Active Parental Engagement


Parent engagement in the classroom is all the rage in the EdTech market. Most recently, the conversation in schools has shifted from, “we’re doing everything we can” to “what we’re doing isn’t working” and “how do we make it better?”

Everyone wants parent engagement in education — teachers, parents, policymakers, the students themselves. That isn’t the issue. We all know it’s essential.

Fortunately, we are starting to look at “active” parent engagement — implying there’s an ongoing conversation happening both inside and outside of the classroom. As a result, we’re seeing a massive shift in EdTech, and it’s an exciting place to be.

Cultivating a Culture of Active Parent Engagement

What does active parent engagement look like? Watching my kids communicate with their friends, it’s clear. No teenagers are in the dark about what’s going on at school, in their social group, or who’s beating whom in Fortnite.

Shouldn’t it be that easy for parents to find out how their kids are doing at school and communicate with their child’s teacher? Just as easy as picking up your iPhone and logging into an app?

Active parental engagement should look more like social media — like the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world that help facilitate quick and easy sharing.

In an ideal world, it would safely connect all stakeholders involved in a child’s education in real time. That includes grandma and grandpa. We can’t share the refrigerator where we used to display our children’s work, but there are various tools in the market that allow us to share content.

An educational platform with content is interesting; one without reliable data is useless. The question is, are you ready to engage parents and what are you going to share that will be valuable to them?

Demanding Access to Timely and Reliable Education Data

In a recent report about education data, the President of National PTA said:

“For families to be meaningfully engaged in their child’s education, they need clear, timely information on their child’s learning experiences and expect that information to be kept safe. We need to ensure that families in every state have data that is accessible, useful and meaningful so they can be strong advocates for their students.”

He was clear that he sees access to data as a game changer for parent engagement. He’s not alone.

The poll is based on the work of The Data Quality Campaign. The initiative showed that parents and teachers agree that education data is necessary to make important decisions in support of students.

Ninety-three percent of parents say they not only value data, but they need it to understand their child’s progress at school so they can support the learning journey. A pretty compelling case.

Shifting Beyond Data into Evidence

As someone who has spent the better part of the last 25 years working on technology in education, and as a parent, I agree that data is a key part of the conversation that helps parents reinforce teacher’s efforts.

Evidence of learning is not just interesting for parents. It can make teachers more effective at teaching. Using information about how a student learns and what they need to do to grow helps teachers set learning goals that are more impactful.

That’s not to say that access to this information doesn’t come with its own set of problems. Barriers to entry include:

  • Parents getting clear, timely access to data
  • Teachers having enough time during the school day to access data and use it
  • The training effort of showing teachers how to capture data effectively and how to understand it.

Then there’s the problem that numbers and grades are poor proxies for the actual work students are doing.

If we want parents to engage deeply we need to share the actual work with them. We need to shift from data to evidence — the difference between a grade and a video. Data is still needed, but we can use new tools to connect it directly to evidence which is far more meaningful.

As John Hattie puts it, “When teaching and learning are visible, there is a greater likelihood of students reaching higher levels of achievement.”

FreshGrade is used to encourage a deeper conversation about learning. The portfolio and assessment platform is designed to be used by any educator wherever they are in their teaching practice. By taking regular snapshots of a child’s learning, teachers are able to gather incremental data that can be shared with the parent in real time.

Beyond Basic Parent Engagement

Schools don’t set out to buy a platform, what they want is better instruction. A critical part of engaging and motivating today’s learners is incorporating parent engagement into teaching practices.

One angle is helping parents to give feedback that encourages dialogue and goes further than “great job on your physics homework,” or “WOW! That painting is fantastic.”

Another angle is to involve parents in project work more actively. Imagine an assignment where the grade involves engaging parents with student work — provoking a thoughtful response to their ideas. Wouldn’t the engagement provide a more comprehensive view for the instructor to gauge the work of the student? Wouldn’t the assignment be more authentic?

Are you ready for active parent engagement in your school community? Here are a few questions to stir the pot as you consider your strategy:

  • What are you doing to encourage student work that is visible beyond the classroom?
  • Have you created a space where students can share their work with their parents?
  • What data are you able to share about a student’s learning?
  • Do you regularly engage with parents yourself?
  • What are you doing to help teachers make this transition?
  • What are you doing to help parents with this change?
Lee Wilson is the President of FreshGrade, a portfolio and assessment platform that helps educators, parents, and students have deeper conversations about learning. Follow them on Twitter @freshgrade.

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