Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Parent Engagement: Creating a Shared World; excerpts from research paper by Debbie Pushor

When we think of the word "protectorate" I would imagine that a picture of a school would not be the first thing that pops into your mind. However the typically historical way school has been done and in some places continues to be lived out makes this an interesting parallel.  Basically the concept goes like this in a colonialist structure, those with strength (the colonizers) take charge on order to protect the weak (the colonized). Extending this concept to apply to education is one where the holders of knowledge of teaching enter into a community, claim the ground labeled school and design and enact policies, programs and schedules for the children of the community on behalf of the parents.  Often this is done in isolation from parents and community using their professional knowledge and experience as a rationale for this claimed position as sole decision-maker.  To be honest, this position is claimed with the best of intentions - to enhance student achievement, have safe and caring schools and to prepare students for their roles as citizens in a global society.
To be completely honest this historically scripted role has been perpetuated by both educators and parents.  By accepting their positions both parties have reinforced  it and are constrained and shaped by the self-imposed constraints that accompany it.  It is time for both parties to realize that both the complexities and challenges of student outcomes are too large for one party to claim.  Things are changing as educators seek to find ways to bring parents into the picture and parents, who have been marginalized by the historical boundaries of the school landscape, seek to establish their voice and establish themselves.
This brings me to the difference between parental involvement and parental engagement.  There is a distinct difference in both meaning and implications for both educator and parents.  Often the terms of involvement and engagement are used interchangeably and at times are used in general terms to describe all activities that involve parents in some way.  This only serves to muddy the process of parental engagement.
Parental involvement is a means of rolling into an existing system.  So the question remains; Does this move parents from the "protected" role?  Typically parents who are involved serve the school's agenda by doing things that are either asked or expected from them.  They serve mostly in roles of audience, spectator, fund-raiser or organizer, while leaving the knowledge and decision-making with the educators. The role of protectorate does not change as the school decides the role that the parent will play leaving the hierarchical structure firmly in place.  Parental involvement is can the parent do for the school, rather than what can we do do together to help students and parents realize their full potential and family dreams.
Parental engagement by comparison means to mush together and make a moral pledge to work together.  When a person is engaged they are an integral part of the process brought there because of both care and  commitment.  That the structure has been flattened out and parents can take their place along side educators by sharing their knowledge of children. By engaging parents you bring with this the relationships from the community, the knowledge that they have in children, the skills and expertise from the companies the either run or employed with and the intelligence that they possess.This is a world where parent knowledge is respected with mutual determination to have the best outcomes for children, families, community and school thereby benefiting all.
The body of literature has been growing at a rapid pace. There are more links , books, journal articles and initiatives that one person can possibly cover.  All point to the positive links made between parent engagement and standardized student achievement, higher grades, higher enrollment, higher successful completion rates and credits earned, lower drop-out rates and the greater likelihood of movement into post-secondary education. (Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001; Fan & Chen, 1999; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hoover-Dempsey etall, 2005; Jeynes, 2005; Redding et al, 2004; Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). In a land as diverse as Canada this is a telling note.  It says that engaging families in schools has the potential to serve as one means of reducing achievement gap in student population. We need to move beyond mere lip-service and understand that authentic partnership has its centre trust and communication.
While Jeynes(2005) found that particular parent actions such as attending school functions, establishing household rules, and checking on the student's homework yields significant effects in relation to student achievement, it was things which create an attitude  or atmosphere which is formed for a sense of standards and support that yield the strongest results.  This is done by engaging parents in the core work of teaching and learning rather than involvement activities of fundraising and bulletin board decorating.  What children achieve academically is the result of more than they learn in school, but a wide variety of factors including home, community and economic conditions both within and outside the boundaries of the school grounds.  the provision of opportunities for parental voice in  personal practical knowledge and strengthening students and parents sense of personal power and autonomy has a much greater promise for educational achievement..

To create this counter-story of hospitality and welcoming environment one may indeed reverse the general assumption.  Instead of teachers and administration needing to invite people over to their place, that they are guests in the community.  That as good hosts they receive their community guests with everything that that entails....relationships, culture and history that were there long before they arrived and will continue when their guests leave the school.  Hospitality and invitation will remain empty gestures until they are made with genuine intention.  Trust is made through consistent and intentional efforts to build quality relationships over time and context.  It cannot be legislated into existence.
So what might this look like?
  • parents invited to professional development days
  • review of the district and school budget with parents
  • sharing and discussions around standardized test  and the results of said tests
  • parental input on the annual education results
  • asking parents how they would like to be engaged in their child's education
  • providing opportunities to share knowledge
  • involving parents in the creation of policy
  • creation of both school councils and district school councils( e.g. COSC) as outlined in the school act.
  • inviting businesses into the schools to engage students, parents and staff
To strengthen parents' engagement within your community there needs to be a sense of contextually to it.  While in some communities it may be more about supporting parents to develop cultural or political capital or to develop a connect between families and educators, in other communities that had people living busy lives and parents that spend extended time away from their home, it can take on opening the school for community meetings at unusual times or providing technology so parents can attend events or meetings via Skype or video streaming directly into their homes, place of work or whatever hotel that home might be for the evening.

