Tag Archives: ParentCamp

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. 


The ParentCamp Experience

ParentCamp

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.

keynote

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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