The topic of October’s Connected Principals Elluminate session focused on engaging parents as partners in our schools. Patrick Larkin, Janet Avery, and Chris Wejr offered their administrative perspectives on this issue, and parent Penny Lindalle spoke thoughtfully about how parents view true engagement in their child’s educational experiences and ways that administrators can foster and develop the parent-school relationship.
Parent involvement vs. engagement was a common theme throughout the session. We may have compliant students in our classrooms, but this does not necessarily mean they are engaged learners. Similarly, we have many parents who are involved in our schools in that they do what we want them to do, but we must get them to the point where they’re engaged and have a voice in what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis. Patrick Larkin addressed how we can continue to develop connections with parents and use social media to develop those connections. One of his important points was that we can’t just involve “the chosen few” in our schools, we have to have all parents involved.
Patrick offered suggestions for getting parent feedback and making connections via social media, sharing examples of his use of Google forms for parent surveys and Dave Meister’s You Tube channel. My take-away from Patrick’s segment of the session was, “If you think you need people to physically show up to be engaged in the conversation, you’re missing the point.” We need to harness the power of social media to truly engage parents.
It was such a pleasure to hear a parent’s perspective on this topic as Penny Lindballe offered many insights on what parents expect from school administrators. She believes the principal sets the tone of the school, creates school culture, and provides leadership and support for teachers. An expectation she shared is that if there are teachers trying to make connections with parents through blogs and Twitter, for example, then the principal/administrator should support those efforts.
“Without trust, there are no relationships. Without relationships, there is no meaningful dialogue.” Chris Wejr made some excellent points in that school administrators should build trust with parent constituents by being visible and accessible at all times. He shared examples of how he participates in community events and engages parents in conversation at arrival and dismissal times. Chris stressed the importance of an open-door policy for parents and visitors in the mornings before school begins: “Schools should be a welcome place, not a place you can only get in if you have a key.” Another essential skill when developing relationships with parents? Active listening. We need to ensure we are reflective after the conversations. Listen more and talk less. We can’t approach conversations with parents with a “we know best” attitude before actually listening to what they have to say.
George Couros addressed a question regarding how to get parents to engage with the blogs his teachers are publishing. It all comes back to connecting with kids. “If you want parents to respond and comment, get your kids writing on the blogs. A parent wants to see what their child is doing.” George is encouraging his teachers to ask questions at the conclusion of their blog posts to encourage ongoing conversations with parents through this format.
What is a meaningful parent involvement? Janet Avery explained that the definition varies differently from parent to teacher to principal, and to consider that all parents were at one time students. Parents that had enjoyable school experiences have a sense of comfort with the “way things always were” and may therefore be resistant to change, whereas parents who did not enjoy their own school experiences may be more open to doing things differently. By building relationships with parents via an open door policy, creating a welcoming atmosphere, exploring ideas such as brown bag lunches, including parents on school improvement committees, and involving parents in literacy and numeracy nights, Janet is hoping to provide meaningful engagement opportunities for her parents.
Penny Lindalle raised an important question: Who gets to decide what meaningful parent voice is? She described how sometimes the smallest things can be so meaningful in a parent/family’s everyday life. It’s the little things that can make a huge difference in the home and how parents engage with their children. She asked administrators to make a distinction about what the goal is when considering parent engagement: Do we want parents to engage with the school? Or engage in their child’s learning? Provide a variety of opportunities for engagement. Penny referenced Daniel Pink’s Drive, and the importance of infusing autonomy, mastery, and purpose into our parental involvement efforts. Do parents have autonomy in the school? Do they feel as though their decisions are welcome? This involves a lot of trust and the willingness to relinquish control. Penny’s final thoughts were for administrators to personalize experiences for all parents, speak to parent values, and relate school experiences to the real world.
Chris Wejr shared this great resource from Larry Ferlazzo: Involved vs. Engaged Parents. Chris reminded us that parents are the first, and lifelong, teachers for our students. We need to create a culture of learning with parents, rather than teaching to them. Chris shared his experiences with his school’s parent council and how trust had to be built before parent voices could truly be heard, and ultimately, the follow-through is what matters. Without action, you lose the voice and the trust.
A school cannot be truly successful without meaningful parent engagement. School administrators need to embrace and encourage parents as active participants in the learning process. Many thanks to the administrative voices and parent Penny Lindalle for sharing their experiences!