There are challenges as well.
  • Very little in the way of preservice teacher education in regards to the development of knowledge, skills or attitudes around engaging parents.
  • Allocation of time and money.  Parent engagement will not happen in a school, district or province unless it becomes the focus of a concerted effort.
  • Literature is predominantly American.  More Canadian, provincial and local research is needed to bridge the gap and reflect the community of those jurisdictions more closely.
  • Research continues to be through the eyes of the educators, rather than through the eyes of parents.  It gives the educators point of view on how parents are to fit into the school landscape.  Basically, it is research "on" parents, rather than research "with" parents.
  • While there is an extensive body of work on teacher knowledge, there is no corresponding body of literature on parent knowledge.  When we understand and create research around parent knowledge, how parents use that knowledge and what it is then new possibilities will emerge.
After all of this only one question remains.... Do you want involved parents or engaged parents?

Building relationships for student achievement; Views from Larry Lezotte

Larry Lezotte wrote about the first and second generation of effective schools research. The need to build relationships with all families has never been more critical to student achievement:
The First Generation: In the effective school parents understand and support the school's basic mission and are given the opportunity to play an important role in helping the school to achieve this mission.
The Second Generation: During the first generation, the role of parents in the education of their children was always somewhat unclear. Schools often gave “lip service” to having parents more actively involved in the schooling of their children. Unfortunately, when pressed, many educators were willing to admit that they really did not know how to deal effectively with increased levels of parent involvement in the schools.
In the second generation, the relationship between parents and the school must be an authentic partnership between the school and home. In the past when teachers said they wanted more parent involvement, more often than not they were looking for unqualified support from parents. Many teachers believed that parents, if they truly valued education, knew how to get their children to behave in the ways that the school desired. It is now clear to both teachers and parents that the parent involvement issue is not that simple. Parents are often as perplexed as the teachers about the best way to inspire students to learn what the school teaches. The best hope for effectively confronting the problem—and not each other—is to build enough trust and enough communication to realize that both teachers and parents have the same goal—an effective school and home for all children!
Lezotte, Lawrence W. Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation. Effective Schools Products, Ltd., Okemos, MI, 1991.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santas Anonymous Delivery Day

On December 16th I had the best job of the Christmas season.  I got to help deliver Santas Anonymous hampers in the city.  I arrived early at Father Mercerdi High School for the 9 am Liturgy, so I had time for a cup of coffee and a chance to talk to people before it started.  There were students busy working on getting the out-of-town hampers all loaded up for the volunteers to take as far as Chip. Lake.  Even had a chance to talk to my favorite blogger before settling in for the morning's Liturgy and Assembly.
During the Liturgy Father talked about the importance of the work being done and the impact that these students will have on our community. I do believe that the students lives have been transformed by Santas Anonymous, just as much as they are changing someone else's.  I have talked to the students and some of the teachers who talk about students blossoming and growing in confidence through the work that they have been doing.  Year after year students run this worthwhile event.  And I know for a fact that each year students who have graduated come back to help with Santas Anonymous saying that it is not Christmas until they have helped out.  I almost made it through the Liturgy without crying.  It was when the students spoke and offered up their prayers that I lost it.  I think I covered pretty good and no one noticed as the lights were low. 
Photo by McMurray Musings

Photo by McMurray Musings

Soon it was time for delivering hampers.  I had brought my Matrix so with all the seats laying down flat, we piled the car full of hampers, toys, turkeys, oranges, milk, margarine and buns.  With list in hand and a little GPS fun we made it to each house to deliver some Christmas joy. There is nothing quite like spending a day delivering to houses across the city to make one appreciate what these students have achieved.  In retrospect, I should have listened to seasoned veteran and brought a box of Kleenex. On more than one occasion I had to tell myself... you will not cry...you will not cry.  It worked until I got home later that day and let my emotions and exhaustion overtake me.

Thank you to everyone who has made this 27th Santas Anonymous day happen.  Without the tireless dedication of students, parents, staff, donors and volunteers none of this could happen.  I thank you for letting me be a small part in this project and I am forever grateful.  You are amazing!

