Getting Parents Onboard

One of my big professional goals this year is to do a better job getting parents to understand and support our agency-based approach to learning.

I used to do a pretty good job of this at my old school, but last year – with a new country, new school, new grade, new approach – it fell off my list of priorities. I lost sight of how crucial it truly is.

So this year I’m making a more concerted effort, to not only help the parents understand what is going on in the classroom and why, but more importantly to bring them into to the conversation about why school is broken and get them onboard as allies in the education revolution!

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Design by @orenjibuta

Here are a few things I’ve done so far:

1. Embrace and encourage parent meetings

Sometimes as educators we try to avoid, sidestep and minimize parent meetings. This year I’ve tried to shift my perspective to wanting and welcoming parent meetings.

Right at the beginning of the year I sent out an open invitation to any parents who had questions, comments and concerns about our agency-supportive model. I had about a handful of parents reply and set-up a meeting.

If the reason for the meeting was more about their specific child within our agency-supportive model then I made sure to encourage a 3-way conference approach to the meeting. Making it clear that our school philosophy was that meetings that take place about a child, should include that child.

To structure the meeting I used an adapted protocol where child, parent and teacher all had an opportunity to share their goals, needs, worries and suggestions.

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Moving on from these initial meetings I had some families that wanted to schedule regular meetings – once a month – to stay connected and involved in their child’s learning. And others who felt that the initial meeting had met their needs.

Another thing that came to light from these meetings was that parents wanted to feel more involved in the model, wanted to better understand the model and wanted help and support learning how to be a parent within the model. This feedback informed many of the following steps I’ve been taking this year to get parents on board.

2. Harnessing the power of digital platforms

It was clear that many parents wanted to feel involved and part of their child’s learning at school, but because it was so different from when they went to school themselves, they weren’t exactly sure how.

So thanks to the power of Google, SeeSaw, Weebly and other platforms we were able to start helping them feel more involved. We got in the routine of digitally sharing assessments, weekly goals, day plans, reflections and documentation.

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This not only gave parents insight into their child’s learning but allowed for them to leave comments, suggestions and feedback to become part of the learning process.

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3. Make planning transparent

“No secret teacher business” is a pretty common phrase for agency-supportive educators when sharing their thinking and planning with their students – why not with parents as well? What better way to have parents understand not only what is happening in the classroom, but also (and probably more importantly) why and how.

So each Monday I take a screenshot of our actual team planning (which is built around Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles) and record a voice note to explain, in detail, the thinking, reasons and research behind our planning.

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There has been a really positive response to these posts from parents!

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So this prompted me to start to share beyond the weekly why, how, what to other important systems and structures that we have in place to support students’ learning.

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4. Hook parents as allies

One of the most crucial aspects of getting parents on board is helping them become critical thinkers about the current paradigm of education and what needs to change. Each week I send home a provocation – a video, blog, post, article, tweet, or quote – that is meant to poke and provoke their thinking about education.

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I’m lucky that I’m part of a team that shares similar philosophies and practices getting parents on board, because we work together to collect and collate parent provocations.

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5. Seek and Action Parent Feedback

I think it’s also important to recognize and make space for parents’ thoughts, ideas, and feedback – not just with regards to their specific child, but also in more general ways as well.

Whether it’s taking time to collect their philosophies and beliefs about education…

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Taking time to ask them about their child…

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Seeking feedback about the new ways you are approaching teaching and learning…

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Or seeking feedback about how you are doing as a teacher

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It is important that they have a voice and they feel like their voice is heard and honoured.

My Reflections

One of most important things I’ve learned so far is that the more it feels like an invitation – whether it’s to come in for a meeting, have access to their child’s documents, listen to the thinking behind our planning, engage with a parent provocation or fill out a survey – the more comfortable it feels for parents. That way parents can be as involved as they wish to be. And for some that means very involved and for other less so to not at all.

