Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are Parents The Obstacle To The Future Of Education?

In the past you have read about the many obstacles teachers/schools face when it comes to using Social Media/Web 2.0 Tools in the classroom. Filtering, lack of professional development, and support are just a few.

Last night, participants of #edchat discussed and debated that parents are the one's in the way of progression. Ideas were also tossed around about how to get parents more involved in the process. Here is just a taste of what was said:
  • Change the way we "do business" as far as P/T/S conferences, Back-to-School Nights, Curriculum Nights, Open House nights for math/reading/etc...integrate tech and web 2.0 tools! video lessons & share with families...have students share...
  • We are in a difficult time period here... Parents have to be taught and given access if we want to do many of the things we talk so much about. Soon enough, the students of today will be the parents of tomorrow.
  • Technology is yet another tool. Folks are afraid of what is new and need some time to assimilate. If they are shown the value of the 'new tool', they will try to make it work in their classes too, because great teachers will do whatever they need to do to get kids to learn.
  • I think parents and teachers are roadblocks...fear and ignorance are the worst of the culprits. I think we need to teach from the top and then go down, otherwise we will not have the support we need from the top. How many things, for instance, are blocked by your district's servers? There is where to start the education...
  • The best way to educate parents about Web 2.0 is to USE it. Include it as naturally as you do in the classroom. Send surveys (such as this one) or create videos on the web and share them. Use tools such as VoiceThread, Animoto, Google Docs, Smile Box, wikis, blogs, etc so they can see and have opportunities to respond to your projects.
  • We don't want to teach "social media" - we want to use it TO teach.
  • Wonder if teachers talked about how to educate parents about the benefits of calculators 40 years ago?

Some Thoughts...

This, I see is the biggest challenge to overcome. It seems like daily we hear about a predator who uses a social network to meet an underage child; the same social network we advocate for use in the classrooms (sometimes). We hear about the latest case of cyberstalking or cyberbullying. But can you think about the last time you heard about a positive use of these tools? I know the stories are out there. I have heard them. But the problem is they stay inside educational circles and hardly ever make it mainstream. So parents have this warped idea that all social networking is bad and evil. Parents are scared to let their students use the internet or have their picture appear on the web, all over the fear mongering that perpetuates the airwaves.

Were parents, teachers, administrators, so resistive to change when the slide rule, calculator, overhead were introduced in school? Were they afraid that when students learned to use a calculator they wouldn't know math any more? Maybe. Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools are just that, tools. They are the devices teachers use to teach, and students use to learn. I (and many others) see them no different from the chisel and slate, ink and hide or pencil and paper. These are just the new tools. And new tools take time getting used to.

Going right along with fear of use of these tools in the classroom is the lack of education on our part. I am sure there are individual schools/districts out there doing a great job of teaching their students responsible use and cybersafety. But I would guess that the vast majority of students are not regularly involved in a cybersafety curriculum on even a monthly basis. Whats worse is that when the students are learning about how to stay safe online the parents are rarely involved.

Another comment that was made was about access. Parents might not understand these tools because they have not had the time/ability to investigate them at home because of access. I live/work in a very rural area of North Carolina. Everyday I hear a teacher or parent that is frustrated because where they live in an area either not served by high-speed internet access or they only thing they can get is dial-up. So because there is frustration with the technology and access at home, this is then translated, perhaps unintentionally, to the classroom.

Ideas For The Future
If you are a teacher who regularly uses technology in the classroom when was the last time you invited parents into your room to use it with their students? I know, most who use these tools do a great job of showing off the end result but what about from the beginning? If you create a classroom blog, do you invite your parents to also post? If you are creating Voicethreads do you have your parents come in and give them access so they can create one too?

The idea here is involvement. Parents naturally fear what they don't understand. So, help them understand. Give them same access you would give a student. Bring them in, and teach them just as you would your students. If you are using Edmodo, let them in and see the discussion. If you are working in Animoto, bring them in and have them make one also. If you can't do it during your class, make the time to do it during a special open house night or meeting at your school. Even if there isn't enough time to create, at least show. More importantly, talk about the whys and the benefits.

