The Essential Conversation

Parents and schools (teachers, administrators, staff, etc.) are members of the same team – partners – striving together for the same goal. The goal, I hope and trust, is to collaboratively guide and support our children/student-learners as they grow, develop, learn, fail, rise after failure, succeed, question, figure out life (as we do, too), and be and become themselves. I am thankful for the partnership that exists at Westminster. I know it is not this way at some schools, but we do work together here. Today, I hosted the third of three “Junior High Parents Parleys with the Principal.” We don’t always all agree – nor should we…what fun or challenge would that be – but we do listen to each other and value the other. Good conversation and team work happens.

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, in 2003, published The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. The title and the author alone are good motivation to read the wonderful piece. My purpose here today is not to pontificate on the book, but I wanted to use the title for this post and to recommend the read, so I include it here. My purpose is more to share about the parley today. About 120-140 parents attended the 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. event (we have a JH student population of 559, for reference). I am so appreciative of the parents who choose to attend and can attend. I realize that many cannot attend a middle-of-the-day event, and I imagine that many more want to be involved in the ongoing discussions about their children, school, and the intersection and spectra of the two.

My objective today (I am a teacher): facilitate conversation amongst parents about things on their hearts and minds concerning school. Usually, I spend a lot of time prepping a presentation – a Prezi, PowerPoint, videos, etc. Today, partly because of my recent sabbatical absence, I simply used a Q & A format. But I tried to model a “21st century way” of doing so.

  • People could raise hands and ask questions (or shout out, for that matter, if they preferred).
  • People could write a question or a topic on a notecard provided at the door (I am not sure anyone actually did this…I failed to collect any, although I did reference them twice and received no cards).
  • People could tweet if they wanted. The pre-decided hashtag was #jhparley (click on the hashtag at left if you want to see the tweets).
  • People could contribute to a Poll Everywhere web-doc if they wanted – by phone (text), poll4.com (smart phone or other mobile technology), or tweet to poll. (Here is a screenshot example, and the full transcript can be accessed with the link beneath the screenshot.)

Full “live text wall” of poll everywhere results

After I did a short explanation of how people could use the Twitter hashtag and Poll Everywhere if they wanted, someone immediately asked if they could just raise their hand and ask aloud. “Of course,” I said, “but some people might not be as comfortable asking their question in a room of 130 people. Some know how to use Twitter and some don’t. People can use the cards and/or the Poll Everywhere. This is just like a classroom – we can enhance the conversation if more people have a way to join the conversation. We are all different, just like our kids. And on Twitter, if you wanted, you could continue the conversation after this is over. Some of you might want to try a ‘new’ way so that you can experiment in a safe place with the tools at your disposal and your children’s disposal. There are many ways to get a rich conversation happening for as many people as possible – people in the room and not in the room. We should leverage the tools we have so that more people can get involved. For those who could not come today, perhaps they might like to read the tweets of attendees. Or they could read the Poll Everywhere transcript later when I post it on my blog.” [Okay, this was not a direct quote, but it is what I tried to communicate, and what I hope to be communicating here and now.]

For parents just tuning in to today’s parley by way of this blog, here are a few samples of questions from the floor:

  • Is Synergy 8 a semester class or a year-long class? It was not clear on the registration card handed out Tuesday.
  • Do some students and teachers run to lunch?
  • Can we have a formal chess team in the JH?
  • Have you read the recent article about boys? Do you think that there is a negative trend for development of “good boys?”
  • What’s the real difference between regular math and honors math? If a student decides not to act on recommendation for honors, do they have a harder time getting into honors later?
  • Can we talk more about the changes in honors and awards at the end of the year? Here’s what I think about the changes…
  • Have the netbooks been a successful addition this year?

There were many more questions, and I answered most with additional input and thought from other parents in the room. The hope was for me not just to talk and parents to listen. And we took most questions from the poll, as well. An audience member tweeted some of the resources discussed in the meeting – an article in a newspaper, a link to a documentary film about schools, etc. I was so appreciative of this tweeter! I have tweet-messaged her to thank her! I wished for more tweeters, but perhaps people forgot to use the hashtag, or perhaps not many people are comfortable using that particular tool. It was ” a start” though. Just like a good conference has a hashtag, so did we! And two people – one other than me – used it! That’s a start.

The various technologies were NOT the point.

The CONVERSATION and DISCUSSION were the point…the objective!

In my opinion, though, the “21st century way” to facilitate this discussion was to provide and/or introduce ways for people to participate – so more people could participate and potentially connect with each other…and potentially use each other for resources so that we can collaboratively help and guide our children to grow and develop and learn. It’s about learning! Thanks parents for your partnership.

[Note: I decided to use these tools this morning. I set up the hashtag and Poll Everywhere at about 9:00 a.m. after a brainstorm on my way walking to work. I was thinking about how best to get more folks into the conversation, and I was wishing I could provide some sense of the meeting to people who could not attend. Then, I thought of Twitter and Poll Everywhere. Maybe next time, I will wear a mic and webcast for those interested! I love trying something new to provide more potential for learning and growth – mine and others’.]