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Leadership and Activism

Teacher buy-in to parent vision

While revisiting the chat channel for our first ever Coöp Unconference on Junto, I thought a lot about this exchange.

Shelly Terrell: i think expanding the PLN to include more than educators is a good idea monika
David Loitz: ignore the top….just start moving forward from the bottom
adam: me too
Joe Bower: teachers have the know-how but not the numbers. Parents have the numbers but not the expertise around learning. We need to join together somehow

Shelly Terrell: Thats great Joe
Shelly Terrell: I agree
kirsten olson: don’t worry about tech stuff let’s concentrate on each other
monika: right joe
David Loitz: i think and Parents together
David Loitz: would be more powerful than anyother group
adam: What a powerful group we have right here! It’s pretty astonishing that we are all here at one time
Shelly Terrell: David Truss recently wrote a great post about Parents as Partners
David Loitz: can you link it
Shelly Terrell: Yes it is Adam

adam: to begin partnering with people other than teachers, don’t we have to articulate what our story of education is? Give them something to orientate to?

I have some goals for parental involvement this year, but lacking from my list is listening. I wonder how much of our expertise is needed in comparison to how much visioning we need from parents. I know that I haven’t gone out of my way to listen to my students’ parents – not in the same way I’ve listened to students. I’ve made the assumption that my vision of a democratic classroom is something to explain, to justify. Maybe it doesn’t need much explanation. Maybe it doesn’t need much justification. Maybe my students’ parents want exactly the same things I do for their children. I haven’t listened enough to know.

Now goal one in parental engagement is to find out what parents think of school, our school, and what they want for their children during the time we share together.

It might not be parent buy-in to my story that cements our partnership, but my buy-in to theirs.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


9 thoughts on “Teacher buy-in to parent vision

  1. Yes, yes, yes! So there really ARE others out there who see this, too!

    I have been a part of a limited and mostly electronically anonymous parent/teacher conversation for a couple of years now in my community. Parents and teachers really NEED to talk about education — way beyond the sterotypical parent/teacher conference. We have much more in common than we think, and we all have much more at stake than we are often willing to acknowledge to each other openly.

    How do we scale that up? How do we get parents and teachers talking to each other openly and respectfully about the real issues that influence children’s education?

    Posted by Anne Kemp | July 21, 2010, 2:53 pm
    • It’s taken me a while, but this conversation – our community’s conversation about what it wants for our kids from – is a conversation I want to join much more actively and humbly.

      How has the conversation in your community taken shape? Is it happening on a blog via comments? How does the anonymity help or hinder the conversation? What actions have come from it? I’d love to learn more!

      Thanks for your comment and conversations, Anne!

      Posted by Chad Sansing | July 21, 2010, 2:57 pm
  2. Chad, Thanks so much for beginning to grow the ideas in our cocktail party unconference. I will follow.

    One of the pieces of the new vision for education that is emerging, I think, is that parents collaborate a lot more with educators around what they hope their children’s education might look like. Again, without getting theoretical (I heard you Joe), the STATE now really says what education should be about for kids, and its been that way for about 150 years. As Anne says above (and I know, as the mother of four children), that can be pretty horrific for parents. Schools are also great at “not listening” to parents–a good principal used to be one who could deal with parents without pissing them off while also buffering their influence, essentially protecting teachers. Teachers are rewarded for placating parents, but not really collaborating with them. What if parents really were partners with education-like institutions (schools maybe) to help determine courses of instruction and learning projects?

