An open letter to parents…

Dear Parents

We know how much you love your children. Many of us are parents too and if we aren’t, you can rest assured that we wouldn’t be educators unless we cared deeply about children, so we know that many of the following things are important to you. Take a moment to consider which of these you most wish for…

  • My child succeeds without struggle
  • My child is above average at school
  • My child is admired by others
  • My child is well behaved and works hard to get good grades
  • My child excels in sporting competitions
  • My child produces impressive work at school
  • My child is extended by her teachers
  • My child’s class gets homework to help them do better at school
  • My child is popular with his peers
  • My child is always happy at school

Our teachers have been reading Contextual Wellbeing, by Helen Street, which is based on extensive research, and it turns out that the pressure induced by the items on this list, despite being instinctive desires of many parents, can actually undermine children’s wellbeing.

Now consider the list below…

  • My child is valued as an individual
  • My child  feels a sense of belonging
  • My child’s strengths matter more than his weaknesses
  • My child is intrinsically motivated
  • My child forms meaningful relationships
  • My child experiences personal growth
  • My child contributes to the community
  • My child loves learning
  • My child has ownership of her decisions and accepts the consequences
  • My child is allowed to fail and learn from his mistakes

We asked parents who attended our informal session last week to sort all these aspirations into two groups. Once they got going, it quickly became clear which would put pressure on their children and which would support them in becoming well adjusted, valued and valuable members of society, content within themselves. We ask you to think about it too…

‘Wellbeing is a state of health, happiness and positive engagement that arises from membership of an equitable, inclusive and cohesive environment’ (Helen Street 2016 )

School has changed, have expectations?

At an information session for parents, we highlight the ways that school has changed and share a range of examples of learning that is real, relevant, engaging and trans-disciplinary. Learning that matters in the world these children live in, not constrained by subjects, walls or limited imagination.

We explain how the PYP develops our students’ academically, socially and emotionally, focusing on personal values, learner agency and global awareness. The passion and knowledge of the teachers in the room is impressive and the picture that’s painted for the parents is one we imagined would excite and delight them.  But these are still some of the things we hear…

I just want my child to learn the basic skills.

What about rote learning? Knowing the periodic table was valuable for me.

At the end of the day, they need to be able to remember stuff for assessments.

With all this broad emphasis, will they learn about specifics?

What about VCE? Will their grades be good enough?

At the end of the evening, a number of parents do come up to say thank you. We have clearly provoked their thinking, even those who are having trouble reimagining school. One mother, whom I happen to have taught about twenty years ago, says quietly  ‘I know I need to shift my old-fashioned views of school’. Indeed. School looks nothing like it did when I taught her!

What do parents think of student centred learning?

Educators at my school have worked hard during the past few years at deepening our understanding of inquiry learning, developing learner-centred practices, encouraging our learners to take ownership of their learning and building communities of learners which include the teachers as much as students.

But what do the parents think?

While most of our parents are overwhelmingly positive, at least one parent (so far) thinks this it’s a terrible idea…

“The concept of a ‘community of learners’ is terrific in theory, but in practice it:
1) creates a blurred line between those who are supposed to be in positions of authority (teachers, parents etc..) and those who are not (students); and has taught my children to have a voice without teaching them that it is not always appropriate to have a voice and that sometimes their views are not being sought.
2) results in the breakdown of classroom structure, with children treating teachers as they would peers and failing to show an understanding of, or respect for, the status and authority of the teacher.”

So now I am wondering…

  • Why would this parent send their children to a PYP school?
  • What do the children say at home to give parents this impression?
  • Have we failed to help some of our parents understand our beliefs about learning?
  • How do we educate parents whose vision of learning is based on when they went to school themselves?

iPads in the classroom… a no-brainer

How would you respond to a parent who is convinced that having an iPad in the classroom will make her child less smart?

‘What’s to stop him just looking up answers instead of using his brain?’ she asks.

I explain that education isn’t just about ‘knowing the answers’ any more, since ‘answers’ tend to be readily accessible to all.  It’s more about learning how to ask questions and to find, interpret and critically analyse the answers. It’s less about remembering facts and more about conceptual understanding. It’s less about knowing stuff and more about knowing how to learn...

Half an hour earlier, my presentation had, I thought, included wonderful examples of ways technology has enhanced learning; kids ‘using their brains‘ not just to ‘find answers’ but to apply their knowledge creatively, such as…

  • videos created by kids demonstrating their understanding of mathematical concepts.
  • animations in which learners have applied knowledge and skills in a second language.
  • connections with classes in other parts of world, via Skype and blogs.
  • an exciting inquiry in which images of plants growing in different environments were gathered from contributors around the globe.
  • students writing, creating and sharing their own iPad books. (link to simple version)
  • a host of images showing learners engaged in a range of trans disciplinary skills.

But this parent remains unconvinced.

What more can I say?

Below: Some images of kids ‘not using their brains’…

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Kids not using their brains?