Check this video out -- COUNTRY 933 SANTAS ANONYMOUS WRAP UP.wmv by clicking on the link below;

Santas Anonymous Promotional Video 2011 from Father Mercredi School;

"Potiche": Taking trophies off the shelf and finding your voice.

On December 14th I attended a Toronto International Film Festival (tiff) Reel Performance in the Rectial Hall at Keyano Theatre. Potiche is a 2010 French-Belgian comedy film directed by François Ozon, based on the play of the same name by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy. It stars Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche and Jérémie Renier. Set in 1977, the film tells the story "trophy wife" Suzanne Pujol  coming to grips with her own self-worth in this international comedy. When her husband is taken hostage by his striking employees, a trophy wife (Deneuve) takes the reins of the family business and proves to be a remarkably effective leader. Business and personal complications arrive in the form of her ex-lover (Depardieu), a former union leader.
In French, a "potiche" is a decorative vase, but also roughly means the same thing as "trophy wife".  This is a journey that one woman takes to break free of the supplied mold that society and her husband have trapped her in.  At first she is unsure if she can take on the challenges in front of her, but as she gains more self-confidence she realizes that she cannot go back.  In the end she not only becomes a strong woman, but enters the political ring as an independent to beat out her former lover for his MP job.

Here is the link to the movie's trailer.http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1380096537/

I had moments where I laughed out loud and giggled silently.  This was a film about a woman coming into her own.  A story that has been told many times over the years, but somehow remains in the shadows. I have over the years talked to many women who have for one reason or another doubted that they had it in themselves to stand up for themselves.  Everyone has moments of doubt and I myself am not immune to such insecurities.  The difference lies in whether a person believes the opinion of others in their heart and makes them who they are. I have had a colleague tell me that he basically will give me my opinion as I had no degree in the field  therefore making my opinion less valuable and wrong.  Let me tell you, that did not sit well.  I could believe that person or chalk it up to an eye-opening experience into today's chauvinism. Guess which one I chose?  I will always have an opinion and although I may be wrong on items so has the person with that degree on his wall. I am not saying that all men are wrong and all women are right, because women can tear each other down just as much as men.  Been on the receiving end of that too.  The point I am trying to get across is that although words can hurt and people can be forgiven..... the words stay.  It is up to each person....woman or man... to decide if that person's words define who you are.  When you place too much value on others opinions of you rather than believing you are good, strong and worthwhile, then you have given too much to others. The last thing one needs to do is set them a place at your dinner table.  When the person's words take up time with your family and friends you have given over too much time and energy on the subject. Take back your life.
I have spent a fair amount of time facilitating and writing manuals for self-esteem, anger management and stress management and let me tell you I have seen the damaging effects of words on grown individuals.  It is not just "trophy wives" that need to understand that they are more than sum of someone else's opinion, but children, women and yes..men.  Sometimes people seem bent on changing someones opinion because it did not match their own.  That somehow because it didn't match that the other person is wrong. That person then needs to overpower the other by undermining their intelligence, insulting them or maybe yelling loud enough to intimidate. One cannot talk their way out of a situation they have acted their way into. Not everyone is like this, nor is it my intention to apply a broad brush to paint a disparaging picture. The reality of life is that we meet all kinds of people in our life. And I have meet some wonderful people over the course of my life who are amazing conversationalists. Tackling an issue from all angles while holding two opposing ideas within the discussion. That is not an easy task. I do not have all the answers nor do I claim to.  I am just one person trying to find my way, messing up, apologizing, trying to stand strong,and trying to do the right things in life. Not unlike many people I know or really that unusual in any particular way.

I leave you with a story that has made many a grown woman and man weep.

Nails in the Fence

There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.    The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

The little boy then understood how powerful his words were.  He looked up at his father and said “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”

“Of course I can,” said the father.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Show and Market

I don't know how I could have forgotten that Fort McMurray Tourism was having the first ever Christmas Show and Market at MacDonald Island, but I did.  Thank goodness I was reminded in the nick of time to go.  To miss such a perfect shopping event would be unthinkable. Reports say that 6500 people in Wood Buffalo walked through the doors of this 3 day event.