As a classroom teacher it definitely becomes easier to get parents on board the more your PYPC, administrators and Head of School take similar approaches in the work they do with parents. I’m thankful to be part of a school where everyone shares a similar approach to energize, engage and empower our parent community as an essential part of shifting the educational paradigm. Maybe I can even get my PYPC coordinatorprincipal or Head of School to write a guest post about their contribution to getting parents on board within their role… Stay tuned!

How do you get parents on board for agency-supportive models of learning?

How are you inviting parent voice into the process?

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Differentiation: Not Just for Students

I know what you’re thinking… I’m going to say differentiation should also be for teachers. And although that is very true, I’ve blogged about that before. This time I’m interested in thinking about how we should be differentiating for parents.

We spend a lot of time and effort making sure our students’ differences and perspectives are considered and honoured, but what about the diversity in the perspectives and preferences of the families we work with? If one size does not fit all for students, then perhaps one size should not fit all for the families either.

In the past week, getting ready for a new school year, I have had many thought-provoking conversations with colleagues about how we can better meet the unique needs of every family each family.

Here is what we have come up with so far:

Weekly Updates

Many of us send home weekly information and often get frustrated if it is not being read. When working with students we often say, “If they aren’t learning the way we’re teaching, then let’s teach the way they learn.” If we apply the same thinking to the families then if parents aren’t consuming the way we’re communicating, then maybe we should start communicating the way they’re consuming. This year I am trying out a system where I send home a weekly written blog post for families and also an YouTube video. That way parents who are comfortable with English and have time to read can gather information from the blog post and families who are unable/uncomfortable reading English or prefer watching videos can gather the same information from YouTube.  

Collecting Information about Students

Many of us like to get to know our students through the parents’ perspective either before the year starts or during the first weeks of school. Some of us send home a graphic organizer for parents to fill out, others request a letter from the parents, others use a Google Form with questions. Just like our students, I’m sure parents have preferred ways to share information with us. This year I shared my goal with the parents of my students – that I want to learn about their children through their eyes – but instead of mandating how, I offered three choices. I invited parents to come in and have a face-to-face meeting if they want to tell me about their child in person, or call me if they preferred to tell me over the phone, or to share electronically by filling out a survey on a Google Form.

Communication Logs

I have a colleague who used to have daily communication logs for all her students at her old school, but when she transferred to our school last year she let go of that practice since it wasn’t the norm at our school. Throughout the year she found that some parents were upset that there was not a daily communication log, so this year she was playing with the idea of reintroducing them into her teaching practice. Then we started to chat about the idea and realized maybe it doesn’t have to be all or none, maybe it could be optional based on the preference of the family. Now she is planning on offering this to all her families and seeing who is interested and who is not. For some families daily communication is essential. For other families daily communication is a nuisance. Why can’t we satisfy both groups? And those in between! Not only is she going to ask if her families are interested in a daily communication log, but she is also going to ask. how they would like to communicate. A notebook that goes back and forth… Google Sheet that is shared…. a phone call? Whatever works for that specific family.

Homework 

I used to assign mandatory homework and then get frustrated when students did not complete it and the families did not support it. This year I was planning on having a zero homework policy. Then I realized that it doesn’t have to be an either or… it can be a both and. If I as the teacher mandate homework for all my students, I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value their time after school for other activities and wish not to have homework. If I as the teacher outlaw homework I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value extended practice of the academic skills we explore in class. So this year I plan to conduct a collaborative inquiry into homework with my students, where we can gather and analyze diverse perspectives about homework (student, parent, teacher, administrator, research etc.) and then share our discoveries with the families. From there each family will be able to decide if they want homework for their son or daughter, why they want homework and how they want to approach homework.

So far, this approach has been very rewarding. I have received positive feedback from my families about the choices and options they have had. I hope I can continue to reflect and discover other options for family differentiation to help me work towards my goal of a more inclusive education experience for all involved.

How do you differentiate to meet the needs of your students’ families?

What other ways can you think of honouring families’ unique and diverse perspectives and preferences?