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Future-Ready Learning, Part III: Bringing Parents on Board

By Helen Kelly
Future-Ready Learning, Part III: Bringing Parents on Board

Helen Kelly is Lower School Principal at Canadian International School of Hong Kong, where she leads Project Innovate (photo: CDNIS). ________________________________________________________________________ Part I of this series, “What is Future-Ready Learning and Why Do We Need It?,” was published in TIE’s February 2019 issue. It is available here. Part II, “Bringing Educators on Board,” was published in TIE’s April 2019 issue. It is available here. _______________________________________________________________________ Part II of this series emphasized the importance of taking teachers’ emotions into account during the change process leading to future-ready learning. In the Asian context, however, bringing teachers around to the need for change is only one piece of the puzzle. It is just as important that parents support the direction in which a school intends to move. In effect, school leaders hoping to move the needle must first understand and tap into parent emotions to ensure that these key stakeholders become advocates for future-ready learning rather than a potential hindrance. Education has played a key role in transforming Asian economies over the last 50 years, bringing millions of families out of poverty and into prosperity. Parents across Asia are spending increasing amounts on private education for their children in attempts to secure admission to top universities, which continues to be viewed as the only pathway to success. While GDP in China rose 63 percent in the five-year lead up to 2012, spending on education rose 94 percent over the same period (Euromonitor Survey 2012). It is now estimated that Korean families are spending up to 70 percent of household income on private education, with many going into considerable debt in the process (Samsung Economic Research Institute 2015). Feeling unready For many of our parents, therefore, education is a high-stakes business and one in which tried and tested classroom methods are likely to be preferred as a safe option. Parents may be fully aware of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the changes already occurring in their own workplaces, as automation increases and the emphasis moves towards 21st-century skills. For some, however, discussions around concepts such as personalized learning, student agency, and hands-on, experiential learning elicit a heavy dose of fear and anxiety rather than excitement. As school leaders, it is important that we seek ways to address these fears and anxieties. Research from the field of positive psychology demonstrates that when we are experiencing negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, we are narrow in our focus and are less open to new ideas. Our perspective broadens as we move from the stress response to experience positive emotions and, as a result, we become more open-minded (Fredrickson 1998). Our goal as school leaders, therefore is to move parents from a place of fear and anxiety to a place of positive emotions. This can be done in a number of ways. We get it Firstly, it is important that we demonstrate empathy, compassion, and respect for parents and their perspective. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of treating some parents like “the enemy” standing in the way of progress. Bringing parents into the conversation, helping them to feel connected and secure through active listening, is an important part of this process. Proactively address fears Secondly, anticipating and getting out ahead of parent concerns is a key strategy in addressing these concerns. The single most common issue that parents raise relates to the core skills of literacy and numeracy. Parents are concerned that future-ready learning will lead to less time being made available for these subjects and to a subsequent erosion in standards. It is, therefore, crucial that we find ways to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to core skills teaching. The model for future-ready learning adopted by CDNIS places foundational skills as one of three key pillars, together with 21st-century competencies and character development. In the Lower School at CDNIS, our push for increased experiential and hands-on learning was introduced simultaneously with a strengthening of the mathematics program in the first year and the language program in the second. This has included the introduction of new curricula, aligned with Upper School, high-profile investment in professional development and resources, a mandated minimum number of minutes of mathematics per week in Grades 1–6, and the introduction of MAP testing in Grades 3–10. Once parents are reassured by the school’s ongoing commitment to these core areas, they are more open to considering the second and third pillars of future-ready learning and the pedagogical approaches used to implement them. Make it visible The third key strategy in bringing parents on board is finding ways to make the exceptional future-ready learning taking place across the school more visible to parents. Providing opportunities for parents to experience the learning themselves through a range of hands-on workshops has been a highly successful approach at CDNIS. Over the last two years, we have invited parents into school to take part in design thinking workshops. Here, they can learn how to assemble and code a robot, using a wide range of traditional and high-tech tools and experiencing other hands-on science activities. Parents come away from these workshops with a greater understanding of the deep learning that is taking place when engaging in hands-on approaches and are keen to share their experiences with other parents, creating valuable word of mouth for the program. Making the learning more visible around school is another important strategy in ensuring that parents are aware of the high-quality learning taking place. Finding ways to bring learning out of the confines of the classroom into more visible areas around the school where parents are likely to encounter this evidence is key. At CDNIS, parents have opportunities throughout the year to witness exceptional learning at events such as the PYP Exhibition, MYP Personal Project, Grade 5 Wearable Art Fashion Show, Grade 7 and 8 Innovation Weeks, Early Years parent observations, as well as performing arts Spotlights, to name a few. Online showcases Seesaw and digital portfolios are also wonderful tools for making learning visible to parents. At CDNIS we have over 2,500 parent visits per week to our Seesaw pages, where students and teachers are able to unpack the learning taking place within PYP Units of Inquiry, making the learning journey for each student more explicit and providing opportunities for parents and students to reflect upon weekly learning together at home. While there is no doubt that work needs to be done in helping parents to understand the need for future-ready learning, addressing their fears is key. Demonstrating a firm commitment to the continued development of core skills and ensuring that the quality of learning taking place is both exceptional and highly visible will help reduce parents’ anxieties and open them up to the exciting possibilities of future-ready learning for their children.

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