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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Do Parents Really Want From School?

By Peter DeWitt — August 05, 2014 5 min read
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Summer. Who wants to talk about school during the summer? Sure, we see commercials from retailers focusing on “Back to School” sales but that is because they want our money, and not because they want to talk about education. Most students would avoid talking about school during the summer, and it is not a time when parents, teachers and school leaders are known for having open dialogue about school.

Which is too bad, because it’s a great time to reflect on the past year and focus on the year to come. Social media is changing the way that people talk about school. This summer a few very caring parents, teachers and school leaders wanted to create a strong community of learners, and they did it using Voxer.

Yes...Voxer.

For full disclosure, a couple of months ago I wrote a blog about how I did not understand Voxer. A few days later, after receiving many Tweets and e-mails, I flat out changed my mind about it because the stories were so compelling. Voxer has indeed helped create a community of learners. It certainly did for participants of the PT Camp.

Yes...even adults can go to camp during the summer.

This summer, former Lead Learner Joe Mazza, now a member of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School Faculty, continued his important work involving parents by setting up #ptcamp on Voxer, and it involved dozens of parents, teachers and school leaders who spent 6 weeks talking about...school.

Peggy Cormeny, a Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Coordinator from Illinois said,

The energy was surprising and contagious! I am not surprised that there are so many people who care about education and know that families are so important as a support. I am surprised by how big my learning network can be through this experience. Knowing people from all over the world is awesome."

Here is how it worked...

Joe would pose a question on Voxer, and participants in the Voxer chat responded with their opinions, answers or feedback. After a few questions, more and more participants responded with their own questions...and dialogue ensued. This dialogue focused on parent participation, professional development, and having open discussions about the role of schools and the role of parents in their school community.

Joe invited me into the discussion where I posed a few questions. They were:


  • Why is parent participation important? We have our usual stock answers, but not all school leaders and teachers believe in parent participation until they don’t have it. When they have too much of it, they want less. It’s a complicated balance.
  • What do parents really want out of their child’s school? We can agree that the answer usually centers on a great education, but I have a feeling that parents want more than that. The answers on the Voxer chat mostly focused on open communication. They want to know how their children are doing.
  • What kind of information are parents looking for? Chad, a parent and teacher from Kentucky provided many examples. He said, new parents want information about the school...and parents who did not have a great school experience want to know how their child’s school experience will be different. One of the greatest examples he gave centered around mentoring new parents. Through Voxer, parents could set up a time when they could support each other and make sure they are doing the right thing when it comes to school.

Lastly, Chad provided a great visual. He said that he looked at home-school communication like a house. In most houses we have:


  • Front porch - These are the events that are happening at school like Open House, PTA/PTO meetings, and other big events.
  • Family room - This is where parents can learn more about school work, homework, and other important elements of learning that are happening in their child’s classroom.
  • Kitchen - Where do most people gravitate at a party? The kitchen. It’s a place for those private conversations about how their child is doing. What are their strengths and where do they need help? The kitchen is where parents can find out the individual needs of their children.

Those are the things parents are looking for from their child’s school.


  • What surprised you the most from participating in a Voxer chat? Ivonne, a teacher from Minnesota said she was blown away that so many people...day and night...would respond to questions on Voxer, and have an open dialogue about school. She admitted that it made her feel as if she was not alone, and that it provided her with the opportunity to talk with people around the United States, which gave her strength in her convictions about school.

And that was what I noticed the most about the Voxer chat. As I listened to conversation after conversation a few things became apparent....and not at all surprising. Participants in PT Camp talked to each other, supported each other and cheered each other on every day...day and night...for six weeks. However, the conversations are still happening to this day, and I have the full Voxer PT Camp inbox to prove it.

Takeaways

At the end of the 6 weeks, Joe put out a text through Voxer...yes, you can text or talk. He asked the following questions:


  • Did you find PT Camp useful?
  • Did PT Camp meet your expectations?
  • Was the amount of participation time required at about the right intensity?
  • What was the most useful aspect of PT Camp?
  • How will you apply what you learner?

Participants felt safe to ask questions on the PT Voxer chat because they didn’t know each other personally. They did not have to worry about making others angry and having the questions follow them to the baseball field or PTA night. There was a sense of safety that they did not necessarily have in their own school community.

And that is where we can take away something from the Voxer conversation.

There are many, many parents who deeply care about their child’s education but do not know where to start. Schools have lots of barriers these days due to the Politics of Distraction that they have to endure, but they do have to figure out how to help these parents along.

It is incumbent on the school leader and staff to make sure they are fostering an environment where parents can feel that they can ask questions or provide feedback. If parents, teachers and school leaders can engage throughout the summer on Voxer, we can certainly make sure that we are using all of our social media tools to do it through the school year.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

PT Chat is sponsored by the Institute of Educational Leadership.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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