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Support is a rhizome, not a root

In edtech and learning stewardship circles (thinking of conversations with the #edopenmic last week and with @johntspencer specifically), the idea of parental involvement seems to have come up often recently.

I noticed it but really didn’t understand it until last year.  The complexity of the support networks many students in low-income communities have (and I’m assuming in many suburban ones too) is something we’ve yet to really tap into.

Shouldn’t social networks help us tap into this interconnected rhizome better than previously possible?

This is more than just a linguistic shift (i.e. moving away from saying “parent involvement” to be more P.C.).  It’s a conceptual one.  It transforms how we look at the network that raises our kids.

This rhizome of support, advocacy, accountability, and learning should be seen as a strength, or in @johntspencers words, a solution and not as an enemy to many of the things our kids face or need help with.

Roots branch out, but rhizomes interconnect and support.  I can be facebook friends with a student, his older and younger siblings, titi (aunt), grandpa and mama simultaneously.  I can mass text an entire family to make sure I get some important information to at least one of them, which could spread afterwards anyway they seem fit.  I can just ask what folks use, and tap into it, rather than forcing them to fit in the box I feel most comfortable with.

If you’ve ever pulled out weeds, you know that roots are easier to pull out than rhizomes.  Rhizomes are stronger.  Rhizomes are resistant.

We should be attaching ourselves to these networks, and leveraging to meet the needs of our students.  We should be seeing them as assets, and not as liabilities.  I can see something like this as indispensable and impossible to ignore by school communities and reformers alike if played right.

How do you all connect with these networks?

What successes have you or others that you know had?

What setbacks?

How do you intend to tap into these networks this coming year?

Any other thoughts?

We don’t see our friends or colleagues as only people in our immediate physical environment anymore because of social networks and PLNs.  Can’t we start to be more cognizant of the realities of family life outside the nuclear in the same ways?


About mrsenorhill

Director of Innovation, Special Projects @collegeboundstl, Co-Founder and CEO @thedisruptdept, hustling for creation literacy for all; want to cook better.


6 thoughts on “Support is a rhizome, not a root

  1. spot on man.
    community as curriculum..

    we’ve compartmentalized content for sure – but people as well.

    funny – the web allows us to travel way beyond our means. which is cool. and new.
    what i’m seeing – that’s even cooler – is how it’s taking us into ourselves and our local communities. who would have thought?

    ie: reports are claiming ipod/cell use is helping young kids in school. i’m sure it is… but sounds like the bigger impact is that now more parents are actively involved.

    more reason to work on that digital equity…

    Posted by monika hardy | July 30, 2010, 1:26 am
    • Right. Equity! I’m glad you keep pushing that. I posted something on the coopcatalyst voicethread tonight that brings these two together. Not that you have free time or anything : )

      But I’m even thinking about how to leverage these things in the meantime. It’s not as broad as imaginable, but it’s at least one place I can start working…like tomorrow.

      I’m thinking about an informal contact survey at the beginning of the year, then setting up all sorts of ways to have conversations with kids and their advocates.

      Posted by mrsenorhill | July 30, 2010, 1:33 am
  2. I enjoyed this post. I mentioned it in my blog today.

    Posted by John Spencer | July 30, 2010, 10:11 am
  3. I just had to look this up in wikipedia to make it more vivid for me…

    “In botany, a rhizome (from Greek: ῥίζωμα, rhizoma, “root-stalk”) is a characteristically horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes may also be referred to as creeping rootstalks or rootstocks.”

    We are rich in gardening metaphors here. This one really suggests something to me. Social media networking as a rhizome layer…for kids, for parents, for teachers.

    Is it because teachers and other folks in school aren’t using using these tools themselves that they regard them hostilely?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 31, 2010, 1:39 pm
  4. Greg, this is a very motivational post. I’m not great at parent-engagement or community-based learning, but each is an area in which I want to make a quantum leap this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Many systems have adopted student information systems that push grades and comments out to parents electronically. It would be great to balance out or replace these systems with policies and communications that allow for conversation and participation for parents in the lives of schools and for teachers in the lives of families and communities.

    I plan to start a community blog about out school open to posting from staff, students, parents, and visitors. I also plan to issue a standing invitation to parents (with reminders by unit) to join class for an area of study or project that interests them. In the past, I started a StoryCorps inspired oral-history project run with student interviewers, but I left the project’s school before the project took root. I think the StoryCorps model is a great one and scalable by schools. I also think part of teacher evaluation should be feedback from parents.

    Could large schools have open door policies for parent learners? How could a large school manage parent participation in students’ authentic work or give them better insight into the inauthentic work students are sometimes asked to do for the sake of curriculum and/or convenience?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 11, 2010, 7:24 pm
    • Let’s leap together Chad. It’s 50% of my priorities for this year : )

      I’m also going to create a community blog that focuses on things going on in the neighborhood and engages with parents. The blog can also work through SMS, Twitter and Facebook of student supports and students alike.

      As with everything we discuss around here, large schools COULD have an open door policy for adult family member learners, but at least in the case of my school, many families don’t feel comfortable coming to the school and working in the way you describe.

      I always liked the idea that “High School High” uses that adult learners just hang out in the school during the day, working on their own projects and talking with students if students feel the need. No forced speakers, just sharing in authentic learning.

      I think if our students’ work existed in social networks student supporters could access they would be able to interact more with student work. No more “meet the teacher night” gallery views of perfect student work, but families could actually be involved in the process. I want to use SMS and twitter better this year, since you can now follow twitter users using SMS without a twitter account. I’m also going to talk about facebook and twitter during every conversation, seeing which of my parents use social networks so we can connect.

      If we are going to interact with family learners though, we do have to make sure we are sensitive to where these people are and what technological capabilities or multiple job commitments (most of my students’ family members work minimum wage hourly jobs they can’t get out of without weeks scheduling notice) they might have.

      What does this look like at your school?

      Posted by mrsenorhill | August 11, 2010, 10:08 pm

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