What about the parents?

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I was leading a couple of seminars a week or so ago at the excellent CAPE UK conference and the issue arose – as it inevitably does at these affairs – of how to get parents more engaged in the process of their child’s learning. There’s usually an uncomfortable silence at this point, in my experience, and we make a few platitudinous comments, before moving on.

I got to thinking afterwards that what we need at this point in the education debate, is some Starbucks input. Let me explain.

Whenever people are asked what makes a perfect cup of coffee, they always list the same qualities: robust aroma, strong taste, with a long finish. But when they’re at home in their kitchens, the coffee they make for themselves is invariably  weak and milky. Starbuck’s genius lay in making it socially acceptable to ask for a weak, milky coffee – the ubiquitous latte.

It seems like the language parents use when talk turns to the kind of schooling they want for their kids is similar to those coffee surveys. They talk about good inspection results, league table placings and firm discipline. But I can’t believe that they don’t also want to see their kids happy, and excited about their learning, feeling safe and optimistic about their futures.

The problem is that this is the equivalent of weak, milky coffee – parents simply don’t yet have the vocabulary to talk about these aspirations in a public forum, so they resort to the language of ‘accountability’ and ‘standards’.

So, every time we sit in these conferences and look at our shoes when the question of parental voice comes up, we should ask ourselves why we’re still conducting our discussions in the language of administrators, and not creating a language of learning which could engage the people who matter most – the parents of the children we teach.

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2 Responses to What about the parents?

  1. Lars Hyland says:

    David, I’m not sure I totally agree with your coffee comparator, but you raise a very important point about parental attitudes towards learning. I agree that they lack vocabulary and have been conditioned to focus on inspection results etc by the measures promoted by the government and media at large. I wonder how we solve this? As some of the softer aspects of learning are difficult to articulate for most people. I’d be interested in your ideas.

  2. David Price says:

    Hi Lars,The 64,000 dollar question, and, like they say, if it was easy, someone would have done it by now. One thing for sure: whatever methods we develop for including parents in the conversation about learning, we have to be able to measure the ‘alternative coffee’ criteria. Everyone I know who advocates for more progressive approaches to education is almost paranoid about being seen as a 70s ‘liberal’.In the Learning Futures project, we’ve been investigating student engagement. One proble is that traditional concepts of engagement support a ‘compliance’ view of a child’s interest. We have to aim higher than compliance, when we look at their commitment in other, informal, forms of learning.So we have to redefine, and remeasure engagement. But we’re confident it can be done. I’m also personally confident that the results will please even the most cynical bean-counter. Like Alfie Kohn said ‘when interest appears, achievement usually follows’

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