More Now: Engaged Community
This is an excerpt from the seventh chapter of More Now: A Message From The Future for The Educators of Today by Mark Wagner, Ph.D., our founder and CEO. These philosophies have inspired his work, and ours at EdTechTeam, for years. Get your copy today.
Engaged community members understand what is possible in schools today, are included in the school vision and are active in partnerships with the school.
If parents and other community members visit a school with the expectation of seeing children quietly lined up in rows, they might be put off when they see a cacophony of learning happening with students working in groups, moving around the space, and getting excited. Engaging communities is about updating expectations for what school can and should be. It’s about getting buy-in so that when changes are made, devices go home, and staff and students start connecting and collaborating with people in the community—or around the globe—learning is supported by those outside the school’s walls. Ideally, parents and community members can even be a driving force for change in schools once they share in the vision of what’s possible. If teachers attend professional development at a conference or elsewhere, they can return to their school and pretend it never happened. But if parents are included in the professional development that happens in a school community, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle.
My first experience of intentionally engaging a community to get people on board with our change initiatives happened when I was contracted by Palm Springs Unified School District to help write an updated three-to-five-year technology plan. Following the guidelines outlined by the state, we had developed a vision for the kind of learning we wanted to see in our schools. We had a plan for professional development, and we had identified the tools that would support that learning. As part of the effort to get stakeholders involved and funding approved, our schools hosted a series of events for parents where we shared our vision for what was possible for their kids. We painted a vision of their children connected to a world of learning:
- They’re going to be able to connect with peers and experts around the world.
- They’re going to be able to find a global and authentic audience for their work.
- They’re going to be able to connect with the authors of the books they’re reading.
We also gave parents the opportunity to offer feedback. At the time, which was around 2006, many of the parents were concerned about internet safety—an issue we addressed as we talked about digital citizenship and safety practices. Seeing the possibilities and hearing the advantages of technology helped replace their fears with excitement. By the end of each of those events, the parents walked away ready to see the new technology plan put into action.
Monica Martinez shares another story about the Parent and Child Time (PACT) program she was part of in Weslaco Independent School District, a low-socioeconomic community in South Texas. Monica worked to train parent liaisons, hired either on a full- or part-time basis by the district’s individual schools, to conduct workshops at the schools. “The goal was simply to have parents and kids come in and do some fun activities and projects together using technology. We wanted to share with parents what’s possible now and what’s coming.” The PACT sessions were a hit. “They went from having maybe twenty people to seventy-five or more, and the engagement and the amount of involvement from the community really grew.” Part of what made that involvement possible was that the school provided childcare for younger siblings to make it easier for parents to participate in the sessions. Additionally, the schools worked around parents’ schedules by offering sessions at different times. Sometimes they were held during lunch hours or in the evenings. Other times, the workshops were held at a central location on the weekend where everyone, regardless of which school their children attended, could come in for hands-on exposure to what their kids were learning.
When parents couldn’t come to the schools, the parent liaisons went to them. “In this particular area, you wouldn’t find these devices in many homes, so the parent liaisons took an iPad with them to the child’s house and did one-on-one, at-home training with the parents and their children,” Monica says. It was just one more very powerful way to open the communication lines between the school and its families.
Community engagement is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that parents, business leaders, and local politicians can all help drive positive change when they understand and are excited about what’s possible in education today. In fact, community support is one of the most important factors in motivating the school board and superintendent at the district level and the school principal and teachers at the building level. If community members are fearful of or skeptical about using technology in schools or are apprehensive about tax increases to fund necessary purchases or upgrades, they may very well put up blockades to derail your plans. But if you can get the community interested in your change initiative, or if you can get the community excited about what’s possible by showing them what other schools are already doing, that enthusiasm can help push education forward in your school or district. To do that, you have to open the doors to your school and invite people in—virtually and in person.
Mark Wagner is a former high school English teacher that has since served as educational technology coordinator at the site, district, and county levels. He is now President and CEO of the EdTechTeam, a global network of educational technologists that provide professional development and consulting services to learning institutions, nonprofits, and for-profit education companies. The EdTechTeam is a California Benefit Corporation with a mission to improve the world’s education systems using the best technology and pedagogy available and aims to inspire and empower other educators to do the same. Wagner earned a Ph.D. in Educational Technology with doctoral research focused on video game use in education, specifically massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) as constructive learning environments. He also holds a master’s degree in cross-cultural education. Outside of work, Wagner plays hockey, practices martial arts, and obsesses over his ’62 Beetle. He enjoys songwriting, nature, and exploring the world. He lives in Irvine, California with his wife, Eva, and boys, Clark and Finn. Naturally, he’s a U2 fan.
Another excerpt from the book, More Now: A Message From The Future for The Educators of Today by Dr. Mark Wagner available next week.