    But I think that means parents have to get a lot more brave about questioning whether the conventional schooling paradigms are really the best thing for their kids. If they aren’t then what are they going to do about it? Anne, could you take the conversation you are having with other parents up to the next level? Make it more public?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 21, 2010, 3:50 pm
    • Chad, the conversation started in response to a crisis in our school district that people, both inside and outside the school system, were reluctant to discuss openly for political reasons. Some concerned community members began on online forum, most posting anonymously, to share information and experiences. Some teachers and administrators joined in, having little other source of information themselves. Many just read, but a few posted, also mostly anonymously. While there was a good deal of misinformation and exaggeration traded, and all the other attendant problems with open online forums, I do believe that the pooling of information helped to coalesce forces that ultimately brought about some very positive and needed changes in our school system. (Although we’ve still got a way to go …)

      As the initial crisis situation resolved itself, and those whose main interest was in its sensational nature drifted away, the conversation on the forum evolved. In the course of discussing the crisis and its aftermath during the first year, and other local issues and situations over the past two years, we have shared perspectives from both sides of the school-room door. There is a good bit of philosophical debate on educational issues, as well as the odd neighborhood rumor circulating or occasional venting over an incident or policy. Part of my motivation in joining the forum conversation initially was to do as Adam said, to articulate my story of education to orient others, but I soon found out that I was getting as much of an orientation as anyone else. Like you, Chad, I came to the point where I realized that listening to their story was as important as telling mine.

      I am convinced that we must build both — parent vision and teacher expertise — if we are ever to move forward with true education reform, and that the two are synergistic. As teachers, we need to counteract the current media and political hype that screams “Our schools are failing and it’s all the teachers’ fault!” by advocating for our profession and educating others about the real nature of the issues in the headlines. We also must take the responsibility to challenge ourselves to do our very best jobs to provide quality education even in the face of adverse forces and misguided directives. Parents need to articulate their vision for what the schools should be and do for their children for themselves rather than passively accepting what the politicians and the Educrats and the corporations and even the sheer weight of tradition tell them schools should be and do. They must take the responsibility to engage in this effort actively and thoughtfully, complex and difficult though it may be. Parents need our expertise to envision what schools can be and do, and what it will really take to get there, beyond what they themselves have known and experienced. We need their support to defend ourselves from the current “Fire all the teachers!” mentality so that we can retain the ability to provide the quality education we both want for the children. I am convinced that if these two forces ever come together, they will be the check and balance that redirects education reform to the needs of the children rather than the needs of the politicians. What a wonderful and powerful partnership that could be! There’s real education reform for you — parents and teachers taking back their children’s education together.

      My frustration is how to go from an anonymous conversation on a forum in my small community to a real and more inclusive conversation that leads to action and results on a larger scale. The anonymity is useful in allowing us to transcend our stereotypical roles and circumvent the administrative barriers to direct and authentic conversations that Kirsten mentions, but the trade-off is that it limits us in what we can accomplish. A few regular posters have “come out” to each other, but most still hide behind the screen. Connections can be made individually, and understanding spread exponentially by word of mouth, but it’s a slow and tedious process. A coordinated group effort — or even an open conversation — well, that’s another story. I’m not sure how to facilitate that in an effective way. Too many — on both sides — are hampered by a feeling of powerlessness. “Why bother putting in that effort?” they say, “It won’t make any difference anyway.” It’s a Catch 22 — you need the numbers to make the difference a real possiblity, but until the difference is perceived as a real possibility you can’t get the numbers.

      Posted by Anne Kemp | July 21, 2010, 6:22 pm
      • That is a Catch-22.

        You’re right – we all need help getting past what we’ve already experienced. I bet a lot of teachers would work differently with parent endorsement of changes in their teaching that lead to more authentic learning.

        Thanks for such a descriptive and reflective response, Anne – it makes for a powerful story about the need for communication. I wonder if a small-group of like-minded teachers could all turn their classroom “newsletters” into fora for talking about parents and students’ perceptions of schooling from home. I wonder if the relatively small circle of relationships represented in a class, as compared to an entire school, would be safe place for all of us to open up over time. Then classroom networks could be connected to build numbers. Starting with whole school conversations might be daunting for everybody. Are enough teachers willing to facilitate community engagement with their own classrooms to start a network?

