Monthly Archives: July 2013

Fostering Home and School Partnerships Through Education

pyramid

“Visible learning, in all forms, helps a school truly become a community. It takes a village…” Stacey Wallwin commented on our discussion on Twitter about engaging parents. I couldn’t agree more. If we want to aid in building long-standing, strong partnerships between home and school, we need to be a source of information.

In speaking with our group of over 40 class captains and many other parents, the common “favorite moment” among all of them, were the times when they left the school with knowing something new to help them as a parent. Our parent-teacher book chat, our staff voice piece about RtII (What is it? How is the data used? What does that mean for my child?), and #ParentCamp all received numerous raving comments. This year we are trying something new for our monthly parent meetings. Well, not entirely new…more like expanding on what we were doing last year. We are using our monthly meetings to continue to share out as much information and resources with families and the community as possible. It is more than a wish to build the number of participants at our monthly meetings – it’s about empowering families so they can be part of the foundation that our great community is built on.

So last week, at our first board “gathering” (meeting sounds to heavy for summer), I made a suggestion; that we scrap our current agenda outline and build a meeting that parents would want to attend; packing it full of opportunities to learn about the school, students, community and how to support learning in all of those hours when our children are not in school, yet with the little free time we all seem to have.  We will then plan out the year in advance and post the schedule for families to plan in advance to attend the meetings most relevant and appealing to them. So what are we looking to include?

Tech Training (30 min prior to start of the meeting): a chance for parents to get a quick lesson in technology. The first one on how to join our meetings (or anything else) virtually. That means they have a choice over the following 8 months on how they wish to join us…physically or virtually. Others we are looking to include are social media use, tools/sites helpful for students as study tools or to complete HW or research; Study Island & Edmodo (both used by students at school and from home); edu-sites and apps.

Parenting: This will be a piece that we will share an article, chapter or short video in advance of the meeting (something that parents can read or watch in less than 15 min) and then participate in a mini discussion or Q&A during the meeting.

Edu-Voice: In the past we were always turning to the teachers to inform us parents. Although the teachers are still an important resource for us to learn from, this year we are looking to expand it to anyone in our community that can share their expertise on a topic relating to our children. With tools such as Skype or Google hangout – we are able to learn from those across the hall or across the world.

There are some things we are not looking to change…

Student Voice: A piece from last year that we believe in keeping. Us parents loved hearing about the good things happening at our school, the students (for the most part) liked having the spotlight for a few moments, and it brought in a few new faces each month.

1 hour time limit: This is key! Families are busy and no matter how much they want to know what is going on at the school…they don’t have the time to spend hours at a school meeting. To accomplish this, it requires clock watchers who aren’t afraid to say, “move on.” I hope that the number of families using our Facebook page and on Twitter continues to grow and the discussions can continue not only when we are together in the same room – but also online while we are waiting for our children to finish their extra curricular activity or sitting in the pediatrician’s waiting room.

Business as Usual: We want to keep all families in the loop and participating with the home & school association. They need to know what is upcoming and in the plans so they. To save on time, and because we have already shared it online and in the newsletter, we will eliminate the re-hashing of news that has happened since the last meeting.

Live streaming: It is the most successful tool we’ve used to reach and include more parents and staff than any other. We’d be crazy to abandon it.

I see our group’s role in the school and community much like the role of those I turned to as a new parent. When we had our first child, we read endlessly, talked to everyone from the doctors to our family and friends, and then in the end, pulled the pieces of advice from each, that best suited our child and family, to form our own parenting style. Here, we are one of the pieces to help each student achieve their potential.

Image credit: sxc.hu

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Using the School Lobby to Engage Parents

Paulus Cheung

Last night I was finalizing my agenda for the first meeting with our 2013-14 home & school team (PTO as some of you may refer to it). This is the second year serving for most of us and the vision hasn’t changed much. We want to continue finding ways to engage more parents in the world of learning at our school. Last year we focused on building connections with parents and between families and the school with face to face interactions and expanding on our use of technology. But what this year? How do we increase participants and the level at which they’re involved? We could continue to do the same thing…but I, personally, would get bored. Who wants to hear people say the same thing over and over? I don’t even like saying the same thing twice. Last year the idea of a parent resource center/room was thrown out there, but some didn’t feel parents needed a “room” (not that there was a room open…just in discussion). Parents might not need a room, but they do need the resources that would be found in that room.

Thinking about why and where parents interact with schools

The why is simple, because of their children. At our school, I think we started to touch on that last year. We began incorporating the children in everything we did, not just in events. That included our monthly meetings (which each month we gave one club 15 minutes to share their learning or accomplishments) and in our monthly newsletter (where we filled 75% of the pages with student work). The where? Many places, but the one parents visit most often in the course of a year, is the lobby. As a new family, it is the first place you go…and it is the one location you will return to time and time again throughout your child’s school years. Why not use it for more than a waiting room?

So often parents are asked to come to the school…and then sit idle off to the side; doing (and sometimes learning) nothing new. If we want parents to take a proactive role and be engaged, we should encourage them to touch, explore and learn anytime they are there. In thinking how our group can encourage this, I began to think about what engages my children in learning? What are the characteristics of places such as museums that attract us to learning and exploring….not just once, but to return for more? Which of those traits could be used in a school setting to engage parents? (Keeping in mind we don’t have the same budget a museum has.)

