Parents as Partners

holding hands

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user gem fountain

Some of you who read this blog may know that I’m passionate about the vital role that parents must play as stakeholders in the process of transforming education. Last night I co-facilitated a humble little workshop for my school community entitled 21st Century Learning: Parents as Partners. I won’t bore you with the details of the entire hour and a half, but I do want to share with you some quick takeaways that have been sprinting through my mind ever since.

Parents are insecure about their levels of competency with new and emerging technologies. They are afraid that their children know more than them (where have we heard that before?), and wish that they could learn more, develop their own skills.

Parents are mystified as to what their children are doing online and with their gadgets.

Parents know that the world is different than when they were young. They know that their children’s paths, especially in regards to their careers, will not resemble their fathers’ and their fathers’ fathers’. Parents understand that we live in exponential times, and that, in our current era, a fancy $700 gadget feels old in a year. They know that you may be an expert today, but a dummie tomorrow. Parents know all this because they themselves are living it too. They just aren’t sure what this all means for learning and education.

Parents are confused by the mixed messages we send as educators: grades are important, but, no, they’re not; competition is healthy, but we need collaboration; technology is needed, and it’s a menace and a distraction; etc.

Parents want their kids to become resilient, patient, self-actualizing, passion-driven, mentally and physically healthy grown ups in a complex world in which they themselves are struggling to do the same.

Parents are terribly unsure about what role(s) they should play in their ‘Facebooky-Tumblr world’ (a parent’s awesome term). To end this post, I wanted to share with you an analogy I used for which I received wonderful feedback.

A forest...

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user 1.7ou ! (Les chiquitos)

Think of the world online as a massive, completely public, seemingly unending forest full of amazing, and sometimes scary, surprises. You would not send your child into these woods alone when they, and perhaps even you, are unfamiliar with its terrain. Should you then watch surreptitiously, behind trees, and pounce when bad things occur? No, because that’s not how you build trust, and, besides, you’re almost contributing to the idea of unseen, mythical dangers lurking. So you walk alongside him/her. You hold hands. You don’t pretend to be an expert of all the plants, animals, and weather you encounter, but you do ask good questions and model a sense of wonder. You help each other when knees get scraped, and branches get tripped over. You use tools to navigate this forest, some of which you have brought with you, others that you will find, and still more that you will literally construct using materials and resources found on your way. Ultimately, your goal is to release that responsibility gradually onto your child. Soon, they will be able to traverse the woods by themselves, with friends, and – gulp – even strangers. If the internet is a forest, then you need to walk it together.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We need to build real partnerships with parents in our school communities. A truly great education system won’t exist in its absence.

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13 thoughts on “Parents as Partners

  1. My friend,

    You have captured the essence of the work we must invest ourselves in. As scary as the migration to more collaborative and open learning environments is, it also offers an opportunity to build a level of transparency and trust between parents and schools that is far beyond what we are doing currently.

    You write with honesty, courage and voice and you always make me think:).

    Brian

  2. Great post Royan. Parents often assume that educators are confidant and know where they are going in the new terrain of technology in the classroom. There can be an abdicating of responsibility in helping our kids navigate the world of the Internet because we ourselves are unsure of the terrain.

    Educators on the other hand can easily do the same by not being comfortable enough with technology to enable modeling of Internet use and navigation. Digital citizenship and thecinternet as a tool for conbection and learning are essential skills today and need to be incorporated into our schools.

    I completely agree that educators and parents need to work along side eachother and with our kids to learn together. And isn’t that when the best learning happens? When there is a sense of discovery, a figuring out for themselves how to accomplish a goal and sharing it with others?

  3. Please, please, please tell parents about the Digital Footprint miniMOOC idea I am working on. (Free OPne online course that everyone and anyone can take together that speaks to what you talked about in your post). I would really like to see parents and students create “learning teams” to work together….Thank you for your wonderful story! @verenanz
    Please check out:http://minidigitalfootprint.wordpress.com/

  4. Pingback: Parent Engagment in Student’s Learning | Second Language Parent Techie

  5. Beautifully written Royan!
    I’ve used a similar analogy, except mine is a big city instead of a big forest, however, I really like the ‘nature’ feeling of yours. Great work, again, and thanks for sharing.

  6. Pingback: Technology Misconceptions? « SheilaSpeaking

  7. Oh, man….you nailed it! I’m sitting here in tears, because I am trying so hard to do this both with my students, and with my own two kids, and I’m not always sure I’m successful. It is scary sometimes, but this is the only way to do it – holding hands, and helping each other along the way. Thank you, as always….I’m zapping this out to the parents and teachers I love.

  8. Royan,
    Where did my response go? Are you censoring your replies? That’s not very professional. I’ll send it again.
    Rose

  9. Think of the world online as a massive, completely public, seemingly unending forest full of amazing, and sometimes scary, surprises. You would not send your child into these woods alone when they, and perhaps even you, are unfamiliar with its terrain. Should you then watch surreptitiously, behind trees, and pounce when bad things occur? No, because that’s not how you build trust, and, besides, you’re almost contributing to the idea of unseen, mythical dangers lurking. So you walk alongside him/her. You hold hands. You don’t pretend to be an expert of all the plants, animals, and weather you encounter, but you do ask good questions and model a sense of wonder. You ask questions such as, ‘Is this website safe for my child?’ ‘Are you supervising what my child is viewing online?’ ‘Are you blocking inappropriate sites?’ ‘Are you still providing quality education for my child, or are you simply handing her a laptop and say – GO OUT AND EXPLORE THIS WOODS BY YOURSELF?’ You model a sense of wonder by using your phone only at appropriate times, not during class and not during staff meetings. You don’t answer your email in the middle of teaching. You don’t walk beside your child, talking on your phone rather than talking to your child. You help each other when knees get scraped, and branches get tripped over. You use tools to navigate this forest, some of which you have brought with you, others that you will find, and still more that you will literally construct using materials and resources found on your way. However, all tools need to be used safely and with knowledge of how to use them, or they can hurt you. Rather than a carpenter or a mechanic simply picking up a tool and trying to use it right away, he / she will learn what its purpose is, read the directions, and receive instruction in order to maximize its effectiveness. If the tradesperson simply tries to use it without this advance training – and under the supervision of his / her instructor – the tool will never be utilized in the manner in which it was intended to be used. Ultimately, your goal is to release that responsibility gradually onto your child. Yes, gradually. Do not simply give the child a phone, netbook, or computer and say – go free little birdie – sit in the hall an do whatever you want. Rather, place them in the secure computer lab with netminder on so the teacher can view what they are viewing and help them along. Use the lcd projection machine to model what they need to do, and since they are all in one room, they will all be able to look up and see what is being done. When they know what they are to do, they can then continue on with their task on the hardwired computers, with the teacher supervising via netminder, watching to make sure everyone is successful along the road. Soon, they will be able to traverse the woods by themselves, with friends, and – gulp – even strangers. If the Internet is a forest, then you need to walk it together. Ahh…perhaps the best line of all…walk it TOGETHER. Not alone – one in the stairwell looking at youtube; one in the hall doing msn; one in the class with screen facing away from you while he looks on ebay; one in their locker on their own phone texting their boyfriend; one in the bathroom uploading a nasty picture and message about someone in their class; one…

  10. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We need to build real partnerships with parents in our school communities. A truly great education system won’t exist in its absence.”

    Yes!! Great post!

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