To what extent have you been able to engage parents and your wider community in the dialogue, and what has been their response?
I think it would be fair to suggest that one area that we often fail to attend to is the manner in which we communicate with our parents and wider community. Yes, we all know about newsletters, electronic or otherwise, portals, and of course the time we host interviews or meetings, but how often can we find time to help our parents be better informed about some of the emerging educational ideas that will impact on their sons or daughters?
It’s easy to forget that none of our parents were educated in a technology-rich learning environment. It’s easy to forget that digital-richness is an idea that has only been with us in very recent times, and accordingly none of your parents have any real reference point from which they are able to build expectations of their own about the impact digital richness will have on their child’s education.
For many parents the main source of information about these matters is scaringly the tabloid media and talk-back radio, which can rarely be trusted to provide even a modicum of balance in their commentary.
So it is really contingent upon school and systemic or district leadership to invest time in building better channels of communication around these contemporary education topics. This is time very well spent, as it can build an informed alliance about key decisions you may be making within the school, and helping parents come to terms with the impact emerging technologies are having on learning which should be a topic you will revisit on many occasions in the future.
Previously the topic of computer use at school was related to the sparingly rare access students had to computers at a time when schools were locking them away in labs. Today it is a very different world, and more students not only have continual, often 1 to 1 access to a computer while at school, but also in their home. Parents are unsure about many aspects of this dramatic increase in access, not least being that fuelled by the more sensational stories they hear around internet lurkers, identify theft and the like.
This also presents an opportunity for schools to be not only educating parents about appropriate use, which most schools already are doing, but more importantly about how the digital context in which their children are growing up in is dramatically changing the nature of teaching and learning. This need to help your parents be better informed around these issues will continue to grow, and as we see more significant shifts in teaching and learning, parents will importantly want to understand the impact that has on their children. For example as we see more of the hand-calculations of mathematics being done by computers, parents will need to be reassured this is neither cheating nor limiting intellectual rigor.
We belatedly addressed parent concerns in the early days of spellcheckers and the impact keyboarding had on handwriting, and the lessons from those two prominent examples were simple. Keep parents well informed, well in advance.
Specifically parents today are far more concerned about the manner in which 3 to 6 year olds are engaging with the technology that any group we have seen before. While on one hand this is to be expected, it again offers an excellent opportunity for school leaders to seek out information and research that will help their parents be better advised on the topic.
As we see more and more very young children engaging with new technologies the demand for answers will grow.
At what age should children be using computers? For how long?
Are there health or ergonomic issues parents should be aware of?
Does early access to screens interfere in any way with a child’s ability to focus or concentrate?
Should we be rethinking our concepts of literacy and how very young people learn to both read and write?
Is this even a time when we should be asking if we should possibly be teaching very young students to keyboard before they learn to handwrite?
These are just a small sample of the sorts of questions to which parents want answers. Helping them better understand both the challenges and opportunities for their sons or daughters within a modern learning environment should be a clear priority for school leaders today. In the long run, it is an excellent investment in building a sustainable support base for the inevitable shift that we are now seeing in our schools as they become more acutely aware of the needs of their modern learners.
Image credit: woodleywonderworks