If we want to shift learning and teaching into the 21st century, there are a number of people we need to take with us. Apart from teachers and school administrators, we can’t ignore parents in this move, and we really should be thinking about how we do this. The K12 Online Conference 2008: Kicking it up a notch tackles the subject of parents as partners – Parental Engagement in the 21st Century – Leveraging web 2.0 tools to engage parents in non-traditional ways – giving much food for thought, as well as practical suggestions of ways to move forward.
Lorna Constantini and Matt Montagna connect from afar online and ask how we can move forward from teachers’ and parents’ fear of the internet. They remind us that parents haven’t been brought up on the internet, so it’s natural for them to fear something that is foreign. The question is, what can we say to parents that will influence them in a positive way about their children’s online lives? I like the way Lorna and Matt have brought it back to what parents can understand – that we are all social beings, having an innate desire to connect with people and develop relationships, and that social networking is just a new form of traditional social connections. As Matt points out,
although online networks can be playful, they can also be powerful, enabling people to meet others with similar interests, solve problems together, create software programs together, participate in social and professional discussion with people we may not know in the physical world, etc. Our kids do this instinctively and fluently, posting content, interacting with content posted by others, learning from and teaching one another, having conversations with people all over the world – the opportunities to learn are tremendous. If we look at this new focus for young people, we should realise that they’ve moved away from what has long been the criticism of passive television viewing, and found new engagement in an interactive environment. If parents understand the positive aspects of social networking, they will realise that this shift is enormously powerful.
A major concern for parents is safety on the internet. Matt and Lorna talk about reassuring parents that young people are better at warding off potentially harmful situations than we give them credit for. They also ask a serious question, one that we need to discuss in schools: Who is guiding and mentoring our young people online now? Who is rolemodelling ethical and effective online interactions? And the answer is, apart from isolated individuals, nobody.
Schools may think they are by using filtering software, but it doesn’t encourage responsible use. All it does is encourage kids to find ways around filters, and it also blocks valuable and educational content. On the whole, parents don’t know what their kids are doing on the internet, so they are unable to provide guidance. This needs to change! Why? In every aspect of kids’ lives, parents provide key guidance that their kids need.
Here’s the best suggestion for parent PD that I’ve heard – why not get parents to set up Facebook accounts, blogs, and interact with some of the other Web 2.0 applications. This is a great way demystify their kids’ online socialising, enabling parents to shift from policing to mentoring their kids. Rather than lecture parents about the theory, we should just urge them to give it a shot.. give the example of email, which was new once, but we’re now used to it and depend on it.
And what a great idea to use new tools and platforms to reach out and connect to parents. Parents as partners is a Facebook group set up for parents – an online forum for questions and support which also models new technologies. I think modelling is the best way to teach someone. Just as important as modelling, transparency is a great way to let parents in on what their kids are up to. Have a look at the live video broadcast of kids away on an excursion, where parents can chat with their kids. Lastly, the NING network allows ongoing communication and collaboration between parents and teachers. Interestingly, the parents who were involved in the NING are the ones who were not involved in school in any other capacity – another example of the power of online tools.
We might feel isolated in our schools in advocating mindset change, and connecting with each other, either online or in person, is a powerful thing to do. But we’ll be banging our heads against the wall if we don’t find a way to effect a mindset change in all members of the school community. If we get parents on-side, they’ll be our partners in supporting students in 21st century learning. As it says on the Parents as partners blog, students achieve better when parents are involved in their child’s education.