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.