Engaging Parents as Partners

Engaging (2)

 

It could be said, “We do what we do because of them” for if there were no parents there would be no students to nurture and teach in our collective schools. Yet why is engaging parents often posed an afterthought or a good idea to be explored or tried when other strategies are exhausted. I would like to assert that building parental partnerships is one of the most critical things we do as schools.

image1

Admittedly, there are barriers to parental engagement, but the benefits outweigh the barriers every time! I would like to explore the benefits to engaging parents as partners.

  • Parents are a child’s first teacher and are critical to supporting their child’s social and academic growth. When parents and schools interact as partners, both parties have the green light to enhance what the other is teaching. Student success is catapulted as parents are empowered fulfil their role as their child’s first teacher.
  • Without parental partnerships, the school’s influence with students is automatically lessened, but with it student learning and growth has the opportunity to multiply exponentially. It is the school’s responsibility to empower parents to take a front seat role in their child’s education. Schools are obligated to create front door opportunities to provide parent learning experiences throughout the school year. My school puts on quarterly afterschool IMPACT (Importance of Parents and Children Together) events where parents and children experience a fun, carnival like atmosphere while participating in carefully designed activities that align to our state Pre-K guidelines. These IMPACT events empower parents because they go home with free educational materials and ideas of how to continue fostering joyful learning in their homes in natural ways. (Learn more about my school’s IMPACT events.)
  • When parents engage as partners, the community at large is brought together and connections are strengthened. Think about what happens in the brain when neural paths are created and strengthened. The more use the path gets, the stronger the bond, and the more automatic the neural response or skill becomes. The same principle is true for a community. All entities benefit when the bonds between families, communities, and schools are strengthened. Unfortunately, many families are increasingly disconnected from traditional extended family and community bonds. The school should and can be the heart of its community. I propose that a supportive school culture is a critical variable for supporting students, strengthening families, and bringing communities together.
  • Engaged parental partners are positive advocates for their child’s education. They lovingly embrace their child’s school and advocate for better; better schools, better learning for their children, and better communities at large. As engaged advocates, this parental stance is one of collaboration and shared partnership as opposed to an adversarial stance that can poison progress and relationships.

image1[1]

How does your school engage parents and partners? What are the persistent and creative ways your school does this? The benefits of engaging parents outweigh succumbing to the barriers any day! When parents are engaged as partners, there is a rightness of the world that is not found in our school communities in any other more profound way.

Serving together, Heidi

*For more on the topic of “Engaging Parents as Partners” check out Participate Learning’s archives of resources compiled from the 12/19/15 #LeadUpChat that my good friend Nancy Alvarez and I co-hosted/moderated.

Grace Changes Everything

Grace

There are many meanings for the small word grace. According to Webster, the word Grace can be defined as, unmerited divine assistance given for the purpose of regeneration or sanctification :  a virtue : sanctification : a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward : a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving.” I would like to offer my own reflections on its meanings, and why it is a necessary element for someone who wants to live a life of impact all year.

G… Given. Grace isn’t grace until it is given. It is intended to be given and given freely, with no expectation for anything in return. When it is given, the receiver experiences unmerited pardon, hope, renewal. Additionally, the giver experiences freedom from holding a grudge or gnawing hurt.

R… Ridiculous. In the eyes of many grace is a ridiculous concept.  Why would anyone pardon another when it is clearly undeserved, and the offender is clearly in the wrong? Ridiculous, right?

A… Another. Grace can only be expressed from one person to another and is best experienced inside a relationship.

C… Culture. Imagine a culture of grace. Not phoney forgiveness or flippant pardon, but authentic give and take with the heart of everyone growing, and becoming better everyday, because of grace both given and received.

E… Equip. As important as it for oneself to be equipped to give grace, equip others to receive it as well.

Grace is something to practice and seek to understand, knowing it is a life time pursuit.

Above all, know that grace is a choice. It doesn’t happen by accident or even serendipitously. Grace will always be present in our world as long as people are willing to give it.

Serving together, Heidi

Love Them, Reach Them, Teach Them

STORIES

      The social-emotional growth of early childhood students should be a top priority for every early childhood educator. On my campus, we believe that social-emotional learning trumps academic learning any day of the week for our early childhood students. And this goes double for a child facing adversity! Self regulation skills are not something that a child naturally develops without intentional shaping and guidance from the influential adults in their lives, and gone are the days when schools are responsible for only teaching academic subjects. Early childhood educators have a unique responsibility to teach the vital skills associated with self regulation.

