know of the great individuals out there if you don’t give them a chance. (And I’ve found there are far more great ones than not – especially at Edcamps!)

In the last 12 months, I have met in person (and virtually) so many wonderful educators from all over. They’ve welcomed me into their conversations, respected my contributions, and always willing to share their knowledge and/or advice whenever needed. I am not an educator by profession. I’ve never studied to be one. I am a parent. A parent who just like all the other parents out there, want nothing less than the best for my children and all the other children out there. I know that we cannot accomplish that by pointing fingers or blaming others, and we cannot do it alone. So please don’t shy away from a phenomenal opportunity to learn with and from others, or from a conversation because you fear what an individual from “the other side” might say or how they might act. There always needs to be someone to take that first step, open that door or extend that hand. Why not be that one? Model for others what it means and looks like to put personal differences and agendas aside and choose to do what is best for kids. Choose to not only point out where improvements can be made, but also be willing to make those improvements happen, AND celebrate the successes.

As we go into 2015, I look forward to continuing to meet more great individuals out there doing amazing things for kids and schools. I hope to see more parents participating in the conversations about education (be it in a school, on a chat or in a setting such as Edcamp). Less of a line between the two sides, and definitely fewer remarks like those at the beginning of this post.

Thank you to the many educators that I have been so honored to chat with, meet in real life, work alongside, and present with this last year. You all are nothing less than amazing! Thank you to the parents (and those filling that role) who have chosen to be part of the conversations and learning. You all are an inspiration to others.

Have a wonderful holiday season (what remains of it) and a safe and happy new year!

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?


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?


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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