Parents in the Equation

This past month I spent time at two programs working hard to keep parents engaged in their children’s education.  Wickliffe and Barrington Informal Programs, part of the Upper Arlington School District near Columbus Ohio, and Ann Arbor Open in Ann Arbor Michigan are well established progressive public schools with traditions of parent involvement.   Both recognize the importance of renewal.

In Ohio the renewal was spurred by attendance at the Progressive Education Network Annual Conference last October in Los Angeles, where we showed the one hour version of AUGUST TO JUNE.  Principal Chris Collaros and several members of his staff signed up there for PEN’s first six day National Institute, and made the focus of their work at the Institute the deepening of their commitment to parents as co-educators.  They saw an opportunity to engage their larger community by showing August to June, and inviting me to visit the school to interact with parents and teachers.  They screened the film several times, with focused discussion after each screening.

When asked what their hopes for their children were, there were over a hundred responses.  These examples will not surprise people who have been following our progress:

* I hope my child will get his hands dirty with lots of opportunity to engage in project based experiential learning.

* He will be able to tap into his passions and live an inspired life.

* I hope she continues to grow and be aware of herself and her interactions with others…and use many available resources both emotional and analytical to solve problems.

* That they never lose their ability to appreciate the wonders that occur every day in their lives.

But how do hopes like those fit with parents’ roles in the classroom?  When I got there we had fascinating conversations about that!  Should there be a requirement for parent participation?  Is there a difference between being a parent volunteer and a co-educator?  Do parents feel comfortable acting as co-educators?  Do teachers feel prepared/ ready to be parent educators?

These questions were taken very seriously.  The conversation is ongoing, with first steps that everyone can agree on in the works.  I just sent them our school’s handbook. Chris and his colleagues would be happy to hear how other schools are addressing the roles families play in creating and supporting whole child education.

I went on to Michigan where I saw a heartwarming example of how parents, teachers and adminstrators can collaborate.  For over 30 years Ann Arbor community members have gone on retreat together to reaffirm and question their practices.  This time Teacher In A Strange Land blogger Nancy Flanagan and I were the guest speakers, but equally important were the people from the school community who guided and participated in discussions.  Nancy wrote ably about that gathering.  What I would add is the tremendous value there is in creating a place where questioning is as welcome as it was here.  Teacher  Bette Diem had put together an excellent group of readings, including one from Alfie Kohn that teacher Rick Hall used as a basis for reviewing Ann Arbor’s practices.  I gave a workshop at the same time as he did, so I didn’t get to hear the conversation his questions provoked, but he had put the questions up on sheets of paper with a place for people to put sticky notes showing their level of agreement as to whether that represented the way Ann Arbor currently functioned.  That graphic representation all by itself was fascinating, and showed room for growth, as well as where things were working well.

While the retreat of around 60 people represented a small percentage of the families involved in the school, it was still an impressive number when you consider the logistics and commitment involved in coming to an overnight gathering without children.  Clearly there would be ripple effects.

Saying there is always room for growth, and making room are two different things.  Ann Arbor and Wickliffe are making that room.





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