Tag Archives: home & school partnerships

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

AND

  • 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. 


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.


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). 


Back to “Home”

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This month our elementary school welcomed a new principal. As with the changing of any leader (be it in business, sports or school), there is always that level of uncertainty. Some questions I heard during this time…will they change everything? Will they see our school for what it really is…beyond the test scores? Will they welcome families and the community in the same way? Or, as my children put it…will they be nice?

Starting over with a new principal feels much like when my game piece, that was over half way around the board, is sent back home while playing the game Trouble with my youngest this week. You are back to first working to get that 6, and then turn by turn, making your way back around the board to not only get to where you were before you were sent home…but beyond that and to the finish line (although in the school relationship, there is no finish line…it’s ongoing).

So, with a new face, comes our group’s responsibility to go back to square one (or “home”) to build that relationship and trust. Much like we do when welcoming new families, through a warm welcome; the sharing of important/key information; and the getting to know what skills and/or assets they bring to our school (everyone has something), we must do with our new principal. The trust piece simply will be earned over time and through various ways including respect, each of us following through on the promises we make, and always doing what’s best for the school and kids and not for one’s self.

If we are truly to work together as a team, before too much time passed, it was important to discuss expectations and communication. These are not givens. Without having this conversation, there is no way one can accurately assume what the other expects and how they best communicate. (I gave our new principal a week I think before requesting that we sit down and go over these). As much as I would have loved to let him get settled a bit more, we have a busy Jan coming up.

So what were some key pieces we talked about?

  • Expectations:
    • What we as the parent group and as parents need from him as the principal
      • I have created a Google doc to list these things…not because the needs are endless…but because sometimes it is those little things that you don’t give much thought to…until they aren’t done or are missing.
    • What does he, the principal expect of us
      • Not only does he not know us, but he may have a different idea of how things should be implemented; asking his preference is the only way to know. In our case, it is different from what/how we did things before. Neither way is good or bad, right or wrong…just different.
      • Not a conversation I have had yet given the newness to the position – but once he gets settled, I will ask him the same question I asked our middle school principal when I first met with him…what role does he see parents and the parent group playing in the school?
        • This is one that I feel isn’t set in stone. The answer doesn’t define how parents are involved…but it does tell you where your starting point is. From there you can push the thinking if needed.
  • Communication:
    • Frequency: On a schedule or as needed (at our elementary school, I find it is needed almost weekly…middle school is far less)
    • Method: not only how they prefer to communicate (email, collaborative Google doc, face-to-face meetings), but what works best (are they always in their office, at a computer, or constantly on the go with or without access to technology?)
      • With our last elementary principal, we played with a variety when we found that emails were NOT the most effective. They got lost in other emails (going unanswered) and at busier times of the year, filling an inbox with dozens of emails each week.
    • Finding the balance of what works for all
      • Without reliable means to effectively communicate – even the greatest of plans will have its limits of success
      • It is also ever-changing. What works in week 1 may not be what works in 6 months. It needs to be evaluated regularly.
  • Successes and Shortcomings:
    • In this conversation we touched on what our school is doing well and how those pieces have made our school community what it is (or isn’t).
      • I say touch because I (as much as I try), as one person, from one lens, cannot accurately sum up all of our strengths and weaknesses. I think for him to get an accurate picture, it will take getting feedback from say our ESL families, our families with children in learning support or the gifted program, families from various economic circles, AND our teachers.
    • We do many great things, and want to preserve what we do well and what makes our school so special – but it is equally important to be candid about our shortcomings and maintain an open mind to new ideas so that we can continue to become a better place by the day for our children.

Our principal is still very new…and I know that although it is smooth going to start, as we dig deeper into tackling tasks, we will have our differences, and pieces may end up back at the start. But, with patience, an open mind, respect for one another and continuing to remember our kids are the why; I can go on believing that we will soon reach that second half of the game board again.


New Look to PTO Agenda Includes Students and Community

student center - nisce org

This last year, Twitter chats and #ParentCamp have been beyond inspirational to me. I truly love the constant, 2-way discussions between parents, educators and students. I cannot get enough of the global learning and collaborating. I really wanted to see our school and home & school association (PTO) take those two things and turn our meetings into mini chats/sessions. Having dialogue between school and families in ways such as chats and #ParentCamp can do nothing but benefit every school community.

During last week’s #PTchat we discussed student-centered parent group meetings. To me, this is the change all groups need to make. Making the students the center of all discussions has helped improve our meetings. The change aided in the issue of attendance, and also improved the quality of discussion between those attending. During the chat, I shared the agenda we planned out for our home and school meeting’s new look/layout. I shared more about the planning and pieces of it in my post here….but as excited as I was about the schedule we were building for the new year, it wasn’t at a point where I felt comfortable sharing. It is now pretty well set, and we’re ready to share. This is our first year doing something like this – so yes, there is plenty of room to grow.

