In this third in a series of three articles on Five Essential Tools for Campus Administrators," I suggest that R.E.A.C.H. is a way to help schools engage parents, as well as their children, in achieving students academic success.
Ask any principal or district administrator what they want most, and one of the responses is bound to include increased parental involvement. As a teacher, one of my most common complaints was, "Parents just do not seem to care about what's happening at school."
As I grew wiser, I realized it isn't that they fail to care -- sometimes, when one is a young educator, it's easy to get fixated on assigning an "F" -- but rather, that they are no more engaged by schools than their children are. Imagine that parents, like their children who masquerade as our students during the day, have to be authentically engaged.
A recent report highlighted that lack of engagement in schools:
"Parents wish to be more engaged by schools, but need better tools and information. Parents across America share high hopes for their children's academic success and many know their involvement is vital. But parents with students in low-performing high schools say their schools don't give them the tools and information they need to be more effective in helping their students succeed."
Although its easy to assign blame -- or to fixate on the failure of one or the other -- the truth is we need to R.E.A.C.H. out more. R.E.A.C.H. is not a type of toothbrush, but rather a way of using free, open-source software to engage parents; providing them with the tools and information they need to be more effective in helping their children succeed.
I suggest that R.E.A.C.H. is one way to help schools engage parents, as well as their children, in achieving students academic success. For me, R.E.A.C.H. represents the following:
As a parenting coordinator in a school district in East Texas (it supplemented my income as a third-grade teacher), I was thrilled to participate in family strengthening programs for parents. It was wonderful engaging with those parents who showed up at the meetings, but part of me always wondered, "What about those who don't show?"
As an administrator who uses technology in K-12 settings, I like the idea of using technology to R.E.A.C.H. out to parents and create opportunities for learning and dialogue.
How can any school create opportunities for parents to play an active role in their children's success? R.E.A.C.H. is about using free, open-source software to create opportunities. It's powerful because the technologies involved are free; although there is a cost for infrastructure components (such as an inexpensive server, Internet bandwidth), many districts already have the power to create R.E.A.C.H. opportunities.
Moodle, an online, no-cost tool, offers a number of ways for school districts to R.E.A.C.H. out.
"Moodle can help with basic functions such as classroom management, or more complex tasks such as complete eLearning or blended instruction-- eLearning that extends into on-site classroom instruction. As of last fall, the report says, Moodle claimed to have more than 14 million users, with more than 35,000 sites in 195 countries. In the appendix, the report describes how Moodle is being implemented in five schools and school districts across the country."
Source: Report Looks at Schools' Success With Moodle (eSchoolnews)
Moodle, a course management system, can provide a solution that can be used to bridge the divide between school and home. Principals also can use it as a way to direct book studies with their teacher teams or conduct electronic coffee meetings with parents and the community. Moodle is a wonderful tool to use to R.E.A.C.H. out to students, parents, and the community. Let's explore what R.E.A.C.H. can mean when supported by Moodle.
Ask administrators what they wish they could do, and they might share something along these lines (which might remind you of Bruce Wilkinson's work in The Prayer of Jabez):
"Please let me expand my opportunities to authentically engage parents and my impact on them in such a way that parents understand how to help their children -- my students -- be and do more in life."
Often, principals -- like the teachers they lead -- are caught up in the daily maelstrom of the mundane. Yet, setting aside a few minutes to share ideas via a Moodle can make a difference. Moodleman (a handle employed by one avid education user of Moodle) shares an engaging podcast on the power of podcasting as a part of Moodle. Moodle offers one-stop shopping for educator needs, including sharing audio and video podcasts.
There is nothing sweeter than hearing your child's voice as he or she shares a story about learning. That kind of activity empowers reflection when the leader shares a story and then asks a couple of questions of parents:
In the previously cited report, it was shared that one teenager drops out of school every 26 seconds, and 7,000 drop out each school day. It's easy to equate parental technology use at home with engagement, but what really matters is the type of engagement. When I click through long lists of assignments, events, calendars, and teacher introductions on a school web site, I am not engaged. I am just deluged with information I neither want nor need. In fact, all that information gets in the way of what I truly want -- to be engaged by what my children are doing.
Many school districts now use "parent portals" to facilitate access to grades, enable parents to pay their child's cafeteria bill online, and so on, but those are low-level engagements that don't get at the power of the story. Teachers can be wonderful storytellers, and sharing stories about what is happening, creating a narrative in which my child feels comfortable moving forward, is critical. When I go to school to talk to a teacher, I am looking for that narrative of what the children are learning, and of how my child is involved -- or not -- in the action. You have to feel sorry for the teacher, though. How can he or she tell the story of every child?
Perhaps the question needs to be, How can teachers get out of the way and enable children to show their own stories? For example, how about by using Moodle to facilitate online literature circles?
