Why Connectedness?

The focus of this blog is connectedness for many reasons which will become evident as posts begin to appear but here is a brief explanation to begin…

My thinking around this was sparked by something small but significant. One day I held a door for a grandmother followed by a small child. The grandmother glanced and smiled her gratitude but the child walked by as though the door had magically opened itself. I was struck by the absense of connection between the child and what was happening in his world. It made me think about what we are doing as parents and educators to foster connectedness between our children, the people they cross paths with, and the world they live in. It occurred to me that connectedness is central to many of the shifts that are happening and need to happen in education today. It also occurred to me that connectedness between educators and families is key to creating understanding of why these shifts are important for our kids, and that the lack of connectedness often stands as a barrier to these shifts.

While our schools on the surface look much the same as they did when we were kids, what and how we teach has shifted and continues to shift for many very well thought out and researched reasons. While parents and the community are often sceptical of educational shift and take a ‘what was good enough for us is good enough for our children’ stance, just as we expect our medical practitioners to change as new evidence about medicine and therapies is discovered, education must change as we increase our understanding about how our brains work and about learning and teaching. (see discussion in the comments below questioning this assumption)

As an educator I am passionate about researching and designing effective learning environments. The world is changing rapidly and educators need to respond to that change by engaging in ongoing conversations questioning and evaluating what we have always done with the goal of maintaining and supporting powerful practices, and tweaking or even abandoning practices that no longer make sense in the light of current evidence and circumstance.

I believe that one of my roles as a school administrator is to foster a climate of community and connectedness between and among kids, school staff, parents, and the wider community. I believe strongly that if parents and the wider community were given the opportunity to understand why shift needs to happen, they would be more willing to support these changes. I believe we are selling our parents short if we don’t provide the opportunity for them to do this, and we are also missing an opportunity to foster connectedness.

As a parent I understand what we all want for our kids ~ we want them to lead successful lives. While we all define success differently, the concept at a basic level is ultimately the same. In this way we are automatically connected. The purpose of this blog is to facilitate connectedness through communication and conversation about the central goal that we all share ~ success for our children, and how what we are doing in our school is specifically designed with success in mind.

“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”

~Harriet Lerner

11 Comments

  1. Eva Collins

    As I read your post, it immediately resonated with me. Last week a parent came through my classroom and remarked on my desk arrangement in my classroom. Following a Pro-D session with Colleen Politano, I had decided to try putting the desks in an open square around the classroom. I liked her idea as it would allow all students to all be facing each other. The parent commented that she could only remember sitting in rows while she was in school and this open arrangement seemed very strange for her. When I told her that the purpose for me was to try to create a sense of community with this desk arrangement, she seemed intrigued and willing to buy into my ideas for classroom management. The connection to your post is that only with this dialogue with the parent, did she come to understand what was going on in my classroom. Just as we give our students information about the purpose of the learning and practice in our classrooms, conversations with parents also need to inform them of our practice. We must use opportunities whenever possible to let our parents into our classrooms.

    • Thanks Eva, that is a perfect example of what I am thinking about. One of the situations I really want to define clearly is the role of play in education. Lots of parents are currently questioning play for their children above Kindergarten – parents of kids in grade 1 within a K/1 blended classroom are especially concerned that their kids are not involved in what they think are Grade 1 activities. I believe that play is of value at any level and am working on a post that articulates the rich learning that takes place when kids play. Hopefully I have it ready to post soon 🙂

  2. In reading this I was reminded of Ron Jones ‘experiment’ – The Third Wave: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave
    In one account that I read of it, I remember that a parent came in to complain and after Ron rationalized why he was doing what he was doing, it later disturbed him that the parent so openly trusted his justification of what was basically very unfair treatment of students in his class.
    My point? I think we are given an incredible amount of trust as educators and with that trust comes not only a responsibility to do a great job, but also to share what we are doing in a meaningful way. We will be better at what we do when there is a strong connection between all the educators in a young child’s life… teachers, parents & community members.
    ~Dave.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this Dave. I just read The Third Wave information — a fascinating and frightening experiment (also caught my attention as I was born in Palo Alto just two years prior the experiment). So true about the enormous responsibility the trust of parents comes along with and the impact we can have. Heidi’s comment below highlights Andy Hargreaves’ concept of ‘active trust’ which hits on the same concept – a concept I so want to address. Having the strong connection you mention between all parties involved in raising the child is definitely key.

  3. Hi Anita,
    How wonderful that you’ve started blogging! I look forward to all the “ponderings” you’ll share here – congratulations!

    I completely agree with your direction here – I often think of what Andy Hargreaves talked about as foundational to all change. “Active Trust” is needed between all parties. Not just trust – ACTIVE trust…

    To me, that implies an ongoing, conscious flow of actions, conversations, questions, debate and ultimately, a series of mutual understandings that accumulate to form relationships and connections. I feel heard and valued. You feel the same. Even when we don’t agree. And when I understand and feel that connection, I trust and support you.

    Too often, the school system seems random and exclusionary to parents. I’ve heard what you said about “what was good enough for us is good enough for our children” many times – but I’ve never felt that way, nor heard other parents talk that way.

    I think that’s a story we tell ourselves about parents, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. What I more often sense is a misunderstanding – that parents don’t understand what’s going on in classrooms and the main point of reference they have is what they experienced. That’s the picture I have in my mind – but it’s not that I don’t want anything better for my children. It’s that I can’t even make sense of what’s going on, so how can I know whether it’s better than what I had or not? Is this change a good thing? Is it harmful? Does it make sense? I don’t know!