A warm welcome, both with signage and people. (This part is a given…but feel if I leave it out, it would be odd.) For schools such as ours with multiple languages spoken, sign(s) with welcome in various languages greeting you when you walk in. As far as the people…I’m not a fan of enclosing the office staff, but I also understand the need/wish for security. For me, I’m OK with the walls and windows as long as the staff is friendly, attentive and accessible to all families.

Interactive and hands-on. (This is the part I think we are missing) Museums encourage learning not through lots of comfy chairs/sofas and papers, but through bold statements of color and structure and interactive stations, clearly designated for a particular task. The “tools” are not neatly put away – but out and ready for use or viewing.

What could we add to our school lobbies?

  • Student work: not just art work on display but samples of writing, projects/experiments and use of technology. Hearing about it or seeing pictures is nice – but sometimes nothing beats the real thing.
  • TV Monitor: showing photos of the students in action learning, struggling, having fun and being good citizens; live stream of assemblies or class activities; scrolling news bits pertinent to that week.
  • Computer stations: Clearly marked and pages/tabs set up for specific tasks to eliminate the non-tech savvy individuals fear of navigating and saving time for those only there for a few minutes (since there isn’t necessarily someone there to walk them through).
    • School specific
      • Main Website
      • Library
      • Cafeteria
      • Blogs/Social Media
      • Access to online forms
    • Education
      • Websites
      • Apps
      • Curriculum guides
      • Tutorials on using various technology
      • And maybe one with a slide show/running video of student tech related projects
    • Community
      • Pages set up for the local library, social services, tutoring, places offering scholarships, sports, parks, and museums, (not for profit places)
  • Hard copy Resource Center: items families can take with them to read/do at home. This shouldn’t be tucked in a corner – but in a visible and easily accessible location.
  • Books: Well not just books, but all kinds of reading material. Newspapers and various local cultural publications. Again, tucked away on a book shelf doesn’t invite one to pick it up and read/browse. These need to be on display and at their fingertips, asking to be picked up, paged through and read.

Give parents a warm welcome, open door and opportunities to expand their knowledge to better help their children succeed and I think they will participate any available chance. The above tools can spark conversations not only between parent and child, but also between parents and between parents and the school; propelling new ideas. The school should be a learning center for not only children – but everyone in the community.

lobby computer stationsResources &  Displaystudent work


What Will You Do To Make The World More Beautiful?

While taking a break from the hot sun, I read Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney to my youngest two. A few pages in, the little girl tells her grandfather how she too will travel to faraway places and live by the sea, just as he did. Her grandfather replies, “There is a third thing you must do, you must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

This sparked a long conversation with my two chatterboxes…what would they do to make the world more beautiful? Some of their responses (text images created by them):

My 6 year old son…

 beautiful1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 9 year old daughter…

beautiful 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is why I love reading with my children…for one, quiet time sitting with them; a nice balance to the craziness of our usual running around. Two, I love listening to their different perspectives when talking about the story (be it their age, gender, personality or whatnot). For my son it was all visual. Beauty to him is what he can see/touch. For my daughter it was more about doing things that would make others happy. With most every story we read comes a conversation. I not only learn from and about them, but so many times it fuels ideas of things to do with them when we do have some down time.

Before summer vacation started I asked all three of my children to come up with a way to give back/do for others (it didn’t have to be big or grand). We try to volunteer throughout the year – but it’s usually me telling them how or what we will be doing. This time, I wanted to leave it up to them. Well…a month into the summer and it is this book/conversation that has sparked some ideas. They’ve chosen (when we return home) to combine their “making the world more beautiful” with giving back. We will be planting flowers for a few moms (grandmoms) that might not otherwise have pretty flowers to look at and find a hospital where we can bring (as my daughter puts it) books with pretty pictures to kids that are sick. As I asked, nothing grand…just ideas from their heart.

what will you do...


Engaging Parents When Technology Doesn’t Exist

no service

How do families and schools stay connected when technology, as basic as cell phones, doesn’t exist? This past week I spent a week staying in Hartwick, NY. A small town next to Cooperstown with NO cellular service while my oldest child stayed nearby with his baseball team (fully “connected”). When we first arrived I simply found it inconvenient. As the days passed, and I could only talk to my son via a corded land line phone, I began to really wonder how they do it in this town…that is after I questioned how a place not in the middle of nowhere, could have no cellular service and my youngest complained about the phone being broken because it sounded like a bee was buzzing on it. One of the many things I love about our elementary school is how we don’t just use one tool to communicate. We share information through paper, face-to-face, email, website and social media. We have many options as to how we reach our families…no matter how busy they are.

If we were to live in a location without access to the most basic technology, how could we keep everyone in the loop and on the same page? How do those families who don’t have that time to go to the school, get their information? Or aren’t they? I don’t believe their children are any better about bringing home all the papers from school, or that their parents are any better about remembering all of the fundraisers, activities and events; so there needs to be another way to share information and ideas.

In my short stay, I can say I witnessed conversations about school, politics and local news happening on a Saturday at the local farmers market, at the local restaurant during breakfast and dinner (where at the times we were there, we were the only non-local “guests”), and as they strolled down the street in the evening. These face-to-face conversations are crucial, and as a PTO or school, although always important, are even more so.

Taking their monthly meetings “on the road”; varying the times, days and locations so that all families have a chance to catch up on what is happening could be effective at that restaurant, or the farmers market…or even at the little local library on the Friday evening when they’re open, in reaching those not able to get to the school. Instead of reaching them where they are on their mobile devices – you reach them where they are physically.

Any thoughts on other ways? I wish I had more free time while I was there. I would love to have chatted with the local parents; learn more about what they do.


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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