With over 110 exhibitors it was a good two hours that my friend and I spent wandering through the field house and main foyer.  She was visiting from Calgary and had agreed to stay an extra day in the city so I could show her around.  Well...the fact that I could take her on a tour of MacDonald Island and shop at the same time was a serious bonus.  I had a chance to scope it out the day before for twenty minutes between activities and events so I could let her know what was there.  It was great, because my all time favorite vendor was back....the Scottish Shoppe.  Kinda' ironic because my friend is from Calgary and she travelled to Fort McMurray to visit as it turns out the vendor is actually from Calgary. So needless to say, she now has a new shop to go to in Calgary.  I was asked many times during the course of the opening of Holy Trinity school in October and the grand opening of the theatre on December 2nd, where I got my jewelry.  In case you wanted to know or missed my explanation..It is the Scottish Shoppe.  I am sure he will be back for the spring trade show on April 27th if you didn't see what you were looking for or someone purchased it out from under you.  Talking to the owner he seemed perplexed at how fast the Holy Trinity jewelry had been selling... don't worry I filled him in and told him to bring more next time. 
This was another absolutely stellar trade show and everyone that I talked to was more than happy to do the bulk of their Christmas shopping at this market.  I really hope that this becomes an annual event.  And judging from all the happy faces I would bet Wood Buffalo would agree.

Grand Opening Celebration of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts

The night finally arrived after years of planning.  The Grand Opening of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity Catholic High School. I was looking forward to the night for many reasons so when I arrived with my special guest for the night, Marilyn Sheptycki; President of Alberta School Councils' Association,  I couldn't help but smile.  The spotlights were flashing in the sky and red carpet was laid out before us as we made our way through the paparazzi and into the school.  I was greeted by another friend of mine who had been patiently waiting for me in the lobby. There was a half hour to comfortably visit before we were ushered by the principal, Lucy Moore, into the theatre for speeches and much anticipated musical entertainment from our homegrown talent.

We were not disappointed.  It was a magical evening wrapped in a celebration of
community partnerships and musical excellence. The pianist, Simon-Marc De Freitas started off the evening.  He almost didn't make it as his flight was turned around because of windy weather, but in true Fort McMurray form he jumped in his car and drove up to be there that evening causing parental concern from the Theatre Manager, Loraine Humphrey.  "Be careful on the road.  Don't text and drive, but let me know when you arrive safely."   Everything in it's place and all artists safely in the city, the audience was treated to world-class performances from Simon-Marc De Freitas, Sarah Neiman, Cara Brown, Alexandra Price, Peter Ellis, and Kimerica and Michael Parr.  I sat with my friends in the back of theatre to get the full acoustic experience and was thrilled to hear operatic pieces from Strauss and Offenbach.  At times I closed my eyes and  let the music flow over me. And at more than one point I had to wipe a tear from my eye especially during the operatic performances of Cara Brown.
Simon-Marc De Freitas, Sarah Neiman and Cara Brown
Then it was time for two big announcements. First up was TEDx. In case you are unaware, TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program was designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. Mark you calendars because there will be the very first TEDx conference,  in Fort McMurray on March 22nd, 2012.

Now what could be better than TEDx coming to Fort McMurray you might ask yourself.  Well....that would be announcement two for the evening.....The MET is coming !  "Live from the Met", or live HD broadcasts of opera from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City will be coming to to Fort McMurray and will be at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity Catholic High School in the spring.  I am looking forward to attending every one of the events. 

I am thrilled to see the arts promoted through education.  Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. The researchers found that the visual arts classes do have broad benefits. “Students who study the arts seriously are taught to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, to make critical judgments and justify such judgments,” the authors conclude. When you think of education you are really thinking of three outcomes for the students. We are providing quality education for their future. We are preparing them to be citizens. And we are teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty.
I am thankful for all the people who helped make this project a reality for our community.  The partnerships between Suncor, Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has done much to further  performing arts and enrich our cultural opportunities within the city. I look forward to attending many events in the newly opened Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity Catholic High School.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Community Leaders Holiday Reception & Keyano College Student Awards Night Celebration

