Including Parents in Tech Ed
One of the recurring topics in the digital age revolves around the concept of technology in education. What it should look like, how teachers should implement it, and how it affects learning outcomes are all important topics. A conversation that may be overlooked too often is the parent side of the equation. How can districts, teachers, and students find successful pathways to learning without first finding a way to bridge the knowledge gap that parents have?
We have all heard the good ole stories that begin with “back in my day,” but how often do we in education take the time to realize the huge differences in how parents learned 10+ years ago compared to our students today? If you are a veteran teacher or administrator, you have probably found yourself in the midst of a learning curve at some point in your educational career BUT due to your job (a climate that encourages and welcomes learning new things), you have adapted to a changing world, growing increasingly dependent on technology. As a result, you probably feel way more comfortable than some/most parents who only have the perspective of a second-hand learner, meaning they are relying upon their own kids to teach them the ins and outs of tech.
One of the things I saw in social media just the other day was a meme that mockingly related this idea of a parent to a child: “I taught you how to tie your shoes and read, you can teach me about group texts and snap chat.”
And though it may hold true that we have many more listening to our lessons than we realize, especially since little Johnny or Susie may go home and repeat your instructions in order to teach their own parents about the tech they are using and increasingly becoming more comfortable with, I think the conversation needs to also be one that stakeholders have with their community members. We need to embrace teaching technology tools to our parents firsthand, so they feel empowered to come alongside their learners and help them out.
Schools can/should host informational sessions for their parents. What a great addition to a typical open house or registration night! Sessions can include the basics of technology tools, like showing parents what they can do to safeguard their students and enable parent control features. Additionally, teachers should showcase platforms for learning that they are utilizing in their classroom. So many of my fall parent-teacher conference sessions are taken up with me asking the simple question, “Do you know how I run my classroom digitally from the iPad?” Invariably, parents don’t even know the beginning of the power unleashed for learning. Walking them through tools I utilize every day such as iTunes U as a platform for lessons and Showbie as a digital means for turning in work and getting fast feedback from me is something that makes them feel empowered in their students’ educational process. It is so much easier to get buy-in from parents when they know you are partnering with them for their child’s success!
Beyond the simple tools (or complicated ones as the case may be), the conversation also needs to be about the technology topics entering the classroom. Using tech just because it is the latest and greatest thing is not the end goal. The learning outcome, the shifting future that students face in a world ever changing, always evolving, has to be at the forefront of the conversation too. Parents have to understand that part of what tech teaches, that keeps us all on our toes, is the ability to problem solve and think critically outside of the box. We are teaching students to think so that no matter what problem or question they are posed with, especially what to do with their futures, they can figure out the answer.
Though many educators are working hard to fill the gap, it is hard to plug an ever-widening hole. A national survey by GreatSchools’s Parent Engagement Lab observes that more than 70% of parents are asking their kids for information. Project Director, Vidya Sundaram, suggests “that schools build trust by providing parents with the information they need to make educated decisions about their children’s school and performance.” Sundaram goes on to say that “schools doing good work help families understand three things: what are the key skills their children are going to be learning every year, how is their child performing on those key skills, and what can parents do to support their children as they develop the skills.”
So what does this look like in a climate that promotes “school choice”? How can parents choose well if they don’t fully understand the options out there? Schools must be willing to answer these questions for parents.