Engaging the Parent Community by Kim Cofino

Engaging the Parent Community by Kim Cofino

Cross-Posted at Always Learning

During my three years at ISB, one of the best projects I helped develop and facilitate was our Parent Technology Coffee Mornings. We started them during my first year to address questions and concerns about what students were learning with technology in the Elementary school and they grew to be a regular monthly event. The feedback we received from parents was always positive, and it was clear during the discussions that simply having the dedicated time to talk about technology and learning with their children's teachers was very important for our parents.

Since arriving at YIS this past August, one of my top priorities was to start something similar for our very supportive parent community here in Yokohama. I'm so pleased to share that our first Parent Technology and Literacy Coffee Morning was held in early December and our second was last week. Both times we had a fantastic turnout, around 60 parents on the first meeting and around 40 on the second one (which was the first week back from holidays).

Basically we're keeping the sessions simple, introductory and focused on student learning, parenting strategies, and understanding the digital world. The format is designed to be very open and informal, allowing for plenty of discussion both in small groups and as a larger whole. The sessions are run by Brian Farrell (our wonderful Head Librarian), Adam Clark (our superstar Counsellor) and me (with support from our fantastic IT Director, Stephen Lehmann, and brilliant Head of Operations, Bob Pomeroy).

We usually start each session with a short video or sample of student work, then allow for about 5 - 10 minutes of discussion and reflection time in small groups, then bring the discussion back to the whole group for follow up. Those small group discussions are so powerful, both for understanding the content presented in the short video clip, but also for raising issues and concerns in a comfortable setting. By walking around and chatting with each group as they share, I can get a good idea of the whole group's reaction, level of understanding, and priority issues for the morning. Often those small groups bring up really important points that we wanted to share with everyone and will help continue the discussion. It's this time for conversations that make the mornings so worthwhile.

After the two sessions, parents shared some feedback with us:

  • Thanks for the session this morning - I am finding them very interesting and useful. They are very informative and make me realise I am not the only parent who feels a bit lost and overwhelmed by the Internet! Also, that the issues of parenting a teenager are the same but the world looks different.
  • THANK YOU very much Kim and Brian for your time this morning. The session was informative and fun. Like everyone else, I am really looking forward to these monthly sessions and being part of the paradigm shift at YIS towards 1:1 for our kids.
  • So wonderful to have this event!
  • Wow, I have a lot to learn as a parent.. when's the next one?
  • We soo needed this type of meeting
  • I realize I need to get to know about technology more or my kid will know more than I can help them with!

In addition to the informal coffee morning sessions, we're also planning to run several hands-on tool-specific training sessions in the afternoon. Parents requested more variety in timing to allow different groups to attend, as well as step-by-step training in things like: creating a Facebook account, navigating our school blogging portal, setting up RSS feeds for teacher and student blogs, understanding online safety strategies, and better search techniques. We're planning to start these afternoon sessions in late February and continue through the rest of the school year.

To support the work we're doing with parents, we developed a Community Learning blog, where monthly recaps of our sessions will be posted, along with tips and strategies for parents. Another thing I love about YIS is that this blog is not just for our tech sessions, but our administrators and other curriculum leaders across the school will also be posting helpful information for parents. I love how we're all collaborating together to make an effective and resource-rich tool for our parent community.

Final Thoughts

As we move into our Connected Learning Community initiative next year, it is so important for our entire school community to feel empowered, engaged and well-informed about how technology is enhancing and impacting learning at school. These sessions are just one avenue for us to start opening those doors. During our two recent sessions, a few thoughts jumped out at me:

  • We are a very diverse community. We had some parents advocating complete freedom for their children online all the way to other parents requesting specific steps for setting up home filtering. And the absolute best part was how completely respectful, open and honest parents were about their beliefs and choices. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but the fact that our room full of parents felt comfortable sharing their perspectives from every part of the spectrum was wonderful.
  • It's all about conversations. Our conversations with parents, parents conversations with their children, parents talking to other parents, teachers talking to children. It's through the discussion, sharing and reflection that we help build our own understanding about how to deal with difficult issues, and how we help formulate decisions about how to react to new challenges.
  • Our parents already know how to be parents. They just need help discovering how to use their "traditional" parenting strategies in a digital context. All of their skills and experiences can be transferred from the real world into this new online environment that often seems intimidating. Many of our discussions revolve around making the comparisons between the "old" parenting struggles (no TV in the bedroom, phone calls in the living room only, etc) and those they are dealing with today (online all night, chatting with strangers, etc).
  • The majority of my job is working with teachers and students, but it's the collaboration and cooperation between the teachers and parents that will really have the biggest impact on students. Ensuring that we have a consistent message, especially about digital citizenship, between both school and home will ultimately make the biggest difference in our students lives.

On the agenda for the rest of the school year is: an introduction to blogging, focusing on our Learning Hub; utilizing RSS to connect with what's happening in the classroom; introducing podcasting, iTunesU and Khan Academy as tools for independent learning; tips and tricks to manage your Mac (in preparation for the CLC). How are you working with your parent community? What advice do you have for helping them feel both engaged and supported?

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