Most of my work is now leading professional learning opportunities for educators. It is such a blessing, but it is also quite challenging in a climate that seems to be tough on schools. The world is changing in front of us, and many of the demands that come from politicians with no teaching experience, are counterintuitive to where we need to lead our students. Our students are being asked to be creative, but too often, “accountability” is measured of schools through multiple choice exams. There is a disconnect, and that issue has led many teachers to forget why they are there in the first place. I believe that the majority of teachers get into the profession to make a difference, but they are pushed to get a grade out of their students at all costs. They haven’t forgotten their “why”; it has been continuously pushed out of them by external factors.
So I can understand why during professional learning many teachers rush there to be early, to sit as far away as possible from the learning, or ask questions not to move forward, but to hold on to what they have always done. I understand, but it is still frustrating to see. I hope to not only get people to feel some discomfort but to inspire them to new learning and help relight that fire if that is needed.
Educators will always have constraints placed on them, which is why I have continuously encouraged to people to innovate inside the box. We need to make things happen within those constraints. Long-term though, we need more than educators advocating for better opportunities for our students; we need our communities more than ever.
There is this notion that parents want the same type of education for their children that they had. I believe this to be untrue. Parents want what is best for their children, and if they know nothing different than their own experience, then they default to believing what they had is what their children should have. How do we create a different and informed perspective?
One of the things that I think could have a significant impact on professional learning days is inviting parents. This is not only for accountability as educators to how we use this time but also how parents view education and advocate for meaningful changes to the people that listen to them. Below are four reasons I believe more schools and districts should make parent participation in professional learning a norm, rather than an exception.
- They become advocates for new types of learning in the classroom. As stated earlier, parents want what is best for their children, but if they never experienced anything different, why would they advocate for something they don’t know. Create the experience on those days that parents say, “This is so much better than anything we had as kids.” If you can do that, they will become your most prominent advocates for meaningful change to the people that need to hear it most. I am not only talking about politicians, but also other parents in your community. Empower those voices in your community.
- Accountability to implementation and delivery of learning is increased. A student participating in a professional learning day once said to me of their teachers, “If teachers are doing this on these days that we are not here, why are they not getting any better?” I will never forget that moment, and it haunts me. If no one outside of the school knows what happens on those days, do they genuinely get implemented? Having stakeholders present in the room creates a much more in-depth accountability, and would probably create a greater sense of urgency to get things moving forward. I want you to think about the negative arguments (not criticisms challenging ideas, but the naysayer that fights you on everything) that you have had on your professional learning days from other teachers. Would they have the same tone if stakeholders were in the room? Having those we serve in the room when we are learning could create a more significant sense of urgency to move forward, and not merely hold on to what we have always done for the sake of just doing it.
- Their feedback would be beneficial for both the community and students. Maybe your professional learning is boring. Perhaps you are on the wrong track. Having parent stakeholders in the room is not an opportunity only for them to learn from you, but you to learn from them. This leads to the last point.
- Your professional learning would get better. Honestly, I have seen some professional learning days that were terrible in my experience as an educator, as they seemed to be whipped together in the last minute because the day on the calendar said that was your day to bring the staff together. With time being the most valuable currency in the world, how we spend it on those days is crucial. We ask teachers to do things differently in the classroom, while professional learning often looks the same. If more of our stakeholders would be involved, would we not care more about how we not only participated but the type of experiences that were delivered in the first place?
Parents should not be the only ones invited to professional learning days. When it is age appropriate, we should ask students to be a part of those days to hear their voice as well. We often talk for them, but not to them. That post will be for another day (or I encourage you reading this to write the student equivalent).
But too often, new things happening in schools come to parents as a surprise, and they see the product but aren’t part of the process. When we look at inviting parents as an opportunity for both the parent and the school, it becomes a powerful way to create meaningful change together, instead of fighting it along the way.