I am often challenged by discussions about “21st century skills” or “personalized learning” as they are often quite theoretical. The audience is provoked by videos documenting the changing world outside of school, and we make lists of the skills we want from our graduates in our ever-changing world. There is usually head-nodding approval of the skills we want going forward.
These conversations do have value and it is important to continue to show the longterm vision of where we see the path of learning and schooling going in the years ahead.
We also need to get to the hard work of making the ideas concrete.
Another challenge of the sessions, is that we often use them to highlight the one student, one teacher, one parent, one principal modelling a new way — and lament how we seem unable to have these ideas spill out into other settings. Usually we get to a point, and someone says, “this is great, but how is it scalable?”
So, we need to begin to define baselines we all can commit to on the journey.
There is no one particular document I see as the textbook for where we are going, but in West Vancouver, we are using A Vision for 21st Century Education as a starting place for conversations.
And this past week, in meeting with our elementary principals, we took on the challenge of addressing what many see as the most challenging suggestion in the document — the changing roles for parents.
In a section entitled “Shifting Roles” the document suggests three:
• From Passive Student to Active Learner
• From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant
• From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide
Here is how the changing role for parents is described:
The increased role of the parent also has to be acknowledged. With greater information availability, parents can be more involved with their children’s education progress, overcoming challenges, and supporting learning outcomes. They can learn more quickly and more intimately what their child is doing at school. They can help guide decisions and more rapidly respond to challenges.
Technology allows far more access to the student’s progress than the periodic report cards and parent teacher interviews of today. Parents are already beginning to expect greater feedback than in the past.
Furthermore, parents have to recognise their educational role outside the classroom. A student’s out of school learning is critical. “Students only spend 14% of their time at school. Indeed, learning is an inherent part of everyday life: each new experience, at home, at work, or during leisure time, may throw up a challenge, a problem to be solved, or a possibility of an improved future state.”
While we envision a stronger role for parents, we are aware that not all students have the family support structures that will allow such involvement. BC needs all of its students to have the best possible opportunity and any implementation of this vision should take such issues into consideration. The system must be structured in such a way that those who face societal barriers such as being single parents or immigrant parents are able to participate to the degree they are able while the system incorporates the support structures necessary to ensure the students get the support they need.
There are lots of people who needed to be brought into the conversation, but we started to draft out what a five-month, one-year and three-year action plan would look like if we wanted to shift parents as supporters to parents as participants in our elementary schools (we also agreed not to say — “we are already doing that”).
Before the end of June we should:
- communicate the vision around “parents as participants”
- use blogs, newsletters and other media to engage staff, students and parents in a discussion about what this would look like
- schools develop their own vision for parents as participants in their schools
- communicate specific examples and rationale to parents about the key role they play in their education
- working sessions for staffs as to how best to encourage parent involvement in learning rather than just volunteer work
- input from parents through a survey to help design plans for next year
By the end of the 2011-12 school year we should:
- use September Curriculum Night for discussion and feedback
- create school/staff action plans in school grade-alike groupings using feedback from end-of-year surveys
- continue throughout the year, on a monthly basis, to highlight the importance of parent participation using various communication tools: website, meetings, email, twitter, etc.
By the end of the 2013-14 school year we should:
- consider big changes to structures that provide myriad opportunities for parents to share their expertise and passion — this needs to be intentional, purposeful and ongoing
- develop ongoing Community Forum dialogues , surveys, and other systemic structures to find out how best to involve parents in learning
- explore different models for schooling (alternate schools, self-paced, etc) where parents could be true partners in the learning — different kind of choice than what we have typically focussed on around programs (French Immersion, Montessori, etc.)
So, that is our start, just our first thinking after one meeting. We are committed to going deeper with this work, and moving from vision to action. We have lots to do. Our next steps include working with other staff and parents to make sense of this very complex notion. It is also clear, while this is a specific focus on one of the “shifting roles”, it has a major impact on the roles of students and educators (tangible thoughts on these changes will be in future posts).
We are very curious what others are thinking as they look at how we embrace shifting roles in our system. We would love others to help fill in the gaps as we move forward with designing our plans.
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