To start, I set the spreadsheet up in Google Docs to simplify the ability to collaborate. If someone had an idea, they could add it on their own, for all others to see immediately. Each month has a theme that relates to what we have coming up at our school/effecting our families. The components try to compliment that theme, or address an additional upcoming event/concern. Given that we built this during summer break – a few of the student voice segments are still unfilled. As the school year gets up and running and classes and clubs start forming, planning and learning, we will fill the remaining openings. As far as the “Edu Voice” piece…this is our opportunity to really bring in the community. Yes, many of those months may be filled with our own teachers, but I hope to also use this to highlight the many professionals in our community near and far who can offer insight on a given topic.

To give you a clearer picture, I am sharing the full agenda/schedule, but it is only the outline which I believe can be carried over from school to school. Every school will have their own unique events and issues that are important to their families. It is those things that will be the focus of their meeting.

Knapp Elem Home & School Association 2013-14 Meeting Agenda

2013-14 Knapp H&S Meeting Agenda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are volunteering because of the kids. We are here to make today better than yesterday for them. To do so we need to make sure all voices are represented and we are a go to resource for information.

image credit: nisce.org


The ParentCamp Experience

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Below Lisa & I have shared our ParentCamp experiences

We first began discussing the idea of hosting an un-conference at our school for parents in the fall, at one of our monthly home & school meetings. Our principal, Joe Mazza, had attended something similar for educators called EdCamp, and hosted an EdCamp style staff meeting for the teachers. We all agreed that this style of learning could greatly benefit the parents not only in our school, but in our community. For me, I envisioned all of those parents who aren’t on Twitter, experiencing the learning and sharing like those of us who have connected on and participated in chats such as #PTchat…only this would be live, face-to-face two-way discussions.

I’m not going to go into all the planning details in this post – but I will say the hardest part was explaining what ParentCamp was about, and how it could benefit those attending. For educators, many have heard of, or attended this style of conference – but for parents this was a foreign concept.  Because this was so new to parents, we decided that it was best to line up session leaders in advance. (At actual EdCamps attendees write in sessions that they wish to lead once they arrive at the “unconference”) It wasn’t until we shared the session descriptions, that we really began to see people registering. As far as educators participating in this, it didn’t cross my mind before the event that some (or maybe many) would be uncomfortable with this style conversation – especially face-to-face with parents. We did have far fewer educators than parents attend, but the ones that attended added great balance to the conversations they participated in and were excellent leaders of discussions and not just lecturing.

At our school, we see some of our most diverse and largest turnouts at educational focused events. This was no different and no less awesome and amazing to see so many people from all different cultures, communities, beliefs and lenses sharing their thoughts and asking questions, all while not judging the other’s because of their opinions. Not only did parents attend together, but we also had a few Principals attend with their parent association leaders (the ultimate sign of wanting a home-school partnership).

To start the day off, we had Melissa Bilash as our keynote speaker. She shared snapshots of what role parents, from all around the world, play in their child’s education. This would have been a great presentation no matter where it was shared, but with such diversity in the room, I feel it was a homerun.

In the sessions I attended, I witnessed parents from different schools learning together about the potential of parents connecting through social media to how to plan for the big expense of sending their children to college. I caught a few minutes of parents and our district admin learning about iPad apps together; a custodian sharing one of the most powerful first-hand experiences with losing a child to drug use and ways we can hopefully prevent that same tragedy in our own homes or community. There was another session with teachers learning with parents about better ways we all can support our children’s emotional well being together inside and out of school (this was one of several sessions that had pro-active parents of children not starting school until this coming September).

In the session I led with a few other members of our home & school board, we started out with sharing the ways live streaming our monthly meetings has improved participation, communication and relationships in our school and finished up with the importance of, and ways to successfully lead positive, productive and constructive meetings. These views, ideas and suggestions came from a room of parents, other PTA/HSA leaders, teachers and principals from our district and a few others. I was only a portion of the conversation, everyone contributed their thoughts and experiences, and we all took away pieces that we felt would improve our own schools.

I love participating in chats on Twitter. It really is something else (and almost addicting) to be able to learn about how other people view and approach the same task as you from other parts of the country or world. BUT….I also think it’s as equally as powerful in building up a community when you have a physical room of people together sharing thoughts on how to help each other with an issue, learn a new way of communicating, or improve on current efforts.

I hope after leaving #ParentCamp, if they didn’t already, people saw the benefits of ongoing communication between one another, at all levels. That speaking with each other a few times a year is not enough. That, conversations need to be on a deeper level, where schools and families come away with new knowledge. These conversations can and should be had, as often as possible in our communities. They don’t need to be big, grand events, nor do they need to be limited to face-to-face. The more often we all speak AND listen to each other, the better we can make decisions on what’s best for our family, schools and community.

I can’t wait for the next #ParentCamp. It is energizing and exciting to families and schools learning and working together to build stronger partnerships.

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My Experience as a Parentcamp Presenter and Attendee

After being invited to lead a session at Knapp’s first Parentcamp, my reaction was – of course! It was after that immediate YES that I thought, what can I talk about? Joe and Gwen decided a good topic would be “The Blue Ribbon Experience”. While I was first uncomfortable with the topic (only because it could come across as arrogant or elitist), I realized it was a great way to highlight and discuss all the wonderful things happening at Cantiague. So, while the focus would be on the award process, the meat of the discussion would be the characteristics and evidence of excellence taking place at my school. It would also be an opportunity to hear how other schools were approaching the same tasks. At Cantiague, there is always an interest in improving, never settling for status quo.

