Monthly Archives: February 2014

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). 


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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