This past October (Oct. 24th, 2013) Aviva Dunsiger and I presented “A Window into the Classroom” at ECOO 2013 (…and no Aviva I was not late). We are presenting a similar model tomorrow at Brock University’s Tech Showcase in Hamilton, ON. Aviva and I are very passionate about parent engagement for learning and for enhancing student engagement and achievement. She is a classroom teacher and I am currently in a K-12 consultant role for student and parent engagement. Aviva and I work together regularly and share ideas for how we can engage students and their parents in new, engaging, and innovative ways. For the most part we do explore digital engagement alternatives but we must always keep in mind that these strategies do not work for everyone and will not engage everyone by virtue of their existence. We speak of tiered engagement strategies – those for all, some, and few. A cookie cutter engagement strategy does not work for students and it does not work for parents. There is  NO ONE WAY.

Aviva and I consistently strive to make learning in a classroom (I hate that term)…learning environment….visible. If parents are to have the language necessary to engage their children in conversations about learning they need to have the knowledge to inform their questioning. We need to support them in this process. Rather than asking “Little Jimmy” what he did in school today, we need to provide parents with the prompts through which to engage in conversations focused on learning. For example, “Hey, Little Jimmy…tell me about that Science experiment you did today!”

Here’s the key…how did the parent know about the science experiment and how did the parent know to ask about it? In our examples, the teacher showed them! The teacher showed them through pictures, prompts, descriptions, and explanations on a classroom blog. Students may even have been blogging about the topics themselves. This learning, therefore, is visible, accessible, and shareable. Parents can access this learning from wherever they may be…be it work, home, or shopping.

Parent Engagement - MonographMore than just images, however, it is important that the educator pose a series of inquiry based questions that not only clarify the learning but provide questions and strategies to continue that learning at home – beyond the classroom. Ken Leithwood speaks of how 50% of the achievement we are responsible for occurs in the home. How can we influence the culture of home – of family? Rather than merely inviting parents into the schools for updates and snapshots, the teacher that engages parents as partners in learning shares classroom direction explicitly, demonstrates strategies that can be emulated, and provides outlets for parents to continue as the first teachers of their children in new, engaging , and reciprocal ways with the classroom teacher.

This is the vision and can be completely realized through digital mediums.

Remember, however, that not every parent has a computer, internet, or language skills (beit English or otherwise) through which to engage in such material. Using the tiered approach mentioned earlier it is important to remember that some, and more-so few, parents will require different, focused, personalized strategies though which to engage.

There is no one answer to engage parents or students but this is one that can help to break down the walls and turn them into windows.

A Collection of Research on Parent Engagement

A Video Tour Of Aviva’s (previous) Grade 1 Classroom (An Example of providing that essential window to a classroom without having to physically visit)

A Digitial Copy of the Passport for the Session

Digital Parent Examples

Aviva’s Reflection from ECOO 2013

Please share your thoughts with us…reply below.