On the night of November 30th I had two events to attend that night.  The first one was the Community Leaders Holiday Reception being hosted by Mayor Melissa Blake and the Regional Council.  I needed to be down to the Stonebridge right at 5 pm because I had to out of there by 6 pm. So with the car all warmed up on a chilly winter evening,  I made my way downtown for what promised to be an exciting evening.  Upon walking in the room, and much discussion about the private meeting coat rack, I made my way around talking to many people that I have come to call friends over the past years of making Fort McMurray home. I was pleased to see so  many people who work so hard to help our community having a chance to receive a thank you from the city.  So to those community leaders who attended and those who didn't let me say a heartfelt THANK YOU for all your hard work and dedication to making our community a better place for all of us who make Fort McMurray our home.
I have to admit I was keeping an eye on the coat rack, because I knew that when certain people who were attending this event put on their coats, it was my cue to leave for the next event.  We were all going to the same place......Keyano College for the 2011 Student Awards Night Celebration.  Before long I putting on my coat and heading off to the College.  I have to admit I was practically bouncing off the walls knowing that someone had received my bursary.  I couldn't wait to meet her.  A future teacher who was going to make a difference in the life of Alberta students for years to come.  Who was our future community leader.  There was no way that I was going to miss attending the Awards Night and I am looking forward to attending for years to come.  I was abit nervous though.  I had received an e-mail the afternoon before asking if I would give a 2 minute speech during the event.  Don't get me wrong, I am good giving speechs to large groups, but somehow this one was different....more personal.  For a person who blogs, facebooks and twitters, I am actually a pretty private person.  To talk about why I do what I do somehow seems self-serving.  So with much trepidation I agreed to address the students that evening. 
There was over 300 awards, bursaries and scholarships handed out to smiling students at the annual Student Awards.  With over $300,000 in awards, bursaries and scholarships, the whole evening went off without a hitch.  Russell Thomas made his way through a long list of names, some more challenging than others, in an efficient and humorous manner.  I was happy to see that there was students of all ages walking across the stage.  I believe that anyone can go back to school regardless of age to further their education and it is not always just a young person's game. I myself have gone back to Keyano College to take a course or two over the years when I have questions on a subject or just looking for something to fill up some down time and am curious on a subject.  What can I say... I love school.
At the end of the night it was time for me to give my short speech and meet the student who had won the Tracy McKinnon Education bursary.  I walked the red carpet to the podium and with Russell lowering the mike for me I delivered my speech;

Good Evening.
My name is Tracy McKinnon.  It is my pleasure to be here at the 2011 Keyano College Student Award Night Celebrations.  I have had the honour of watching some of the amazing students who are receiving the awards and bursaries this evening walk across this stage.  As this is my first year as a donor I am definitely looking forward to meeting many more students in the years to come. The awards and bursaries have been made possible through the generosities of various donors to the Keyano College Foundation. 
We are here this evening to celebrate the importance of pursuing further education by encouraging excellence.  I believe that we are helping shape our future through the encouragement of our leaders of tomorrow.  Each student receiving an award or bursary this evening needs to be congratulated for their hard work and achievements within their field. The recognition that we give this evening to these outstanding students serves as a community “thank you” for the investment of time, effort and heart of our most valuable resource….. each of you.
There are many reasons to become a donor, although my reason pretty much remains the same reason that I do most things in life….I believe that one person can make a difference.  I chose to create the Tracy McKinnon Education Bursary to help someone that I don’t know to become a teacher.  As an avid life-long learner, education has always been a constant thread throughout my life.  Through my years of involvement with schools, the provincial organization of Alberta School Councils’ Association and currently as a Trustee in The Catholic School District, I have witnessed the dedication within the teaching profession.  It was very important to me that the bursary was set up not on marks or financial need alone. I was very specific that the person who qualified for this bursary had community involvement.  You see… I am really doing this for my son.  The individuals who receive this bursary are the kind of teacher that I would want not only for him, but all the children who attend school. 
In closing, I would encourage more citizens of Wood Buffalo to come forward to help local students in achieving their dreams.  As we build the infrastructure of our lives, we can take the time to construct the bridges of community capacity to ensure Wood Buffalo remains a strong global competitor.  To the students in the room tonight, I hope that you realize that the horizon will lean forward for you, offering you a space to place the new footsteps of change.
Thank you for your time.
Then it was time to meet the person who I was there to meet, Lainey Shuttleworth.  I was absolutely thrilled to meet her.  Then the surprise part.  She is Hope Moffat's daughter!  Hope has taught me at Keyano College when I was there years ago taking a literacy course in early childhood studies.  It really is a small world.  Then I received the best present a person can get.... a handwritten thank you note from both Hope and Lainey.  That is something I will keep forever.
Meeting Lainey for the first time on stage.

 From Left to right; Ann Everatt, VP of Academics; myself; Lainey Shuttleworth, and on the right is John Wilson, chair of Keyano's Board of Governors
 After a wonderful evening and a having a chance to talk to Lainey I made my way home for the night.  It had been a great evening.  Then something happened the following evening that completely took me for a loop.  I was out with some friends and a young man came up to me to ask if I was the same person who had given the speech at Keyano College the night before.  To which I said yes.  He shook my hand and said that he and his girlfriend, who had was in the nursing program and received awards the previous night, had been in the audience.  He continued with I just wanted you to know that your words last night really touched us and I had to come say thank you. It was then that I could not find any words.  For those who know me, I am sure that this is hard to believe that I could only say an awkward thank you.  I left feeling absolutely uplifted and with a lesson in life.  Words count and individual people can make a difference. 
Thank you to all the people in this community that make a difference.