Parent Engagement: Exploring Key Roles in the K12 Ecosystem

From my experience, parents want their kids to have a great education, and most are willing to pitch in.

On a good day, it might mean helping them study for a killer algebra test. On a bad day, it’s a more thankless task: helping them reevaluate priorities, prying fingers from the high tech keypads, smartphones and controllers stashed under every pillow.

Education is a complex topic, which deserves and is getting much discussion. But as a parent, I think understanding our stake in the process is an increasingly critical conversation, one that doesn’t always get air time.

I’d like to frame the question like this:

With school districts grappling with troublesome finances and even more troublesome test scores, what roles can and should parents play in the education process?

K12 Education today functions like an ‘ecosystem’. Most of the many interdependent stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators, legislators, policy makers, text book companies) work diligently, but not always in tandem. No one entity has full control of the process. Across the diverse stakeholder groups are multiple, often conflicting objectives. Each depends on the others in the food chain for the system to function, but there is little optimization taking place.

Across the education ecosystem, too often it’s become a challenge of survival.

You may have seen “Waiting for Superman” and learned that across the nation, drop out rates are accelerating. Or maybe you saw “Race to Nowhere” about the pressure schools and parents are together putting on children, and how we must reevaluate how to define success. A more extreme example is the “Parent Trigger” where states allow parent-led coalitions to takeover problem schools.

While education leaders have much to do in sorting this out, parents have an important voice. We often forget that kids acquire language, behavior, and foundational learning skills before they set foot in a public school. Approaches will vary, but parents have the first crack at making learning a priority, and must work ever harder to sustain that. Schools, in turn, must understand what the family is experiencing, to effectively participate in an open collaboration.

Let’s tee up a few discussion topics to help us get at the core challenges of Parent Engagement.

Q1. What is the ideal role of parents in the education process?

Q2. How could we, as parents, help in a meaningful way? Here are some starter ideas, to get you thinking (do these resonate?)

  1. quality time on foundational skills (especially pre-K)
  2. finding creative ways and times to teach (story, play)
  3. fostering respect for knowledge and learning
  4. focus on resilience
  5. focus on mastery (deep learning) over performance (test scores)
  6. focus on critical thinking
  7. making innovation in education a priority

Q3. Who helps parents navigate these challenges, and should schools play a role in supporting them?

Q4. Can parents and teachers find the quality time required?

Education is undergoing some much needed transformation. From multiple sources, we can see innovative schools working diligently on new approaches. But time is short. And that’s an issue on many levels.

I sense that kids today start kindergarten well behind the power curve, leaving parents with few choices and many frustrations, and often no sense of what they could be doing to help.

No silver bullets here. But that’s all the more reason for the conversation.

We’ll tee this up at our weekly #ECOSYS chat on WEDS 1/5 at 9pET. This opens our 2011 Education Topic Agenda, on our wiki, under “T1 Parent Engagement”.

As always, please share your thoughts as comments, I’d love to discuss your perspective.

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Pathways for change in the K12 Ecosystem

It’s easy to toss aside the notion of meaningful social change. For starters, you’d have lots of company. But let’s take a look at an area with mounting problems and the highest of stakes:

Un-packing the Challenges of K12 Education

By any measure, our western culture and economy – and within that universe, our education systems – have grown so large and intertwined that we quickly scoff at the notion of doing something to improve them. Countless well-intended efforts have failed. Or they succeed for a bit locally, but then can’t scale. Frustrations mount. Those inside the hardened silos of our aging institutions are just as trapped by their realities as those on the outside.

It’s not a lack of passion or desire. It’s just that, as a society, we’ve become overwhelmed by ‘the system’. It’s been going on for a long time – by most accounts, over 100 years. Quite simply, it feels like we’ve lost control, and in some important ways, we have.

What if we changed the rules?

The problem with social, cultural and economic forces – the complex result of human interaction – is that the outcomes don’t align with our intentions. Most of us were reared in a simple (linear, Newtonian) world of ’cause and effect’, and we expect a simple answer to every problem.

Why can’t we just fix schools? Or healthcare? Or the economy?

What we’re learning is that complex systems – especially the human variety – work and behave very differently. We must focus on actors, motivators, outcomes and patterns.

We must attack these problems in a different way.

EcoSys is a social innovation group that started in August 2009. The goal of the group has been to apply a new science – the study of complexity in social ecosystems – to the hardened problems we face as a society.

Intriguing? Ambitious? Yes, on both counts. But open your mind for a moment.

Can you imagine the potential of global thought leaders discovering a focused problem-solving dialog, adding to it, and ultimately building a shared knowledge base of solutions?