      In the specific context of children facing adversity, social emotional learning is their lifeline of hope for a healthy emotional future. A child coming from an at-risk setting cannot only be seen as at-risk for academic failure. They are at-risk for difficulties far beyond not “passing the test”. These are students who can display erratic and unsafe behavior, tantrum for seemingly no reason, display extreme self regulation deficits, hurt the very people trying to help them, lack empathy, and withdraw from the world. Any or all of these behaviors are possible for a child facing adversity. I’m reminded of the truth that a hurting child, and in need of love, will often ask for it in the most unloving of ways.

forelorne boy

      What are teachers of our youngest and most vulnerable students to do when working with students facing adversity? I would like to suggest a few critical ideas for building the educator’s tool box.

      The educator must first and foremost cultivate a relationship with a child facing adversity.  The teacher has to learn the student’s likes and dislikes, their triggers, their needs, and their nuances. The teacher does this by spending time with the child, giving them one-on-one attention, and noticing changes in their lives.

      Next, the educator should directly teach a wide variety of social-emotional skills. I strongly believe one of the most powerful things a teacher can do is to equip an at-risk child with social-emotional skills in the face of the stresses and struggles of their lives. This could look like role playing, using social stories, group lessons, playing purposeful games, using puppets, sharing songs, and other social-emotional learning experiences. Consider implementing a curriculum such as Second Steps because it serves as a comprehensive, solid Tier 1 resource for social-emotional learning in a classroom setting.

      Thirdly, I suggest tapping into the team of responsive adults that surrounds the at-risk student. Bring together those who can collaborate to find solutions to the unique problems that a child facing adversity can face. Together, the team has access to resources, pulls on experiences, and can support the both the child, the family, and the classroom teacher.

      Last of all, as educators, we must cultivate a growth mindset. This looks like continuing to learn about the needs of traumatized or at-risk students. Read articles, attend conferences, participate in (free) webinars via edWeb.net or Early Childhood Investigations Webinars (ECE Webinars has a free webinar coming up on December 16, 2015 specifically about SEL and facilitating resilience and inclusive culture), connect with experts, listen to podcasts (check out the podcast that inspired this post: Teaching Students Who Face Adversity Beyond Your Experience), and learn from any opportunity that comes your way.  A book I would highly suggest reading is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. This insightful book chronicles real stories of children raised in the most traumatizing situations imaginable and how they transformed despite their dire circumstances. Bridging the Relationship Gap:Connecting with Children Facing Adversity by Dr. Sara E. Langworthy “provides caregivers tools and encouragement to be the strong, positive, and nurturing adult these children need in order to thrive” (Amazon summary). Dr. Ruby Payne’s renowned book A Framework for Understanding Poverty is, in my opinion, an essential read for any educator working with student’s specifically dealing with the adverse effects of poverty in their lives.  

A child's current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. @vealheidijhveal.com (3)

      The truth is, children facing adversity come to us having experienced things no grown adult should have to endure, and our obligation is to love them, reach them, and tech them. We bridge relationships by responding to their needs instead of reacting, teaching them replacement behaviors and skills instead of punishing, and meeting their needs from a heart of compassion instead of making assumptions. Their current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. Who will join me in my commitment to love, reach, and teach?

Serving together, Heidi Veal

#NoArmChairNovember

armchair

Game of Six of the ALCS fans nearly watched the Royals blow a solid 3-1 lead against the Blue Jays when slugger Jose Bautista crushed a pitch from relief pitcher, Ryan Madson.  Royals fans certainly had to feel sickened by this unfortunate turn. They felt sick for their team, who, at the time, was on their way to letting a World Series trip slip away.  The more empathetic fans also felt sick for the onslaught of criticism that Royals manager, Ned Yost, would receive.  The critics were fast and furious with their dissatisfaction in Ned Yost’s decision-making.

#NedYost happens to be one of the worst managers in baseball; Madson has horrible numbers against the #Jays and he has Davis can get 5 outs?” 

#Fourth home run of the season for Madson. That’s almost a fireable offense for Ned. What a foolish, foolish mistake…#yosted

“I don’t know that there is a man I dislike more in baseball than #NedYost, even #ARod I like and respect more I think. #KCRoyals

Ouch. And these are those appropriate for a school leadership blog. Search #yosted if you’re interested in the PG-13-and-more version.  Yikes.

When fans criticize the decisions made by managers and professional athletes, they take the widely accepted role of the “armchair quarterback.”  According to http://www.onlineslangdictionary.com, an armchair quarterback is…

“a person who watches sports and believes one could do a better job than the players or coaches.”

We rationalize our positions as armchair quarterbacks by saying “It’s my right as a fan.” “They’re overpaid, so I can over-criticized.” “It’s not like I’m going to see Ned Yost tomorrow at the grocery store.”