    Many times, if a parent has to ask what’s going on in a classroom, they won’t – because they don’t want to risk looking stupid or ignorant. Too often, that insecurity leads to parents who “demand” what they know from their own experience. Perhaps better “the devil you know” than some scary unknown.

    Or I may think I know what the teacher is doing, based on assumptions made from my own experience or interpretation.

    I had a parent come to me last year – frustrated, angry and afraid that her son’s needs weren’t being met. She was furious that the teacher was “stubbornly” forcing her son to work on writing, when he obviously needed more help elsewhere. She couldn’t believe that the school could think it was a good idea to have him sit there and practice (cursive) writing.

    Her interpretation of one word had resulted in weeks of frustration for her and the teacher. The parent didn’t understand that “writing” in this case, meant the overall process, not the actual mechanics of pencil on paper! As soon as I pulled up the PLOs for that grade, her whole demeanour changed. “So THAT’S what they were talking about…” she said, as we started to read through and she recognized terminology she’d heard but not previously recognized.

    With a 30 minute conversation, her perception of the quality of her son’s education was entirely flipped around. Once she understood, she could be supportive of her son’s teacher. Their relationship shifted from antagonistic and adversarial – to cooperative and trusting.

    Indeed, the power of connectedness should never be underestimated!

    Something I ponder often is how to create these connections? When the nature of the system sets the stage for mistrust and miscommunication, how do we engage fearful parents in these conversations? These are worthy questions, I believe! Worth losing some sleep over… 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts Heidi. I really appreciate your perspective. It is so interesting how the longer we hold “the stories we tell ourselves” the more we see them as the innocuous truth. The way you reiterate my assumption that a parent wants “what was good enough for me” from a parent’s perspective as something else – perhaps even “the devil we know” definitely shifts my thinking. It is certainly not what I as a parent want for my kids but I have often felt shut out and confused (even as an educator) about what my kids were doing at school and why. I like Andy Hargreaves’ concept of “active trust” – that is what I strive to build and nurture. One of the things I believe educators (people?) need to do constantly if we are to move forward is to question our assumptions. Thank you for helping me question mine!

  4. Kyle Timms

    This is a much more eloquently written description of what we are trying to do at our school, where I try to make every interaction between two people a positive one. The “culture” of a school is defined by the energy field surrounding it, and is influenced by each of the interactions and connections within it.

    • Thanks Kyle! Thanks also for sharing your definition of culture – I like the energy field concept and agree that the impact of each interaction must be carefully considered to maintain a positive culture. While it is a good goal to make all interactions positive, I think that there are times when difficult conversations need to be had. I like Heidi’s example, however, as there are often situations in which potentially contentious conversations can become positive if we take the time to listening carefully enough to the concern so that we truly understand. Maintaining the positive ‘energy field’ requires time and patience, but the impact of the effort is huge.

  5. With Equal Step

    Dear Anita:
    I couldn’t agree with you more. As a parent engagement advocate, I constantly struggle to convince parents and staff of the need to connect in order to understand each other.

    I offer the example of the split grade debate that occurred in my children’s school annually. A small school, split grade classrooms were always a possibility resulting in complaints from the parent community. One year the new principal invited parents to form a committee with the purpose of distributing classes in a fair and equitable manner. The parents spent a couple meetings pouring over the numbers and trying various combinations. In the end, they realized that split grade classrooms were the optimal choice for their children. In the days ahead, it was the parents who spread the word about the next year’s class distribution and why. No complaints. They had ‘connected’ with the realities of their school population and understood the outcomes.

    My son, a teacher at the secondary level, received a letter from the mother of a student who had learning exceptionalities. She was unhappy with the school’s understanding of her son. In the letter, she attempted to explain the boy she knew. My son valued the insight into this family. He realized that while he had communicated with her, she had never been informed of the depth of her child’s struggles – ie no examples of work, explanations of what his achievement indicated of his learning styles and needs. He set up a system of tracking the student’s work and communicating with home daily. The school saw the need to ‘connect’ with the parent but didn’t. Was this because they were stuck in a paradigm of ” (*sigh*) Call in the parent” rather than, “Let’s work together”?

    Closely tied with this is my son’s experience at Parent Teacher Conferences. He has been “urged” by me to always seek parent knowledge. So he asks his parents to tell him about their child and what they think he should know. They have never been asked before. For many, cultural issues are at play, for in their experience a parent would not suggest actions to a teacher. But, it is also a giant shift for all parents to have a teacher seek input.

    When I do workshops on parent engagement, I am stunned at the lack of work that is accomplished when parents and staff are in the room together. Each is so wary of the other, unwilling to speak truthfully of the challenges they face. They want to ‘connect’ but do not trust the other to honour their viewpoint. Separate them and they are more willing to say what is not working and, perhaps, understand what changes they could make.

    Your work to “foster a climate of community and connectedness between and among kids, school staff, parents, and the wider community” is something that needs to happen in every school. Understanding “shifts” and “connectedness” is a task that must be undertaken by parents and staff, as we struggle to encourage parent engagement as a tool for student achievement.

  6. Anita

    Thanks for your thoughts. We really do need to examine instances where there is a divide between parents and educators – these divides are certainly curious and not good for kids. Both parties want the same thing – we want our kids to become happy and successful adults. We need to think carefully then about why the relationship between the parents and educators can so easily become adversarial rather than collaborative. I have been involved in difficult conversations with parents and know that things I have said may have inflamed the situation but I don’t always know why. I believe that puzzling through these divides – and looking to the places where things are working well – is definitely work worth doing.

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