Thursday, March 1, 2012

Parents as Partners

Parents can be a School's Best Resource

I'm in the process of writing a book that tells the success story of a small school that began in a hen house nearly 100 years ago and thrives today. Now the red brick school with numerous additions serves hundreds of children. It's always been one of those schools that inspires people to move into the neighborhood so their children can attend. Yes, one of those.

To write the story, I've interviewed people who were there in 1926, 1936, 1946, and 1956...people who have raised their kids in the neighborhood, retired there, and remain there today. They wouldn't dream of leaving. My goal was to find out what made this little school so successful. There are several answers, but the item at the top of the list is parent participation.

The founding principal, my Great Aunt Marion, started the Mothers' Club during the first year. The mothers (and fathers) were her partners. Without their help, the school would not have survived The Great Depression, World War II, or the onslaught of students that came to the area during the "baby boom" that followed.

Today, with budget cuts, deteriorating school buildings, growing class sizes, more and more mandates, more and more emerging technologies and the requirements those bring; few education opportunities due to lack of funds....I could go on. No matter what issues teachers face, they shouldn't have to go it alone. They shouldn't be blamed for failing students. No one person and no one group can solve the problems we face today. No one person could have solved them 100 years ago either. It does take a village.

So my Aunt Marion engaged the community by giving them enough power to feel like they were part of the program. She kept them informed and involved and they returned her respect by advocating for what was needed to keep the school alive, by sharing the school's success stories witgh the greater community, by fundraising, sharing resources, and helping the school to thrive.

Parent partnerships with schools and with classrooms show children that education is important, to respect the school and the teacher. Family involvement provides learning support systems that help, in the long run, raise grades, and increase attendance and graduation rates.

There are numerous parent-as-partner organizations supporting the family/school connection. One I recommend is Parents 4 Public Schools. They have chapters all over the country and use their website to highlight successful partnerships, strategies for involving parents, and a database of resources for schools.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Overwhelm Factor

Camille Cole
 If you're a K-12 teacher and you're in the classroom right now, there's a good chance you are feeling overwhelmed. You're drowning in work, there are kids who need your attention, there are mandates you must meet, expectations you must live up to, and emerging technologies you must learn. But that's just for starters, right? It's not enough to learn how to use interactive digital tools; almost everyone has a Facebook page by now. You've posted a picture of your trip to the beach, told your friends about the new flower garden, maybe you bought a farm animal, thought this was going to be some form of relaxation....think again.

Can we remember a world when a tweet was sitting on a branch outside your kitchen window?  It's all going by so fast. While you were figuring out how to post a profile picture your students already had an avatar and 300 friends. Hand-helds have nothing to do with last Saturday night, and the truth is you have to get out in front of those kids. It's not going to work to ask them, or to demand they leave it at the door. The world has changed while we were busy correcting papers.

Add to that note-to-self: learn how to integrate social media tools into my instructional methodology. The chilling truth is that you can't learn it all at once. It's too big of a bite. What to do? Take it one step at a time. Embrace the idea. Join Classroom 2.0 and poke around on this "Ning." (A Ning is an interactive social media site, just like Facebook really.) Read the posts. Respond to a post. Now you've done it....You are using social media. So now you might as well join Twitter and see what's going on, upload a picture. Watch for a while.

Before long, something will speak to you. Someone's blog will inspire you to start your own blog. Someone's sample wiki they have posted on Classroom 2.0 might inspire you to use a wiki to augment a reading assignment or a research project.

There are so many resources and sooner or later you will be out there with the rest of training wheels, a vision of your own. This is how it's going to have to work. It's more about attitude right now than it is about aptitude. Why do our kids need us? For the same reason they always have: to guide them and remind them to be safe and wise.