Monthly Archives: February 2013

Are We Really Supporting Their Learning At Home?

Knowledge-will-bring-you-the-opportunity-to-make-a-difference

 

“Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”

~Claire Fagin

 

I thought I was doing it all “right”. I made sure my children had plenty of books to read at home, reviewed their homework at the end of each night and made sure they understood everything (because too often I found they didn’t feel comfortable, or think to ask the teacher to explain something in more detail), maintained regular contact with their teachers, and took them to museums and such to build on the topics they were learning in school.

It was my answer to the following question that led me to doubt my support: Were my children prepared to compete with their peers for the same spot in a school or job down the road?  When I answered that with a “no,” I realized I didn’t know (nor did I ever think to ask) for a few basic pieces of information.

  • What are the long term goals beyond the chapter or topic they are currently studying? What is it that is expected of them the following year, or even a few years down the road? Without this information, my children are simply setting short term goals to get through an upcoming test or chapter, and not preparing for what’s to come.
  • What is in the curriculum? For example, my kids come home and share what book they read in school. They have no idea what the teacher is trying to teach them through that story; be it a genre, grammar, or an underlining message. If I know what the curriculum is, I can work on the same thing at home using a different story or in a different context, and ask more thought provoking questions about the book; reinforcing everything taught in school.

 

Do I think I wasted my time over the years or not add to their learning experience? No. But with these few things I can begin to be a real partner, more effectively supporting learning at home. If parents and teachers are going to work together as a team to educate our children – parents need to be provided with the information, tools and resources to do so.

 (A note: this is one of my “live and learns” with my oldest, who is getting ready to transition from elementary to middle school.)

 

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Connected Parents and the Power of Twitter

Twitter Meta Moo! too far?

(Photo credit: Josh Russell)

Once I decided to give Twitter a chance, it took me months to figure out how it might be of use to me as a parent. To start I sat through a Twitter 101 night at our school. I went because I wanted to learn how to use a tool that I knew my children will be using sooner or later, whether I liked it or not. I will warn you that a 1 hour crash course is not enough time to learn a new language. It is a start though. Twitter, just as a new language, is best learned when you are immersed in it.

The first few months went by and I enjoyed seeing snippets of the school day as the principal and a few teachers tweeted…but was this it? Was it just about following celebrities and watching what happened at school? After a few months, I joined in on the weekly #PTchat. Although the title stands for “Parent-Teacher chat”, it was mostly educators (not to say they weren’t also parents – but they were speaking mostly from the educator’s perspective). As great as the topics were, just sharing out from a parents lens wasn’t going to keep me interested in using this tool…I had to get something from it.

The more people I followed, the more I participated, the more I realized that everything that is shared could also be used by parents to help their children continue the learning outside of school, educate ourselves to be better advocates for our children, and provide insight on how to improve all of our home and school partnerships. Twitter has given me tools and ideas on how to help my children get more from their studies. Ideas that I possibly could have gotten from reading dozens of books, but realistically don’t have time for. One of my biggest takeaways so far (remind you I’m only a year in) is my recent discovery of the literacy powerhouses we have access to (this sentence can be translated to whatever your interest is). It is through Twitter that I found several phenomenal books on reading comprehension; given the opportunity to observe another school’s reading workshops; and connected with and learned from literacy experts from all over the world on how to help my children improve their reading skills and then bring those ideas to the attention of our school for all students to benefit.

So where can parents start? Who can they follow? Below are two places I found people who I have drawn from. These are just a few – I encourage you to share those who have inspired you.

If your school and/or teachers, principal and fellow parents are on Twitter – follow them. The glimpse into the school day provides you with great conversation starters outside of “how was school?” and it is nice to see what other classrooms are doing. For me it was @knappelementary, @joe_mazza, @miss_a_abel and @lspencerslp. (This list has grown since then – but too many to list)

Check out chats. The first one I joined in was #PTchat. Not only can you share and get some great info/ideas from these – but you also can find other people to follow that share similar interests. This is my number one source to finding great minds and inspirations. It also provides you with the opportunity to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance. Some of the people I have pulled the most info and ideas from are: @lisaodavis (my partner in this blogging adventure and a role model for advocating for our children); @lornacost, @drpricemitchell, @smconstantino, @drmerylain and @larryferlazzo (connecting parents and schools); @sirotiak02, @coachyetter and @johnfritzky (teachers who share the ways they inspire kids to want to learn and how they include the families in the learning); @pennykittle, @kylenebeers, @sharonletslearn (literacy superstars); and @freeingyourmind, @micheleborba and @annie_fox (pros in the mental well-being of our children).

Twitter didn’t make me a connected parent or an advocate for my children’s education – but has made me a more effective one.


Building Home-School Partnerships

Executives Shaking Hands

Image credit:  http://office.microsoft.com

One of the most effective ways to advocate for your child throughout their education is to learn the culture of your school/district and build partnerships with the people who will be a part of your child’s educational journey. Team members constitute your Parent Teacher Association (PTA), teachers, administrators, and other professionals that work with your child throughout the day.

