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Engaging the Parent Community

2011 January 23
by Kim Cofino

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 realise 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?

Image Credits

12 Responses leave one →
  1. January 24, 2011

    Kim,
    Thanks for posting what you are doing at YIS. I appreciate the proactive effort to engage parents as it is easy to be reactionary, particularly with technology. As I am reflecting on how to upscale our parent sessions, I appreciate looking at your ideas and format. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 27, 2011

      @Darren,

      Thanks! It really does help to take a proactive approach. It’s so easy to forget about the parents when we spend so much time with teachers and students, but they are obviously just as much a part of the school community. And in my experience, they love learning about anything that relates to their children.

  2. January 25, 2011

    Grrr! You do this to me all the time Kim… I always feel so inadequate after I read posts like this! What a fabulous initiative you’ve started there. I’m trying to figure out now how I’d translate that into my own school’s context and what we’d need to do to start something similar at PLC. Its a great idea that more schools should be taking on board.

    I’m going to float the idea at school and see what we can get started…

    As always, you’re leading from the front, seeing a need and then doing something about it.
    Chris Betcher´s last blog post ..Snap Happy

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 27, 2011

      @Chris,

      You should NOT feel inadequate – I’m the one who feels that way after I read your blog posts! Have fun with the parents at PLC – let me know if there’s anything I can do to help :)

  3. January 26, 2011

    Our parent sessions are not as regular or as well-attended as those at YIS but they are definitely improving. While the face-to-face sessions are nice, I would like to focus on building more of an online community. Among other things, it would model some of the learning environments that we are trying to create for the students.

    I think your third point, about empowering parents to transfer their ‘traditional’ skills to a digital context is spot-on. Once the link is made – for example, spending all day in your room reading People magazine (At least she’s reading! Great!) and all day in your room reading gossip blogs (More time in front of the computer? Boo!) – many parents are much more comfortable in sending consistent messages to their children.
    Clint H´s last blog post ..Planning for Passion

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      January 27, 2011

      @Clint,

      I agree, the online community part is so important – we’re trying to do that with the YIS Community Learning blog.

      We had something similar (but just for tech) at ISB and it never really took off, but when we started there, we didn’t have our teachers and students also blogging. I think (hope) the combination of our school transitioning to blogging as a communication tool across the school, plus the beginning of the parent training session, and the implementation of our Connected Learning Community might all come together to get our online community growing just as strong as the face to face. Let me know if you come up with any good strategies!

      Great example of context… I’m just thinking, it might be cool to make up a list of all of those similar parallels. There can’t be too many, but it would be interesting to continue back in time (ie: what did our students parents do that their parents (current grandparents) struggle with). What do you think?

  4. January 31, 2011

    Hi, my name is Nickolas Sullivan and I am a student in one of Dr. John Strange’s EDM310 classes at the University of South Alabama. I was assigned to comment on your blog for one of out assignments. After this comment I will write a comment on another one of your posts very soon and a summary of both on my class blog once the second comment has been made.
    First off, I was originally intimidated by the looks of this post when I started to read it earlier in the week. Once I got going though I was pleasantly surprised that it was a very interesting read. I think it is great that you can have these meetings and really get involved with the parents and give them an opportunity to stay up to snuff with the tech their children are using. This sounds like a good project to be working on and the feedback you get from the parents is invaluable. They must be very grateful for the tips and the relief from some of their fears of technology you are giving them. This was a very informative post and I am glad to have had the chance to read it. This post also seems extremely relevant to what we have been discussing in our class since we are just getting going with our blogs and twitter which many of the students have been intimidated by.

  5. Kevin Burns permalink
    February 6, 2013

    Hi Kim, I was trying to contact Stephen Lehmann, on a reference from Veracross representative Aaron Vogelzang, to ask about the reasons for your move from InResonance Keystone to Veracross this year, when I happened upon your blog. In the absence of any other contact details, I turn to you on this forum. I hope you don’t mind!
    I am researching these two products for our international school and would love to get direct feedback from you or from him (or anyone at your school) as to your experience and your reasoning, in order that we can make the best decision for our school!
    Yours,
    Kevin Burns
    American International School of Budapest

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