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Disruption in Our Learning Cultures Develops Families as Learning Partners

- November 2, 2017 - 0 Comments

Ymasumac Marañón Davis is an educational consultant, intuitive life coach and author. This blog is the fourth in a series around access. All thoughts are her own. 

Today, technology is a bullet train rapidly transforming every sector in society. Disruption is evident in companies like Airbnb and Lyft that have completely rearranged how we vacation and commute. This disruption not only shifts what we do, but impacts our mindset, as well. We think differently about lodging when we vacation now. Our boundaries and expectations change when we order a ride. So, when we think of the disruption technology has caused in education, we must ask ourselves: What is the mind shift that accompanies this change?

What often makes this feel uncertain is how new these learning spaces are to us – we have never had such a strong disruption in our learning culture before in formal education. This disruption asks us to rethink the role of the teacher, students, administrators, the tools that we use, the space we learn in, the time when we learn — everything has been upended and is being reevaluated to best serve the needs of the 21st century. What makes this shift unique is that the impact is not just on the school environment, but it impacts the home learning culture, as well. How do we engage parents in a learning shift that we are still unsure of how to navigate ourselves?

Every major learning shift requiring professional development for teachers also necessitates training for parents. It does not have to be the same kind of training, but should be relevant to the person receiving it – from teachers to parents to bus drivers. This is not something district personnel need to figure out for everyone. We just need to create an opportunity for these different groups to come together to reflect on these new learning opportunities. Research shows that asking open-ended questions foments curiosity, and curiosity leads to new ideas. So, we should ask parents where there are opportunities to support learning in their homes, their learning spaces. The same is true for every person that comes into contact with students – bus drivers, office staff, etc. When I bring this up, I often hear, “That’s not their role, we are asking them to do something that belongs to teachers.” This is a false dichotomy based assumptions that learning happens in silos and that the community supporting the child is unable to nurture the academic learning that happens in the classroom. Including all members of the learning community in this training creates meaning that serves students in a very direct and profound way! We have to give all participants in the life of a child an opportunity to understand the shifts in learning that impact the child.

Here’s why this is important work and why it is imperative we include families in our learning spaces at schools: Kids go home somewhere! And wherever that home is, there is a learning space there. If it doesn’t mirror the learning space students experience in school, then they don’t know whom to listen to – their parents or their teachers?

This conundrum has practical implications. As educators, we know that students need to think critically, and, in order to do this, they need to learn to question and to dig deep into a problem or idea and try to uncover the why. It is an incredible skill to develop and will help the world uncover truths that are sorely needed.

So, where do families come in? Developing any new skill requires two components in order to develop strong brain patterns and synapses: repetition and emotional connection. Time spent learning a new skill in school is never enough – they need to keep practicing in diverse learning spaces, including home. However, traditional methods of authoritative parenting often do not support this style of learning:

I want to go to my friend’s house tonight. You can’t go. Why not. Because I said so.

Whoa, why are your grades so bad?! I don’t know. That’s just an excuse. You need to try harder.

When we don’t include families in the conversation of learning that we are having, they will not know the powerful impact these types of answers can have on their child’s brain and thinking patterns. If we shared with families the learning we are having around the power of questions and the importance of repetition and emotion in developing strong brain patterns and synapses, their conversations could be more meaningful:

I want to go to my friend’s house tonight.

Tell me about your plan, why is tonight so important?

Whoa, why are your grades so bad?!

I don’t know.

Let’s look at each one and tell me more about the class and what is making it a challenge.

These are not new ideas, yet framing them in the context of learning gives them added urgency and a deeper layer of understanding. It also gives parents one of the most powerful roles in parent involvement, according to Johns Hopkins researcher Joyce Epstein’s “There are Six Types of Parent Involvement.” According to Dr. Epstein’s research, learning at home is the type of parent involvement that most strongly correlates with student achievement. No wonder! This is where parents get to engage on a profound and meaningful level with their kids as they learn. This doesn’t require them to have formal education, it just requires them to participate more effectively in their child’s learning environment – including the one they create at home.

When you integrate technology into the learning culture, it is imperative to involve families in this conversation. They, too, wonder how these new tools support learning and often believe that technology is just for playing. So, when kids come home with school-assigned devices and are watching videos for homework, parents don’t understand that this is part of the flipped classroom. Or, when kids come home with their school devices and are chatting in online classrooms, parents don’t understand that this is a powerful way to develop academic discourse. Including families in relevant training about the disruptions happening in our learning cultures empowers them to be active participants in this learning shift.

Now, we can begin to truly talk about equity. When we include families as equal learning partners in our schools’ learning cultures we will ultimately begin to explore this question: How do learning cultures in our students’ homes impact our schools, and what can we learn from their families? This is another powerful path that further supports the dramatic shifts in learning.

Want to hear more from Ymasumac? Read more on her blog, then follow her on Twitter, and visit her website, Limitless Learning Lab.

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