Involving parents in school improvement is an ongoing challenge for schools. Research shows that successful parent involvement improves student behavior and positively impacts student achievement. However schools continue to struggle with defining meaningful parent involvement. The definition of successful parent involvement should be active and ongoing (not occasional) participation in their child’s education.
All our communications and school information are online. This ranges from weekly messages to homework assignments and grades to ordering lunch for primary school students to paperless board meetings . . . Our challenge is ensuring our parent community reads and responds to the online school communications and stays updated. We linked this challenge to the growing disconnect between a parent community’s digital fluency and our students’ native digital literacy. We have broadened our definition of parent involvement to include becoming digitally proficient. Both the transient nature of our international school and the digital nature of all our communications makes it critically important for parents to be digitally fluent. It is also essential for parents to learn about new technologies so they can continue to remain connected and engaged with their children. Enhancing their own digital fluency also supports their child’s learning to become responsible digital citizens.
Barriers to Parent Involvement
Often there is a perception in schools that parents don’t want to be involved. We don’t agree with this perception. Why would a parent not want to be engaged in their child’s learning? In fact they may not know HOW to be involved. The challenge for schools is to create deep meaningful opportunities and sustain them. In our 1-to-1 environment, it is essential for our parents to demonstrate a relatively high level of technological fluency. Some of the barriers to learning about technology are cultural and require a level of sensitivity in overcoming them. Others may be lack of time, language barriers, lack of opportunities that go beyond bake-sales, transient population. Often there is a lack of understanding of the importance of improving their digital literacy. Answering the ‘Why’ question (‘Why should I become proficient in the use of technology?’) is important for building the emotional link to the learning.
Ways To Engage Parents
Generally successful parent involvement takes many forms – reading with children, helping with homework, attending and participating in school events, volunteering at school. . . a range of activities to involve parents in the learning process. In a 1-to-1 learning environment this takes some new forms. We start with a belief that student success is a shared interest of both school and home. We envision parents as partners in the learning process, and identify and implement concrete ways that this partnership can be activated.
- Parent Tech Rep
This year we created a role called Parent Tech Rep. It’s a volunteer position that requires a few hours of work each week. The parent in this role needs to understand how adults learn, facilitate requests for parent tech support, plan and organize the parent tech tutorials, teach some of the tutorials, and recruit, manage and guide the volunteer cadre of parent tech tutors.
- Community Network
This is an ideal way for parents to participate in a closed online parent network. It facilitates their transition and integration into the school and the city of Mumbai, and supports the building of a real network of connections with the school community. On the technology front, it demystifies social networking for everyone. It provides adults a hands-on opportunity to learn about digital etiquette and communication — i.e. How to communicate online on discussions, implications for posting messages, the permanent nature of online postings . . .
- Parent Tech Tutors Program
We run an extensive program of hands-on technology trainings for parents on a range of applications and tools that would be useful in their personal/professional lives. Tutorials include – Managing your Desktop, Facebook, Diigo, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Google Docs & Forms, LinkedIn, Flickr, Photoshop, building Personal Learning Networks. . . Between four to seven hands-on tutorials are offered on campus each week. What is unique about these tutorials is that they are taught by parents who have volunteered to become a Parent Tech Tutor!
- Parent Tech Skills Continuum
Our Parent Tech Rep, Debbie Grieve, created a Parent Tech Skills Continuum. This lists four phases of learning and skills that parents at our school need to acquire in order to become proficient in their use of technology, be able to communicate, and stay updated within this community. This includes building an understanding of digital citizenship and learning how to raise digital kids.
Parent involvement requires a paradigm shift in thinking about home-school relationships. It requires a shift towards viewing this important relationship as a partnership, a partnership that is crucial for the education of our children.
What are the ways in which you are building and renewing this partnership at your school?