map of online communities [Flickr image: Ross Mayfield]

If you are from Sydney or you connect with one of us via social media, you’ve probably been bombarded with emotional outrage at the state of the weather in the past few weeks. It’s been cold. It’s been wet. It’s been windy. Yes it’s winter but it’s not supposed to be THIS bad. So it was as if my expectations were frozen, washed away or blown to the corner of the playground as we expected parents of our school to come to the most recent P&F (Parents’ and Friends’) committee meeting.

In the light of Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s recent comments about “crap” parenting – see here – and wider dialogue in the media and community, there seems to be quite some angst about the role of parents in the growth of their children. Does ‘parenting’ end at the school gate as the child walks in and does ‘teaching’ end when they walk out? Do busy parents do a better job than parents who have time to be at all the activities, sports, fundraisers and concerts?

I am not a parent, so I don’t pretend to truly know what it is like. However, I do know that parents today are battling more influences over their children than in any point in history. People are trying to sell things to our students in ever more aggressive and sinister ways: posts on Twitter and Facebook that are purely commercial but dressed up as a new competition or initiative; advertising wrapped around their favourite sports, music and other idols. Whilst the idea of advertising and influencing young consumers is nothing new, the tsunamic scale that washes through their consciousness is most certainly new.

So the “two Matts” (myself and our IT Manager, also named Matt) talked with parents this week about the successes that our school community has achieved over the last 18 months in terms of technological change. We aren’t a vastly different school but we have certainly changed some of our administrative and other processes for the better. We have a stable wireless environment, a BYOD program, a new administration system, cloud file storage via Office 365, iPads (BYO) in our youngest year group, dock connections in every classroom so teachers can smoothly change from their staffroom desk to their teaching spaces… these changes have in turn had a positive impact on the reliability, efficiency and (hopefully) the effectiveness of what we do at school.

Our parents were pleased at the changes that had been brought in and I believe they appreciated our openness when explaining the reasons for them. Essentially, once our new learning management system (LMS) is brought in for the beginning of 2015, we will have implemented about 10 years of change in 2 years. This has not been done as smoothly or neatly as I might have wanted and we need to support the teachers, students and administration staff to own these changes and make them into the magic of a true 21st century learning community. However, relief seemed to fill the room when questions were answered candidly and we engaged in debate and discussion over such things as appropriate use and digital citizenship. It reminded me that if we don’t include our parents as meaningfully as we can, we aren’t really a community.

On that note, whatever the goals are for a school community, whether it’s massive structural changes or minor tweaks to an already great system, parents are key members of the education environment and we not only need to keep them in the loop but have to establish meaningful relationships that extend beyond the parent-teacher interview. We have a lot of trust placed in our hands as teachers, it’s time we opened the doors a little more and empower parents in the process.