All of that may be true, and it led us to start connecting the phenomenon of armchair quarterbacking to our positions as leaders…

It can be easy to sit in the safety and security of your favorite armchair, bellowing calls at the television or hiding behind social media.  This reality occurs daily in our respective roles as educators–teachers and principals being armchaired by naysayers, arm chairing each other or central office admin, legislators armchairing all of us, educators armchairing parents (yes, we are very guilty of this.)

It’s easy to be a naysayer, focusing on a single call or could have, would have, should have perspective. However, like a great coach, leaders understand the big picture, they have the moral and visionary courage to see beyond one inning or quarter, they embrace the challenge of the whole game. In fact, great leaders know that we may lose this one only to win the next. So we have a challenge to make, a declaration to abandon the practice of armchair quarterbacking others.  Let’s have a moratorium on judgment. We call it #NoArmChairNovember.

The #NoArmChairNovember Challenge…

Be invested in people, not problems

If we are not careful, we can focus on a problem, forgetting that real people are involved. Spend your energy on people, not the problem. Are you spending time with all your stakeholders? Do you truly know your students’ struggles; are you spending time in that teacher’s classroom, having that meaningful conversation with a parent, inviting that district leader to be on your campus? Like all worthwhile pursuits it will require you to invest of yourself and time, but remember it’s not about us, but the people around us.

Ask the right questions

You don’t know the reasons why a decision may have been made. Our first reaction is to question it before even seek to understand the purpose or strategy behind it.  Seek first to ask questions to bring clarity and understanding. As edleaders we have to avoid being expedient, making snap judgments, take the time to understand a situation. Avoid critiques; offer solutions that contribute to moving a conversation forward and being a win for all.

Believe The Best About People

Great teams don’t thrive in toxic cultures. When we believe the best about our people their capacity and confidence greatly increases. Leaders give their best so that everyone around them can be their best. Our call as leaders is to inspire and grow people, many of us believed this when we accepted the challenge to lead others early on, we get to coach others to greatness, and this means less evaluation and more modeling through our own attitude. As leaders, we raise what we praise. Like many a locker room has a saying over the door that players see daily as a reminder, we need to have that same vision for our teams and ourselves.

So embrace #NoArmchairNovember and resist judgment, seeing the best in others and creating a vision of acceptance and optimism.  When we do, we move from the armchair to the field, this is where the real action is, anyway.

The concept of #NoArmchairNovember generated from some friendly sports talk between Paul Erickson and myself.  Three weeks ago, Paul and I were voxing back-and-forth, talking college football and the scrunity under which coaches find themselves.  We started to make connections to the “armchairing” that educators face and the armchairing they engage in themselves.  Sports talk quickly turned into self-reflection, collaboration, and, finally, action….a call to resist the temptation to judge and to instead boldly build others up, believing the best in them and thus getting the best results for your school community.

Paul Erickson, is a lead learner and elementary principal in Kansas, and also a Kansas Principal of the year recipient.  Through Twitter, the #Leadupchat tribe, and Voxer, Paul and I have connected as like-minded educators, pushing each other lead on, lead up!  Thanks, Paul, for working with me on #NoArmChairNovember

Assessments: Left Behind

Written by Nathan Lang and Jeff Veal, co-founders of LeadUpNow and #LeadUpChat

We can’t argue that there is a movement to change the landscape of education. Just google search differentiated instruction, authentic learning, or project based learning and you’ll get a plethora of search results. Blogs, models, theories, strategies, challenges and evidence, they’re all there to help support teachers move forward so that students are prepared for the college and career.

But there is still an aspect of the Big Three (Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment) that is left behind. Yes, Curriculum and Instruction have been upgraded to the iPhone 6 Plus, while Assessment is still at a Nokia flip phone. Why is Assessment so antiquated in it’s ways and how do we overhaul it?

It’s the same reason Captain Kirk always flew the Enterprise. (Well, yes there was that one time with the Klingon Bird of Prey…). They’ve upgraded the specs and standards, and installed fancier torpedoes and faster warp drives. But in the end, it it still the Enterprise. It’s all Kirk has ever known.  Even though we have seen teaching strategies come and go, the “test” is all we have ever known.  Many, will say that standardized testing is the reason classroom assessments are “left behind.” It’s time to leave that excuse behind.

The Way It Was…

When we were in school, we probably learned for one of two (or both) reasons. They make the teacher (or our parents) happy. Or earn a high grade (via an assessment/assignment). We wanted directions spelled out and wanted to know exactly what it took to earn an A or high favor with the teacher. This made us “good students.” We knew what the teacher wanted and when it was due. We rarely bought in to the assignment, as it was a means to an end. Why would we take ownership over something that had no personal value to us.  Why would we give more than expected? Be creative? Be rebellious?