Another thing schools and districts need to do a better job of doing is education of our parents. In addition to bringing them in to show them the use and benefits of the these tools in the classroom, we need to be having frank conversations about how to keep our students safe online. If we begin to show parents that teachers and schools are doing what they can to keep students safe online at school, we might begin to break down some of barriers. We are in the business of education. Why are we leaving the parents out of the conversation?

What do you think? Are parents the road block to change. What are you doing right at your school or in your classroom. What are some successes that you have had with parent buy-in? What are you going to do different?

Image from Creative Commons Image Search. View the original here.


  1. Great post! We have a tech room for parents open two mornings a week and we do invite parents into the classrooms. In fact the tipping point was when the students came back to school one evening with their parents and made a skype call to a school in Shanghai!

  2. Here is another part of the problem. This comes from Ohio's legislature. They are clueless, too re: good use of technology! Directly from Hannah Report- summaries of OH government issues
    SB126 SCHOOLS REPORT HARASSMENT (Fedor T) To prohibit school administrators from knowingly failing to report to law enforcement authorities menacing by stalking or telecommunications harassment that occurs on school grounds; adopt policy prohibiting bullying.
    Sen. Fedor said the bill reflects her participation in a symposium offered by the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and her consultation with the National Center for Parents at the University of Toledo. She submitted the center's report, "Bridging the Gap: A Parent's Guide to the World of Cyber Bullying."
    She said the state and nation are currently in the "wild, wild west of cyber bullying," in that students can anonymously harass others from a distance, with impunity.
    "They have instant messaging, email, text messaging, use of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, chat rooms, blogs, web sites, or bash boards - which are online bulletin boards where students can post anything they want, and it is meant to be negative."
    Sen. Niehaus asked why districts cannot simply ban the use of electronic communication devices on school grounds. Fedor said that many parents want their children to have cell phones for emergencies and other needs.
    "Sometimes technology is not our friend, and perhaps it's time for a simpler approach," Niehaus responded. "Maybe we need more public telephones in schools for students to use."

  3. Thanks for this post. It sums up a couple of points nicely. I do have one objection, though:

    You wrote:

    > Maybe. Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools are just that, tools.
    > They are the devices teachers use to teach, and students
    > use to learn. I (and many others) see them no different from the
    > chisel and slate, ink and hide or
    > pencil and paper.
    > These are just the new tools. And new tools take time

    I think this puts it too simply. The web and social networks are much more complex than a calculator or even a slide rule. Nobody gets mobbed when they use a calculator - but student do get mobbed in social networks. Therefore, the use of these tools has to be much more thorougly prepared. As you say, students and parents should have a chance to learn the use of these tools through a "media" curriculum. Basically, the web with all its interactions is a whole separate sphere of our world - it's not as simple as saying: well, there it is, let's head right in.

    IMHO, if you compare the web to the simple tools like a calculator, you don't do yourself a favour.

  4. I love the post and have been struggling with the idea of getting more parent engagement ever since reading one of Larry Ferlazzo's posts on the topic. He made a great distinction between involvement and engagement.

    As I thought more about this, I became more aware of the irony involved here. We are asking parents who were not engaged in meaningful conversations about education as students to wake up one day with a new perspective of our schools.

    We as educators need to look in the mirror and ensure that we are doing enough to show parents that we have changed the way we do business and need their engagement to take our schools to the level we hope. A great start would be ensuring the engagement of our next generation of parents (our current students).

    Let's not blame parents for being an obstacle when it was the schools that played the leading in role in leading them to their current point of view.

  5. Patrick, I think that's a good point. All too often, we see parents as our opponents because they ask tough questions, such as: is it safe for my child if you make her use this-or-that web service in class? How do you guarantee it is safe? ...

    At first sight, we might interpret that as standing in the way of good technology use. But I think they have all the right to ask these questions. I prefer such parents to those who don't ask any questions at all.

    They are a bit like the opposition in a parliament: it's certainly sometimes inconvenient for the government having to answer all these tough questions. But it those questions lead to better decisions and more thorough reflection on what's to be done.

    I think we should embrace parents' concerns and use them to show the relevance of our technology use. If we find that hard, it might be a sign that we should make technology use more relevant.