Bridging The Gap Between Home And School | Aviva Dunsiger

A wonderful post by @Grade1 regarding parent engagement in the learning of her students.

Bridging The Gap Between Home And School | Aviva Dunsiger

Over the years, my approach to parent engagement has changed. When I started teaching 11 years ago, I used to send out a monthly newsletter to parents. I still do. But this used to be all that I did. I told parents what was happening in the classroom, but I didn’t get them involved. Slowly, these monthly newsletters changed to website updates, and then eventually, emails and blogs. These latter two options started to get parents more actively involved in the classroom. They have a voice now. Parents comment on blog posts. They email me their thoughts. They even take part in classroom polls using a free service like Tweetpoll.

Aviva eloquently differentiates between the concept of parent involvement and parent engagement. She does, however, indicate that involvement (via unidirectional newsletters) was the genesis of engagement through more bidirectional means of communication such as emails and blogs. As I mention in a previous post (Parent Engagement vs. Involvement and Why it is Necessary), parent involvement is best described as the school and teacher creating the agenda that is passed on to the parent. This communication in one-way and non-reciprocal, but is the perfect start for a creating a relationship upon which further engagement can occur.

Those who know me will chuckle when I say this, but for someone who always looks through a 21st Century Learning / technology lens, the most meaningful connection can often still be that which occurs more personally. Now, that being said, I don’t necessarily mean that this needs to occur face-to-face, as a a phone call is no more face-to-face than an email or video connection, but an intentional and personal reaching out can make a world of difference.

…then came the most low-tech, and maybe the most meaningful option of all. I started calling parents every week or two. The phone conversations aren’t long, and sometimes I just leave a message for them, but through these phone calls, we’ve been able to really talk about school. Parents share their observations with me. I share what I’m noticing in the classroom, and we often set “next steps” together. Students benefit when we talk.

During conversations with parents, Aviva learns more about her children, the skills that they take home from school and how her students become teachers at home.

…One mom even mentioned to me that her son taught her how to use the tools they had at home to record the video. She’s so impressed with how comfortable her son is now with using technology, and how he really does use it as a learning tool. He’s also teaching his parents new ways to use technology as well, and now all of them can learn together. 

The Family Path discussed by Leithwood emphasizes that 50% of the student achievement that we, as educators, are responsible for takes place outside of our walls and within the walls of the home. Inviting parents into a school is not a high-leverage parent engagement strategy. The biggest impact will come with how we can influence learning for students at home by working with, supporting, and engaging parents in interactive ways – providing them with some tips, tricks, and strategies to work with their children at home.

As Robert Hunking mentions in his comment on my earlier blog post,

Any interaction &/or communication between teacher/classroom/school that leads to a better knowledge or understanding of what is happening can only advance the joint participation of the parent with the child in the learning.

The walls of Aviva’s classroom are the glass I so often promote and hope to see more of as the year’s go on. The technological tools of today can combine with traditional face-to-face / voice-to-voice tools to create a blended approach to working with parents in a reciprocal and responsive fashion. Aviva’s students take ownership of their learning, which is readily available for viewing and commenting by parents. The computer / phone / tablet screen is the x-ray to the classroom wall – it can help to make learning visible and provide parents with the “look fors / listen fors” of student learning  (through text, video, audio). Technology can also be used collaboratively to bridge the gap between home and school and the learning that happens in both environments. Not only is learning presented for parents by the teacher but parents, too, can extend that learning at home and provide it back to the teacher as in the video instances Aviva shares on her blog.

Then there’s the parents that have started emailing me videos of their children applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to activities that they do at home…

 It’s videos like these ones that make me happy

Aviva’s post reminds me of a differentiation I made earlier between Parent Involvement and Parent Engagement in a digital age where learning…

…can be easily shared AND commented on, thus opening up and eliciting a conversation that allows true engagement to occur. [Web]sites can be interactive, dynamic and round. Student, teachers, and parents don’t just have to read – they can produce and become prosumers in the true sense of the word (producers + consumers). Engagement is reciprocical, interactive, and relational. It eliminates barriers of expertise and provides opportunities for all expertise to be shared in a collaborative, interactive, and public space. We are not hiding learning – learning is open, visible, transparent and available for conversation, explanation, and elaboration.
In short, Parent Engagement is Parent Involvement 2.0 – it is read / write, collaborative, and accessible. It does not, however, replace personal interaction or face-to-face moments. It includes those, too, in a blended fashion. It is a blend of traditional face-to-face and online. It is differentiated – in exactly the same definition as that we apply to our learning environments for students.

To close,  I’d like to celebrate the efforts of Aviva (@Grade1 on Twitter) for her innovative approach to student and parent engagement and reiterate her question:

For the [educators] out there, how do you bridge the gap between home and school? What are the results?

2 Comments

  1. Aaron, thank you so much for taking my post and elaborating on it with all of your wonderful insights and examples. You’ve really helped me move beyond parent involvement to parent engagement. I think that you make a wonderful point here as well when you talk about “reaching out” to parents, whether it be through a phone call, face-to-face interaction, or even an email. It’s about making connections with parents, and this is so important! Different parents like to communicate in different ways, and often I’ll talk more frequently to some but email more frequently to others. It’s, as you’ve said before, “meeting them where they’re at.” This differentiated approach is so important, and I’m so glad that you’ve reiterated that here as well.

    I honestly can’t thank you enough for all you’ve shared with and taught me over the years, both online and in person, and I know that our Board is incredibly fortunate to have you as a part of it. Thanks for always stretching my thinking!

    Aviva

  2. Tim Slack says:

    Hi Aaron and Aviva! Thanks for that post. I found it very innovative and informative. We are always looking for new ideas to get parents engaged here in Ottawa. Thanks Aviva for pointing me in Aaron’s direction! I agree 100% that parents will be more engaged if they have a voice. The way that you talk about bridging the gap certainly gives them this opportunity. I am in the process of putting together a post on how we try to connect with our community and keep parents in the loop! Hope you’ll check out my blog and check it out when I get it finished and posted. Thanks!

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