Irresistably Engaging … for Parents Too


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

During a recent ICT planning session the age old argument was raised again, where is the promised digital revolution that everyone promised? Really, it was argued, we are not doing anything different than what we did in the past. For example, the new Digital Technologies curriculum, awaiting endorsement, calls for a focus on coding. However, it was argued by some members that this is no different to the focus on Logo in the 80’s. In response, one participant suggested that one significant change technology has brought about is the ability to communicate with parents on a more regular basis. Instead of being restricted to the usual diaries and school newsletters, technology allows schools to foster deeper connections between home and school.

I agree with Eric. I think that technology has the ability to make listening to voices both in and out of the classroom more doable. The question though is whether such messages that are enabled are always worthwhile. In his book Open, David Price discusses this problem, saying:
Most parents, I believe, would prefer to know about their child’s confidence, their sense of well- being, their capacity for independent thought, or their ability to ask critical questions – the language of milky coffee. Instead, parents only know the language of black coffee, because that’s all they hear. Are they on target for good grades? Are they getting enough homework? What were their last test scores?

For whatever reason, schools often use new mediums to provide same old information. Complaining that parents do not read printed reports, some believe that making them accessible digitally somehow makes them different. I am not so sure. Although it can be easy to blame parents, if we do not give them a reason to engage, can we blame parents when they do not show any interest?In a conversation about education reform on Twitter, Alan Thwaites shared a documentary video including the usual voices, such as Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner and Thomas Friedman.

Education Documentary Clip from One Potato Productions on Vimeo. Although many of the arguments were not necessarily new, what stood out to me was the discussion of High Tech High and project based learning. For the culmination of the project, students had to present what they made to the community at an information night. I know showcasing student work is nothing new, but there just seemed to be something different about what was happening in the video. Maybe that it seemed more authentic than usual, with students enthusiastic about their work. Or maybe it was the space that was created. Whatever it was, parents seemed to be genuinely interested.

Coming back to the planning session, there were many quotes bandied around to create conversation and spur us on. One that stuck out was Michael Fullen’s discussion of technology in Stratosphere, where he states:

New developments must be:
i) irresistibly engaging (for students and for teachers);
ii) elegantly efficient and easy to use;
iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and
iv) steeped in real-life problem solving.
What stood out in this quote was the reference to students and teachers in the discussion of ‘irresistibly engaging’. I was left wondering, what about parents? Don’t they have a part to play in all of this, shouldn’t developments be irresistibly engaging for them too? Are they not important?

Too often when it comes to involving parents in schools it seems to be a one way transaction, simply focusing on informing them:

  • Putting on chalk and talk information sessions for technology
  • Publishing digital newsletters discussing what has been going on
  • Sending texts and emails to parents when a child is absent
  • Providing access to academic and behavioural results online
  • Advertising school events and information on public webpages
  • Putting on showcase events once a semester to celebrate students work and achievements

Many of these things are simply substitutions, with little augmentation. While coming back to Fullan’s argument, I question whether they are irresistibly engaging.

Reconsidering the list and thinking about how they could be changed, here are some ideas:

  • Developing information sessions that are co-constructed and incorporate the practise in question, as Jon Andrews has done when introducing PBL to parents
  • Having year levels/classrooms openly publishing a blog celebrating learning
  • Engaging with parents in regards to supporting goals and homework, as Alan Thwaites has done using Compass as a means of dialogue
  • Provide parents with live updates about student activities, as Andy Hair has done using Google Hangouts during sporting carnivals
  • Publish student work online and showcase to the world, as Bec Spink has done when creating eBooks and putting them on iTunes
  • Engage the wider community using video conferencing, as Alan November has done by Skyping grandparents from overseas into the classroom

Each of these ideas and activities involve a modification of practise, but also in regards to mindsets. Many of these mediums provide the potential for parents to comment, ask questions and provide their thoughts. For some, this is fraught with danger. What if this or what if that. Such fear and trepidation though gets us nowhere. As Price points out, the world is going SOFT whether we like it or not, the question then is how we are going to embrace it. For me, it starts by fostering a culture of trust.


The reality is, many parents work irregular hours and do not necessarily always have the time to participate the way that we would like them to. The ideal of 9 til 5 is fast becoming a figment of the past. However, technology makes connections and communications that were previously not necessarily possible. Maybe there are schools already embracing such changes, if so I would love to know, please share. Or maybe ‘engagement’ is a poor metric, as Richard Olsen has suggested. Having said all this, we must always remember to never loose the human element. As always, comments welcome.

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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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Irresistably Engaging … for Parents Too by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

4 thoughts on “Irresistably Engaging … for Parents Too”

  1. Hi Aaron,
    Great post. I agree with me too, and with all you’ve written here.
    One thing that it got me thinking, though, was that secondary schools in particular need to be aware and respectful of the tendency for teenagers to try to distance themselves from their families and carve out their own paths. I truly believe that in general students achieve better academically when there is parental engagement in their education. However, it’s also the case that every teenager feels (and every teenager has always felt) the need for space in which they can create their own identity without reference to their family. For those with poor family lives this is even more important. Sometimes it might be the job of schools to create that safe space for students away from their families, and therefore not provide quite the level of transparency that we might like.
    It’s a tricky balance.
    Just a thought.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Eric. You have really struck something here. I am reminded of danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated. She talks about how online spaces are the last bastion of teens. Having lost drive-ins, malls and train stations, it is there place to experiment and find their sense of self in the world.
      I wonder if we can have it both ways? Engagement with parents, while still allowing space for students. My mind comes back to how we involve parents in Secondary with their children’s education. I guess I will keep pondering.

  2. Hello Aaron & Eric,
    David Price’s question is certainly intriguing. My initial thought is that we are no longer just educating students. Rapid change creates a learning obligation to students, their parents, and their communities. Recently, I wrote about teacher cognition ( http://goo.gl/IKAL4Q ) and the difficulty to change our perception of school and education from the systems embedded in our schemas. Parents have their own cognition of what school should be based upon personal experiences and popular culture. Regardless if you view change as evolutionary or revolutionary, a “re-education” is required. Re-educating parents means exposing them to the possibilities, such as those highlighted in the video. It means asking challenging questions about the type of learning they want for their children. How many parents work in occupations that have, with but a few exceptions, not dramatically changed during the past few hundred years? How many parents want to visit a doctor, dentist, or mechanic who specialize in 20th century practices?
    I recently attended twelve parent-teacher conferences for my own secondary-aged children. In all but one of those conferences the teacher started the conversation with a reporting of current marks and test scores. Is that all most parents have time for? Is there more valuable feedback that can be provided to students, as well as, their parents?
    I think Michael Fullen is on target with his recommendation that advances in education be steeped in “real-world problem solving”. How do we gain trust? Maybe trust is built by banding together, (students, parents, and teachers) to identify and solve real problems in their communities.
    Online spaces might be considered the last bastion of teens because many of them have yet to feel the power, nor reap the benefits of sharing their learning transparently. In the near future, what will carry more weight with students, high marks in geometry class, or comments on their blog post from a reader a half world away? How can we help teachers and parents feel the power, and understand the benefits of transparent, socially networked learning?
    Thank you for the invitation to engage in this interesting conversation. The answers still elude us, but great questions will propel us forward.

    1. Just realised that I never wrote back Robert, sorry.
      I think that you pose some really interesting questions. I have been pondering on the idea of ‘re-education’ for quite a while. My only concern is that we risk killing the conversation by telling not asking.
      I guess at the end of the day, it is one of those challenges that takes time and perseverance.
      Thank you again for your response, it takes a village.

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