Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Engaging Parents through Home School Partnerships

Engaging with parents in an authentic partnership to educate students is way more complex in this decade because we are using learning tools that didn't exist when most of our parents and teachers went to school. So we have less of a shared understanding of what education looks like and feels like.

I have just re-read Dr Mona Mourshed's quote from The Education Project conference I attended last year,
"Students spend 60% of their time out of school. Technology has the power to unleash the potential of the student because they have access to learning during the 60% time."
and been reminded again how important it is that we move forward WITH our parent community if we want the Manaiakalani project to be effective in our 4 major goals:
  1. To raise student achievement outcomes
  2. To make learning portable (Anywhere, Anytime, Anyplace =A3)
  3. To have engaged learners
  4. To ensure our students have employment readiness

In the early stages of this project our 4 development strands are occurring almost behind the scenes:
  • Mindware development
  • Infrastructure
  • Devices
  • Cloud solutions

But it is essential that we keep our stakeholder groups (students, teachers, parents, government officials, business partners etc) informed and included so that when the day comes to "Go Live" we are all moving in the same direction!

It has been a particular pleasure this year to participate in Home School Partnerships being held in our community of schools in the evening. I have attended and participated in the ones focussed on the Manaiakalani project and each has been a positive and successful event. We have learnt things along the way, so here goes:

The Purpose needs to be very clear, particularly within the staff and school leadership.
Trying to cram in too many key messages about a variety of events dilutes each message.
For these eveings the purpose has been; to inform the parents about the Manaiakalani project and how it is progressing in their school, and to give the parents a hands-on opportunity to interact with their own children's shared learning. And even then it has been important to take small steps, so we have been focussing on getting them interacting with the student blogs so far this year.

Knowing the parent community is most important; what are their particular needs, where are they likely to be in their current understanding of the mindware and the technology behind the Manaiakalani projects, and what will induce them to come out at night!
As all our schools are decile one and are in a 3km by 2km geographical area, the parents have a lot in common. Many of them are sole caregivers, they often have larger families, many will walk to the meetings, and our recent survey showed less than 25% have the internet in their homes. They are predominantly Maori or Pasifika families.

We know that what will bring our parents out at night is their children! They are supportive of their children and their learning and love seeing what they are doing at school. So the evenings need to include the children and we get them to bring their parents along. Issues we need to have thought through are:

Child minding
  • Food - kids are always happy when they have something in their tummies!
  • How are we going to get the children to interact with their parents? If the evening is about getting the parents using computers then the children need to be firmly told to keep their hands off the mouse. If the parents are not confident they will sit back and let the kids do it for them - and we all know that watching some whizz kid tearing around the screen is no way to learn anything about using a computer. We heard this thinking confirmed by teachers from the Maine 1:1 project at ISTE recently.
Schools have used various inducements to attend including:
  • kids putting on a couple of items first
  • kids writing personal invitations on cards to their parents
  • printing out invitations on a thin strip of paper and attaching to every child as a wrist band before they leave in the afternoon - that way most get home!

The formalities for the evening which seem to make an impact are:
  • having the principal welcome the parents and give the project a huge public seal of approval
  • having a brief overview in plain English (all geek terms stripped out!) about what we are trying to achieve and why
  • teachers standing up and speaking about how it is actually working in the classroom and impacting the kids
  • explaining exactly what we would like parents to do - again in very plain English - "We want you to read your own child's work and leave them positive feedback!"
Giving the parents an opportunity to have a go themselves is very important. How this is best carried out depends on each school's facilities, but most have sent the parents off to classrooms along with the teachers and let the parents sit down at classroom computers with teachers helping them. We have found that where we had well laid out instruction sheets for the parents we have had the most success. Particularly with large visual screen shots of what to do.

There needs to be an extension group too because we have found in each school a group of parents who have access to computers and have technical skills, especially with FaceBook. Teaching them how to use RSS to feed their child's blog posts to their FB has been successful. And working parents have appreciated being able to include their email address in the blog RSS settings so they get notified (often at work!) when a new post is published.

The evenings have been greatly appreciated and will be an ongoing feature of the Manaiakalani project. Our next step will be providing workshops for parents to develop their digital literacy further. It will be great when we can have cluster workshops that parents from any of the schools can attend, at times which suits them.

The video below is from Tamaki Primary School, in Panmure. They held a movie and popcorn event at the beginning to show the parents some of the student' movies.


  1. To show my total lack of knowledge of Facebook I am going to ask this question, "How DO you add an RSS feed from a blog into Facebook?" I have tried a Google on the topic but it doesn't make any sense to me.


  2. Thanks for your timely post on home-school partnerships. Just this afternoon I re-visited the Home-School Partnerships section on TKI http://home-schoolpartnerships.tki.org.nz/. And finally took the time to look through the entire piece (http://home-schoolpartnerships.tki.org.nz/Schools-stories/Tamaki-Primary-School-s-home-school-partnership). I really enjoyed the points you made about engaging families in an authentic way.

    And here is a quick run down on adding blogs to Facebook:

    *Log in to Facebook ->Go to your Profile
    *Along the top of your page you will see Tabs, if you don't have Notes as a tab click on the + sign and type in Notes. (add this to your page).
    *On the bottom left hand side you will see 'Edit Import Settings'.
    *Add your URL
    *Start importing
    (basically this adds new posts to your feed for you and others to read/see).

    Hope this is useful, if there is another way I would be keen to learn how to do this as well.