        All the best,

        Posted by Chad Sansing | July 22, 2010, 6:51 am
  3. Unfortunately parents at my school are seen as a liability by the larger school community. Fractured families are often seen as an excuse for student behavior or performance. This is crazy self-fulfilling prophecy because parents feel this mindset, and distrust our school based on our lack of trust in them.

    Another thing, I’ve found the power of family networks over the last year, that I’m sure exists in all your schools. Instead of seeing “parent involvement”, I think we should move to “network involvement”. There is a entire group of people that have contact with our students, that could help them in super constructive and healthy ways. This isn’t just a semantic change, but one that could have a huge impact on the support adults provide kids. It also strengthens our school communities, since more people involved should result in a better community.

    I look forward to your thoughts in the future about your ideas for parent involvement. Let’s share some more ideas soon.

    Posted by mrsenorhill | July 21, 2010, 11:56 pm
    • Great point – it speaks to our enthusiasm for Monika’s work with expert mentors.

      I do think we need greater parental involvement, in particular, for political support in education reform. Certainly at the federal level, leaders think they’re listening to community and business leaders and, in some cases, well-organized parent groups that reinforce what they want to hear regarding their policies. By and large, though, teachers and parents don’t have enough mutual understanding of one another’s vision or willingness to stand up together on common ground regarding teaching, learning, and valuing students. Maybe I should just say, I don’t.

      So many people are ready and willing to help kids; I’d like in particular to acknowledge and value parents and their desires for their kids – the hopes they have apart from testing. I’d like to find ways to take direct instructional and political action in partnership with parents.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | July 22, 2010, 6:45 am
  4. Mrsenorhill, the trust issue is a BIG one. Teachers don’t trust parents and parents don’t trust teachers. That does become a self-fulfilling prophecy that just fuels more distrust. Authentic conversations can build trust, but you’ve got to have some trust to open the conversation. Another Catch 22.

    In my conversations with parents on our little forum (as well as in real life), I ran into the parent distrust of school and teachers. At first, I was defensive and offended at what I perceived as unjust and unwarranted generalizations. But as I listened to their stories, I began to understand why that distrust is there. It may be based on inaccurate perceptions fueled by teachers’ own distrust, administrative policies, and media hype — but to them, it’s real and it’s scary. These are their children we’re talking about, and they’re turning them over to strangers and being asked to trust that those strangers will care for them as they would. All the while, they’re being bombarded with information from all sides that leads them to believe those teachers are untrustworthy. No wonder they’re fearful. Teachers are also distrustful of parents and often react in ways that only fuel the reasons for that distrust without seeking to understand it and find ways to overcome it.

    I really like your term “network involvement”. It IS more than a semantic difference. It takes out the “us” and “them” mentality that fuels the distrust. Maybe actively seeking to build networks of supportive adults around what students in my classroom are doing — breaking down the classroom walls, being more transparent, involving the “real” world in the academic world more — could be a start and an example. Chad, I’m not sure I could get any other teachers at my school to buy into it right now, but I could do it.

    Thank you all so much for being willing to engage with me in this conversation. I truly appreciate your ideas and support, and look forward to sharing more.


    Posted by Anne Kemp | July 22, 2010, 9:33 am
  5. Anne, you’ve helped us build up a tremendously important conversation here with your insights and stories – thank you!

    I’m starting to consider an open invitation to all parents to come to class to do our work with us whenever they can. That’s probably too unwieldy, but we are a small school with a vested interest in supporting our families. Maybe some kind of “room-parent” system would work, but with parents working on the same arts-infused, project- and inquiry-based work we will do?

    That would be so great – to show learning without needing grades. That might make assessment reform concrete in parents’ minds, and parents might be able to articulate what works and doesn’t work for them as learners differently than kids do. That would be sweet. Parent bloggers could blog from inside the class about class, taught to blog by students.

    I will work on whatever this turns into and share it out.

    Thanks again, Anne!

    Posted by Chad Sansing | July 22, 2010, 7:12 pm

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