PTA

WHY? The PTA is a wonderful opportunity for parents to learn the ins and outs of your school. PTA organizes amazing events for students, fundraises for important programming, and stands as a group to advocate for all students. By involving yourself in PTA, you have an opportunity to connect with faculty, staff, and other parents in your community. Oftentimes district information is shared via PTA. Face to face meetings provide valuable moments to interact with your principal, superintendent, and/or other school representatives.

HOW? The first step is joining. Membership forms are generally sent to families the first week of school. Dates and frequency of meetings vary from school to school. Volunteering in PTA events give you access to school and also present opportunities to get to know the principal and faculty on a different level. Taking on leadership positions like the chairperson of committees or executive board positions offer occasions for personal growth and development. They also give you a chance to participate in decisions that will impact your child and the school at large.

Your Child’s Teacher

WHY? Your child spends a very large percentage of their waking time with their teacher. He/She gets to know your child in many ways; academically, socially, and developmentally. On the most obvious level, your child’s teacher is responsible for educating your child. In a more complex view, your teacher understands your child’s learning style, sees your child’s social strengths and weaknesses, and is in a position to assess your child’s development in relation to peers and expectations. Teacher/Student relationships can be very influential in a child’s life, impacting decisions such as career choices and other future plans.

HOW? In the beginning of the year most teachers reach out to parents and ask for information about your child. Do it! Being responsive to teacher requests and taking part in early dialogue sets the stage for future conversations. Being honest about your child’s strengths and weaknesses strengthens your relationship with your child’s teacher. By being open and respectful, you will create the groundwork for effective advocacy throughout the year and possibly years to come. Being proactive as concerns arise by emailing, calling, or sending a note to school addresses issues and opens dialogue for resolution.

 Administrators

WHY? Depending on the size of your school, you may or may not have a vice principal, but you definitely have a principal. These individuals are responsible for many tasks throughout the building; working with teachers, overseeing curriculum, managing staff, fulfilling district goals to name a few. These people are also there for parents if problems come to light.

HOW? Oftentimes parents enter an elementary school for the first time, and flashback to when they were a child. The principal’s office was a scary place students were sent when they misbehaved. As a parent, it’s important to break that mindset and recognize that the principal and vice principal are resources for you. When issues come up that occur outside the classroom, or if you have a broader concern regarding your child’s education, the principal is often the best person to address the questions. The principal also is involved in student placement from year to year. That is a really important reason for them to fully understand the personality and learning style of your child.

Other Professionals

WHY? There are other professionals in the school that play a role in your child’s education. If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), your team might also constitute a case manager, occupational therapist, speech therapist, school psychologist or physical therapist. These professionals also serve as resources for parents if you have concerns about your child.

HOW? If your child has an IEP, you will attend regular Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings. For other parents with questions, contacting these professionals should be as easy as contacting your teacher. Generally your teacher will let you know if they believe a problem exists. But you should not hesitate to contact someone if you are worried about your child.

These ideas are just a starting off point for creating positive partnerships with the key players in your child’s education. The most important thing to remember is that you are the number one advocate for your child. You know your child best, and represent him/her from the home perspective. That perspective is just as important as what happens in school. You also need to know how to follow through and support school efforts in the home. Partnerships work best when all team members are respected and heard. Good luck with your team building efforts. Post experiences or comments here!


Our PTA is a Private Club

Private Club

Private Club (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Parent Association’s (PTA, PTO, HSA whatever you want to call them) have earned the bad reputation for being uninviting, clique-like, a private club.  How do you break that? So many groups say they want to get rid of that image, have more families join them at their monthly meetings, and join them in volunteering…but do their actions speak louder than their words?  I don’t believe you can correct it with one person or tool. It takes a group effort of all those involved using all of the tools.

1. Relationship Building: More than anything else, I think you need to build relationships before the parents are going to jump at joining you; be it for a meeting or volunteering. This takes time. It requires your team to genuinely care about the other families.  Yes, you can go through the motions and pretend – but let’s be honest, most of us can see through that. Does it require you to be best friends? No, but find some way to connect.  Given that we’re all parents, I can always find something. And one of the easiest ways I find is to ask questions about them. I am always amazed at how much I learn about our community from asking questions of those I am just meeting.

2. The Board Is There To Inspire: Think of your duties not to just “represent,” but to ”inspire.”  Inspire others to want to fill the same positions you all are filling currently. Remember that not only do you need help with everything you are doing for the kids now, but you will not be there forever and will need people to take your place.  The average parent will need to build up to serving on the board or as a chairperson. Not many will jump in with little to no volunteer time.  You need to provide opportunities for them to start small and gradually work their way up to the commitment that serving on the board requires.

3. Stream Meetings Online: This might be one of my favorite ways to allow others to see you are welcoming, fun and open to others ideas and suggestions (of course this mean you actually need to practice these things…otherwise you are just confirming the negative image). Families can sign in from the comfort of their own home and get a view of what your meetings are like and open their mind to attending in person or joining the team.