    Naku noa, na

  3. Will be sharing this blog post with Teachers in Whangarei who are in the very early stages of setting up class blogs. I often hear teachers sharing "concerns" over parents not having access but you have certainly proved in the Manaiakalani project that this is not a barrier. It is about finding ways to engage them and including the children seems to be the way to go:-) Thanks again for sharing.

  4. I am really enjoying reading this unfolding story. Can't wait for a chance to sit down a have a really good chat about it with you sometime.
    Hopefully October :)

  5. I think the reason we have such a good turnout of our HSP meetings is the comfort level our parents feel inside our hall. We have never "dumbed things down" but have always spoken in plain English without jargon as much as possible, and our parents have driven the direction of the meetings because we respond to what their thoughts are about our programmes. So there is a LOT of listening, observing and responding.

    The other thing we do is use the kids of course, but also advertise it using "FUN" language, so it doesn't sound all so serious. People like to be given FINITE times to attend meetings, so knowing it goes from 6.30pm - 8.pm is manageable and doesn't get the kids home too late.

    Corinne Hansell
    Tamaki Primary School

  6. I think it is a great idea to get parents on the technological bandwagon. Every parent wants to see his/her child succeed, and what better way than to help him/her in this ever changing world. It is sad to know that there are still parents without any knowledge of technology. Holding classes for the parents are so beneficial. When a parent learns the ways of technology he/she can prepare his/her child for the world around them. Having everyone on the same page makes daily life easier. Whether we like it or not our world is turning viral.

  7. I am from a small community in Mobile, Alabama and I grew up in a very small school system. Computers were not used on a daily basis in the school system that I went to so when I went to college as a first time freshman, I had no idea the possibilities that technology could do for me. If I had the information given to me earlier on, I could have went much further with my education and my ability to access information much more easily. What is also important here is that not only was I in the dark on the possibilities of technology, my parents were too. If we had the information given to us from the school system, my parents could have been much more involved in my learning process.

    I believe that the HSP meetings are a wonderful idea for everyone involved in the school systems. It gives parents a chance to learn the technology that their child is using as well as how to incorporate it into their daily lives. It gives them a chance to feel connected with the teacher and their children. Giving the parents a chance to learn the computer system in a friendly environment will help them to not feel intimidated by technology and it will help them feel more comfortable when their children are using the technology because the parents are well informed on what is going on. It is a great idea and I am so happy to see this happening in schools systems because it can benefit everyone.

  8. Hello there! My name is William “Prent” Davis, I am a Secondary Education Major (Social Sciences) at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. As part of the class EDM 310 (http://edm310.blogspot.com) I have been asked to review and comment on your blog. I have also been asked to write up a summary of your blog as well as a reflection of my impressions of the points and suggestions that you have made on my blog: William “Prent” Davis’s EDM 310 Class Blog (http://daviswilliamprentedm310.blogspot.com). So, please, if you have a chance to have a look my blog, I would appreciate it. And, of course, please let me know if you feel that I have either misunderstood you or misquoted you in any way.

    That being said, I found your points concerning technology, the internet and education to be insightful and spot-on. This generation’s children are growing up with a more technology in their homes than many computer scientists with PhDs had in the early 1990s when I was in school. When the television was the baby-sitter of students in my day, the internet is now the baby-sitter of children today. And seeing as how an overwhelming number of homes having an internet connection, capitalizing on educating children via the internet is tantamount to tapping a vast resource. I also thought that your suggestions on how to get parents (likely already tired form working all day) to come in to an evening meeting at school are also spot-on. My particular favorite is the idea of getting the students to put on a presentation of some sort so that parents will come to see their children show off (and then, of course, stay since they are already there). The suggestions for letting the parents get hands-on experience with no technical-jargon involved is likely the best suggestion for keeping them at the meeting and keeping them interested.

  9. Hello, my name is Ellie Irish-Jones and I currently attend the University of South Alabama. In my EDM310 class I have been asked to read and comment on your article as an assignment.

    While I was in grade school I didn't use the Internet, I had no use for it. Or so I thought. In today's world children not only have access to Internet at school but in their homes as well. The idea of using the Internet for education in such a positive light is a brilliant plan. Having parents involved in their children's virtual education opens many more educational opportunities for these students. Most children enjoy using the internet, integrating pleasure and education will keep these students motivated and interested in endless subjects via the Internet. The point you made about parents being able to access these web sites and blogs so easily is very valid. This allows the parents to become more involved in their child's education. This also allows parents to be "in the know" and get a better idea of what is happening inside of the classroom each day.

    As a student myself, who is not exactly computer and internet savvy I feel the younger we teach children how to gain knowledge through the Internet the better. I feel the Internet can become a major component in the education field!

  10. it is always a winner when you have the buy-in from all parties. to see Corinne in their boots and all is a lovely part of the whole collaboration picture, everyone paddling the waka is what its all about. looking forward to the big day looming in the future

  11. At Panmure Bridge School, we had a Parents night which focused on teaching our parents how to access their child's class blog and to comment on their child's work. It was wonderful to meet the parents and to see their faces light up when they saw their child's work online. The magic of technology. The first segment of our meeting focused on the Manaiakalani initiative, the purpose of having class blogs and how student learning is integrated into E-Learning. From there I demonstrated to the parents how to comment on their child's blog. After that it was a hands on session for the parents to make comments.
    We also put on a wonderful spread with food, for students and parents to enjoy.