A few weeks after confirming attendance, we found out that Tony Sinanis, my principal at Cantiague, would be joining us. What a wonderful opportunity for parents and educators to have the perspective of both home and school in one discussion. This was going to be a great session.

The discussion was very informal and fluid. It was constant stream of questions and answers, with not a second of empty space. We began with a description of what the Blue Ribbon award is, and moved onto the award process our team embarked on.

The most enjoyable part of our session was when we spoke about our teachers and staff, the programs used at Cantiague, and the fostering of literacy as a core of what we do. I felt that we were able to present a window into our school – highlighting the relationships between families, teachers, staff, administrators, and students.

I learned from our session as well. There was a principal and incoming H&S president in our discussion. Seeing that team work and dedication was inspiring. A dedicated 5th grade teacher from NJ joined us as well. While many questions did become professionally directed, we were all at the table. This was a wonderful chance as a parent to hear the discussions that often take place in a staff meeting between professionals. The conversation was authentic and real. Everyone was genuinely invested in creating the best learning experience for their students, and it was beautiful to see.

In the end, I hope that attendees were able to take away a few concepts – passion is the foundation for making a truly special school and experience for students, anything is possible – relationships can always be built and fostered, and transparency and educational opportunities that promote constant learning for all parties creates an opportunity for wonderful, creative, holistic learning.

As an attendee, I really enjoyed the ParentCamp experience. I participated in a Parent Engagement discussion led by Dr. Mazza and Tony Sinanis, and the presentation on live streaming Meetings by the Knapp H&S. I loved the format of the ParentCamp. It was very informal, with discussion continuously shifting and changing to address the questions and comments of the participants.

In the first session, the presenters began with the description of a Partnership School from Beyond the Bake Sale. Conversation quickly customized to the parents and educators in the group. Each person shared questions, experiences, and thoughts. It was a very rich experience, with many takeaways to think about.

The next session was about the benefits of live streaming H&S meetings, and bringing meetings and information to all families. The H&S shared their experiences of taking their meetings to the community. It was enlightening and inspiring to hear the benefits of meeting parents in their comfort zones, and how the experience built trust in the school. The live streaming opportunities also bring information to parents who once were unable to participate. We also discussed the importance of keeping meetings timely, respectful, and meaningful for all involved. We were fortunate to have many H&S leaders in the group. Each shared their most positive events and strategies to engage families and bring them into the fold.

Overall, I left ParentCamp feeling more strongly than ever, the importance of empowering families to engage in home/school experiences. I left with abstract and tangible ideas on how to create positive relationships with all home/school players – students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators. Learning with like-minded parents and educators fueled my desire to always improve our efforts as leaders in the parent community. I can’t wait to try some of the ideas at my school!

H&S 2.0 Building Partnerships

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Off-Site Parent Association Meetings = Big Returns

partnership - sxc

 

This month we take our monthly home and school meetings “on the road”. Starting next week, we will hold our meeting at the local mosque, next month at the local boys and girls club, and in May, we will take it to the middle school that most all of our 6th grade students will attend next year.

Why do we do this? To extend a hand; open a door; earn another partner in our family and community engagement efforts. This is one of my highlights of the year. What motivates me to volunteer my time. I think its part of the “practice what you preach”. If we say we want to involve all parties in the partnership, then we need to prove it. We need to be willing to step outside of our 4 walls, listen to and learn about what others envision, and build the dream together. Going to a place of such importance to a portion of our families is amazing. I come away with a greater understanding as to why these families do or don’t participate in various activities that we host. (I say greater because I will learn more with each conversation, one time isn’t enough.) Later we are able to use that knowledge to build a calendar that better includes more of our families and earn us the support from a portion of our community that previously might not have been actively involved or felt they were part of the partnership.

How do we do it? Although it isn’t required, we use technology. By live streaming our meetings, all families can be a part of the meeting no matter where we are OR where they are. All both ends require is a computer with internet access. Are there other things you could include to make the experience better? Yes. You could add video and higher quality microphone. You could put together a PowerPoint presentation for those at home to follow along with you. But ultimately they aren’t required. You can effectively extend a hand and create new relationships by hosting meetings off-site without the technology. All you need is an open mind and genuine interest in getting to know more about others. Without the live stream, you do miss out on including those from home – but you are still creating those relationships…future partners in your home and school efforts.

If done with an open mind, meeting in a location other than the school helps include families that may not feel comfortable walking into the school or the group’s “territory” (or simply don’t have the means of transportation to go outside their neighborhood). Partnerships that might not otherwise be forged. As a PTA/PTO/HSA, shouldn’t creating and building partnerships be one of our primary goals? If you haven’t tried holding one of your meetings in a new location, I encourage you to try it.

Image credit: http://www.sxc.hu


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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