Can you imagine an objective exchange of ideas and concerns, shared publicly in the spirit of collaboration, subordinating agendas and special interests in favor of meaningful, scalable innovations?

Can you see social media – Twitter, in fact – as an engine for change, with the connections of each contributor serving as pathways to deeper insight and focused action?

That work is underway, and we’ve posted some K12 progress here.

We’ve still got some work to do on it, as we continue to refine our issue framing.

Are you ready to Engage?  Join us each MONDAY at 9pET using hashtag #ecosys. You can use TweetChat  (try this link), TweetDeck, TweetGrid or HootSuite to join us. Just be sure the #ecosys hashtag is in each tweet, and search on that tag.  Bring your insights and an open mind. It’s free, unaffiliated, and destined to make a difference.

How do we know?

Because 3 years in and some +40,000 tweets later, our topics are gaining traction and spontaneous conversations are starting to break out. We call that momentum. And we’re working to take a step to the next level.

Stay tuned. And welcome to the K12 ecosys.

Original framing blog
Full process
EcoDNA (our first emergent innovation)
EcoSYS founders

The DNA of Collaboration: Unlocking the Potential of 21st Century Teams (where Ecosys is a case study)

ECOSYS on Social Reform: the Road Ahead

As you’ll see in this thread, a group of self-organizing innovators has put quality thought on how public collaboration can help get at the core of complex social issues.

So far, we’ve been  focused on framing challenges in Public Education.

The hurdles are formidable, so we’re focusing on a few specific areas, to build awareness and momentum (note: in the chat format, we number discussion topics sequentially):

  • T1 Participation. We need diverse stakeholder input (teachers, parents, administrators, businesses, legislators, students, suppliers); all have a role in the future state; are they engaged? how can we engage them?
  • T2 Ecosystem Dynamics. We must understand how the current system works and where it breaks down, using the basics of systems thinking and mental models framed as operating paradigms;
  • T3 Priorities. We must factor in the national agenda with Race to the Top (competitive stimulus model) and how it effects state and local initiatives; what are the gaps that will remain? are the stakeholders aligned?
  • T4 Culture Change. We need to explore a critical but overlooked topic: does our culture place necessary emphasis on learning?

Clayton Christensen reminds us that the ‘factory model’ of public education is over 100 years old, making it deeply entrenched. Regarding the public, Tim O’Reilly uses the interesting metaphor of a vending machine, where taxpayers (especially, in the case of education, parents)  insert money and expect services to come out the other end.

Top CEO’s talk about 21st century workforce demands in an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal. Read this. It will help get you thinking on what we’re up against.

We have seen significant power in discussion among concerned stakeholders. Be a part of the solution. Join the LIVE conversation, Mondays at 9pET. To participate we recommend tweetchat (click here at the appointed hour).

The next meeting is Jan 4. We hope you can join us.

What’s Next at ECOSYS?

[Overview. Since August, the ECOSYS public collaboration team has been developing an approach to frame problems and solutions in social ecosystems like Education (#EDU) and Healthcare (#HCR). Prior posts in this thread introduced the ECOSYS framework describing the building blocks of our process model.]

On MON 11/2 we started framing our EDU Issues. Progress to date:

Areas we have touched on are in yellow. Most recent updates are in orange. Considerable work remains, but we’ve begun to attack the core challenge of rigorous framing.

On MON 11/16 we reviewed the ARRA Federal Stimulus model for Race to the Top to understand ECOSYS impacts. From our master list, we developed a cross reference showing problems that appear to have less RTTT priority:

  • P1 Learning Culture
  • P2 Incentives
  • P5 Workforce/Jobs
  • P6 IEP/Custom Curriculum

One line of thinking: we can add the most value by addressing these areas. To help further frame these issues and potential solutions, we think it’s critical to provide strong ecosystem definitions, so we’ll continue to maintain high priority for:

  • P7 EDU Ecosystem

What do you think? Do you have ideas on these topics, or our conclusions? We’d love to have you post them here as blog comments. You can also pose new ideas, questions and inputs on priorities to our #ECOSYS tweet stream. Just be sure to use the #ECOSYS hashtag, and we’ll see it.

We connect and engage via LIVE CHAT. This let’s us vet and brainstorm progress and develop solution language in real-time. You are more than welcome to join. Just bring your insights and an open mind. You can access the chat LIVE at the appointed time in a variety of ways, but we recommend TweetChat.

The next ECOSYS LIVE session will be MON 12/7. Time for future meetings is TBD, but meetings to date have been at 8pET. ECOSYS needs diverse stakeholder input, which means we are likely to need your engagement. Meet the team. As always, your ECOSYS contributions are appreciated.