4. Take Your Meetings To Them: Hosting your monthly meetings at the school doesn’t always work. If you are missing a portion of your population, try other ways. Not only is it more comfortable for others on their own or neutral turf, but it shows that you are open to others being a part of the team. Try community centers, places of worship or anywhere else your families spend time outside of school.

5. Communication: Everyone one of your families has their own preference on how to receive their “news”. If you want to include all families you need to make sure they all get the information you are sharing. That means sharing the same information in many locations and forms. Some options are paper hard copy, email/electronic, social media and text. Your goal is to make sure all of your families are well informed in advance. The beauty of the social media piece is the possibility of two-way communication.  Real feedback and idea sharing when face to face isn’t possible.

Ultimately it’s the golden rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated. Welcoming others to be part of your school family the same way you welcome your personal family members into your own home. Is it not?


Passionate Learners – Take 2

For my first blog post I had written a beautiful paper about the importance and significance of being a passionate learner as a parent…..and then I participated in PTChat.  For those of you unfamiliar with PTChat, it’s a weekly online Twitter discussion between teachers, administrators, staff, parents, and students.  Topics change each week – If it’s happening in education, it’s being discussed in PTChat.  This week the subject was “Encouraging a Love of Reading Beyond Required Texts”.  The passion and heart displayed in this discussion went beyond the words; they were felt in each tweet.  I realized something very important – to write about something you really care about with all your heart, you have to write from your heart to the hearts of your readers.  So, gone are my beautiful charts and research.  In their place are my feelings and beliefs on the subject.

All the players in schools today are being pushed and challenged to new levels.  Where students were once compared to peers within the state, they are now being compared to peers around the world.  This new global approach has taken our educators to a new frontier of learning.  Reading, math, science and technology are surpassing the old expectations.  Along with these new “rigors” of education, our children are also expected to be passionate about their learning.  Lifelong learning is the goal.  Preparedness for 21st century higher education and jobs is now the focus.  Teachers, staff, and administrators are on the cutting edge of this new style of teaching.  They too are expected to be passionate learners.  No parent wants a teacher who is “phoning it in”, certainly not now when the stakes are so high.

As parents we need to be in the game too.  Our education is not the same as that of our children today.  This new curriculum requires stronger critical thinking and research skills than ever.  One thing comes to mind as I learn more about the common core standards, parents need to model lifelong learning and passionate learning if we want our children to do the same.

This is what I’ve been doing to be a role model for my children:

  • I took them with me to the library to find that book discussed on PTChat that I re-tweeted (as a reminder to myself  of the title).
  • I registered for a MOOC!  I am taking an online class called “Critical Thinking in Global Challenges” through the University of Edinburgh via Coursera.
  • I’m almost done reading “The Story of the World – History for the Classical Child, Volume 1”, a book given to my son by his 6th grade social studies teacher when he displayed interest beyond the class requirement.  He read it in 2 days, it’s taken me about 3 weeks!
  • AND – I have the best new pen pal since participating in PTChat!  She inspires me, motivates me, and re-energizes me.  Having a partner makes it exciting to challenge myself to learn more and share ideas and thoughts.

How are you challenging yourself to become a passionate learner?  The opportunities are boundless.  The internet never sleeps.  Share your next step here!


Involved Parents

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Image Credit: http://goo.gl/707qM

 

What is an involved parent?  Are you one?  Do you define “involved” as being at the school for all of the class parties and events, or is it providing your child with additional learning opportunities outside of school, or something more?

Helping to increase our school’s family involvement was the main reason I chose to serve on our parent association board.   Recently, I have listened to feedback from school staff, been part of a parent-teacher book chat on family engagement, and spoken with parents from other schools about what they do. Early on, I associated being “engaged” with attending school events and activities.  I wanted to know what we needed to do differently to get the other families that we weren’t seeing at these events to join us.  I noticed we would get a very different turnout for educational related events versus fun family events, and much to my surprise, a larger attendance.  Proof kids have the desire to learn and families value the importance of education and are willing to support it in anyway.

We all have differing opinions on the definition of being a “partner”.  At our book chat with the parents and teachers from my children’s school we all shared our thoughts and ideas on the book Beyond the Bake Sale by Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp.  A book about how to build real partnerships between home and school…beyond the bake sales.   It was here that I had an eye opening experience.  In my conversation with another mom, who comes from a culture different from what I know, she shared with me that some cultures are involved strictly by supporting their children learning while at home.  They don’t feel that need to attend school events.  They are choosing to miss the events because they don’t feel it adds anything to their child’s learning.  I also had a kindergarten mom share with me how she wants to be that “bake sale” parent and nothing more just yet.

I will never be able to give up on attempting to get all of our families involved, but I have accepted the idea that not everyone is ready to dive in as I have.  Their definition of involved is just different from mine at the moment, and I wouldn’t trade the time these parents are willing to join us for the world.  The best we can do is to continue to provide options and reasons to attend, whether it be to enhance their child’s learning or the opportunity to learn from or teach others.


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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