Educators can engage with authenticity when they take advantage of tools like blogs to share children's stories, and use discussion boards embedded in Moodle to facilitate children sharing their own stories, their own learning. Whether it be through online literature circles, podcasting, or online class discussions, learning has become more and more transparent. We must set aside our fear of sharing children's work online -- thereby reaching that parent audience that seldom makes it to the school bulletin board where their child's work is displayed -- and embrace the boldness of transparent learning.
Engaging with authenticity means allowing parents to see what is happening in the classroom, using any variety of tools to achieve thatand Moodle offers that one-stop shopping.
Often collaboration between parent and teacher occurs only after something has gone wrong. With transparent learning opportunities -- which create opportunities for parents to learn what they need to know to help their child be successful at school -- teachers can allow more insight into what goes on in the classroom. That goes beyond just using the technology for a listing of what students will learn (log in as guest), to an open invitation to parents to participate -- perhaps by creating and offering engaging questions for parents and opportunities for them to offer ideas and suggestions as well.
What parents sometimes fear is that they will ask questions they should know the answers to; and teachers fear having to provide answers that everyone already should know. However, without the dialogue that comes with open communication available through transparent learning, it's impossible to ever move beyond our idealization of parent-teacher communication to conversation and collaboration. Collaboration involves more than sharing ideas just for the sake of sharing them to satisfy the masses of parents.
Mr. Rezac, a teacher, sees a trend in the use of Read/Write Web (e.g. blogs, discussion boards and more) technology use in education. Although you are encouraged to read his entire blog entry, the following quote captures some of the main points:
"Collaboration involves working together toward a common goal...how do you get students who live in other states, countries, and continents to actually work together to create something together?
The process of creating the project is really what is important and where the learning takes place. Making the collaboration happen after the process is over really loses the value of the experience. The collaboration is in the process, it is the process, not the end product.With open source software gaining popularity, companies sharing trade secrets and social networking [are] gaining huge popularity. But the question is, "Are we still trying to serve ourselves or are we trying to serve our students and our community?"
Read More about Drop Box Collaboration
As a parent, when I visit a classroom Web site and see lists of content or teacher introductions, I'm struck by the idea that what we're using technology for isn't about collaboration. As Mr. Rezac points out, parents have to be involved in the process of educating their own children for this to be "collaboration."
I can hear the howls of anguish from teachers already: Are parents really ready to be part of the collaboration that is possible? If teachers and campus principals build it, will parents come? Well, maybe we need to change that question a bit to reflect Mr. Rezac's point -- if we build it, aren't we already collaborating?
How can we help educate parents so they can be the kinds of parents every principal and teacher dreams of when we are so limited during the work day -- as are parents. How can we provide access to transparent learning opportunities that educate parents, facilitate dialogue that invites parents to learn the culture of a school, and collaboratively add their distinctiveness?
The final letter of the R.E.A.C.H. strategy stands for Heart. Although tenderness, love, and concern are what I usually associate with "heart," I am moved here more by how small actions over time can have a tremendous impact. Consider these facts about the human heart:
"The average heart beats about 75 times per minute, which is about five liters of blood per minute. Although that isn't much, it enables the heart to complete a tremendous amount of work in a person's lifetime. The human heart beats about 40 million times a year, which adds up to more than 2.5 billion times in a 70-year lifetime. This results in approximately 2 to 3 billion joules of work in a lifetime, which is a huge amount."
Source:HyperTextbook: Power of a Human Heart
Our hearts do a little work each day -- work that is essential to life and has a tremendous impact over a lifetime, enabling us to reflect on what we do, reach out and engage others, collaborate, and more. Moodle amplifies the power of the human heart to accomplish those actions, at home, work, school and on the go.
"Participation is key," shares Jim Stogdill in a presentation on Culture Virus. He suggests that the use of free software, which includes tools like those mentioned in the previous two parts of this series on essential technology tools for campus principals, spread a culture virus," a virus that carries community, transparency, and collaboration across the boundaries of our being.
Although he is speaking of government and open-source software, what Stogdill has to say has powerful impact on what we do in education, how the tools we use change our perspective, and how we interact with others in our learning communities.
"Open-source software is a culture virus that has the potential to carry community, transparency, and collaboration across the government/citizenry boundary -- with community participation as the carrier...I talked about this idea in my Ignite Philly talk (video) earlier this month.
Culture virus -- a zero-day exploit of the membrane that separates us from our government and carries with it alternative cultural norms -- policy is dictated by culture as it emerges in an organization. Open-source software can trigger that cultural emergence as community participants find their perspectives, their worldviews, and psychographic profiles spliced in with those community norms -- things like transparency, collaboration, and a strong bias toward meaningful participation. As people absorb this virus, they become carriers and hosts themselves and carry it deeper into the organization in which they work and, thereby, change the way organizations function."
As an administrator myself, I encourage you to spread the culture virus of essential technology tools for campus leaders -- through the use of Moodle, blogs, and more -- to help students, parents, and teachers achieve learning, teaching, and leading success.
Article by Miguel Guhlin
Copyright © 2008 Education World
Last updated 06/30/2011