The Way It Can Be…

Until now. We now know the impact now of self-directed learning.  Which in turn impacts assessment. Let’s ponder two possibilities…

Create Conditions for Students to Self Assess

If we are self-directed learners, we thrive and crave on feedback. Let’s say we’ve bought into authentic, learner centered instruction.  The data we collect from an assessment can help to inform next steps for students in the learning process but it doesn’t exclusively guide student learning.

A key condition that our students need as they become self directed is autonomy. The teacher as coach or facilitator is more than wordsmithing, but an imperative for the assessment culture to change on any campus. Increasingly teachers serve as coaches to help students take personal ownership. Student autonomy is about providing space and time for connections with ideas and concepts. Self assessments push students as they have to analyze and answer questions exercising their ability to be problem solvers. Additionally, when we foster conditions in our classrooms and school buildings for students to think critically about their own learning we communicate something powerful about the role of reflection. Today’s teacher coach gives permission for reflection to occur and isn’t quick  to “move on” in order to cover the next unit, slow down and savor the learning.

Use Data as a Strategy Tool

There are multiple strategies we can employ such as the power in using student data journals. A data journal can guide students to literally capture the big picture of their goals, outcomes, and feel personal success. The data collected in a journal can drive students to ask reflective questions about their progress. Data can be a powerful tool to help students in the journey of learning, but the constant stream of benchmarks and other “assessments” misses the rich landscape of possibilities. Assessments that are only teacher generated make for an anemic student and not reflective of the whole student.

The Way It Will Be?

Are we still asking students to use an iPhone 6 Plus Monday through Thursday and then asking them to use a Nokia Flip phone on Friday. It’s time to reassess our assessments.  It’s time to provide meaningful feedback in a way that motivates students to strive for awesome. Not to please the teacher, but to push themselves to achieve their learning goals and beyond. We must go beyond.

As the landscape of learning is changing we are certain of one thing…we are done with traditional, regular maintenance quiz/test checks, which not only lack inspiration, but does little to spur students to spiral deeper learning connections. Assessments themselves should ignite learning not extinguish it.

This post is the result of a broader conversation from our Instructional Leadership Series “Rules of Engagement” at #LeadUpChat. Thank you to all the educators who see education differently. 

Seeker

This is part 1 of three parts in a Curious Collective Series:

Some of my fondest memories involve taking teams of high school students out of the country on summer trips to do acts of compassion, several weeks at a time to 3rd world countries. On one such summer night, a group of my older high school boys decided they wanted to take the younger freshman guys “snipe” hunting. You could just see the excitement in the younger guys, the thought of getting to do something so cool sounding with the older teens and a sense of adventure.

Now, I hope that I am not giving it away when I say that there is no such thing as a “snipe.” Yes, a bit of fun at the expense of some naive boys I will admit. The older teenage boys had asked my permission, I allowed it as it was all in good fun, plus I didn’t want to miss out on the awesome hilarity that would ensue. For like an hour, I stood and watched as this group of brave hearted boys went snipe hunting with flash lights on an unsuspecting beach. The older guys manufactured quite a show, and had those newbies believing they had seen a snipe, only a mere few feet from being within their reach.

Finally, I had to put an end to the shenanigans and reveal to these seekers of sport that there was in fact no snipe to catch. Man, at first they were not happy to put it mildly,  and of course felt they had wasted their time. In the eyes of a 15 year old maybe…but…

It wasn’t a waste…they were doing important work, they were seeking. photo-1441035245556-b476ee501efa

Agreed, they came up empty handed but everyone including our newest explorers had a good laugh and made a forever memory. What those guys experienced is what we to be more as as educational leadersThe Curious Collective. 

When young teachers enter the profession not afraid to go snipe hunting, they often don’t know what they don’t know. They will chase after wild ideas because they are passionate, believing that in the end it will be what is best for kids, a sense of optimism and idealism that mentors often say, “don’t worry – give it a couple of years and you will feel differently.” This should not be so. As teachers become building leaders, or even district office personnel, the sense of wonder and seeking can to often be replaced by compliance, mandates, and a sense of disillusionment. There is another way.

Instead, we need to be a curious collective, not afraid to:

  1. Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions where “seeking” is not a lost art.
  2. Go explore – As an/the edleader for your campus or team lead the way to seek out adventure and discover new opportunities to create pathways of learning, innovation, and discovery. Seek out individual and team PD, PLC, PLN opportunities that will elevate the journey for both your staff and students. Be curious with your people.
  3. Ask questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students.
  4. Celebrate – be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy.

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbI want to challenge you to be apart of the Curious Collective as we change the conversation and tone of education. Seek and you will find.

-Jeff  | twitter @heffrey