Include Family and the Community

It’s been an amazing week! Monday was one of my most productive home office days ever. Tuesday I was at the Googleplex in Mountain View as one of the squad leaders in the first ever Google Teacher Academy. (I’m a certified Google Teacher now!) Tuesday I had my first presentation (to the administrators) in Redondo Beach. Wednesday I taught a Picasa, Audacity, and Movie Maker class (including Photo Story, too). And yesterday I did interviews with Steve Hargadon and Jennifer Wagner (no relation). Each of these days deserves a blog post – at least one, if not many… especially for Tuesday! But, these will have to wait. This weekend I am back to writing.

Picking up where I left off on my last post, here is a DRAFT version of part 9 (of 10). In essence, these are tips for successful organizational change – with a focus on implementing video games and simulations as constructivist learning environments, though these principles can probably be applied to any educational technology.

If you like, let me know what you think.

9. Include Family and the Community

Schools do not exist – and school change does not happen – in isolation. Change agents working to integrate educational technologies such as video games and simulations into a school, must consider not only the changes necessary in the school, but the effect that these changes will have on the community. There may even be changes necessary in the community for the project to be successful, or the project may need to allow changes to accommodate the needs of the community.

Senge et al. (2000) recognized this interconnectedness of the school and community when they suggested that “the single most powerful thing that a community can do is to provide children with high-quality preschool experiences from birth through age five” (p. 309). Conversely, they believed that faculty and students must make a commitment to their communities (p. 320), and they encouraged changes in the school that might influence positive changes at home (p. 421). Senge (1990) wrote about learning organizations. Senge et al (2000) applied this idea to communities, writing that “all communities can learn” (p. 461), a process in which schools can play an important part. They also offered strategies for a family-supported school (p. 535-536), including the need for collaborative leadership and for caring classrooms that improve children’s learning while enhancing teachers’ and parents’ efficacy – goals that must be kept in mind even when integrating new educational technologies, such as video games.

Evans (2001) pointed out that “the ever-escalating pace of change that brings unprecedented opportunities also invalidates traditional certainties, the continuity on which childrearing has always depended” (p. xviii). In turn he argued that schools

“need to rethink the ways they have been addressing the changing nature of students and parents. This will not be a matter of simply improving their traditional efforts… but of fundamentally reshaping the experience of membership in the school community and the relationship between the school and the family” (Evans, 2001, p. xiv-xv).

In keeping with his philosophy on organizational and educational change, Evans (2001) believed these childrearing dilemmas “will not yield to quick fixes” (p. 143). Even so, he proposed “practical steps educators can take to be helpful, not only to their academic mission but to the lives of parents and students directly” (p. 144), and he called for educators to “think more strategically about structuring the entire experience of membership in the school community” (p. 144). He asks “How can we imagine any broad, significant, enduring improvements in school outcomes without a corresponding improvement in the family as a ‘readier’ and ‘sustainer’ of students?” (p. 158). The answer, according to Evans, begins with “ perspective, not programs” (p. 159) and “requires a systematic effort to build and sustain consensus throughout the school community about two key facets of school life: purpose and conduct – core values and basic responsibilities” (p. 160). He stressed the role of parent education in this process (p. 161-162) and he believed in the importance of parent involvement in the life of the school, and in the lives and learning of their children (p. 184, 187). Ultimately, he found that

“the schools that encounter the fewest boundary-breaking problems and preserve the best relationships with their families are those that are the clearest about what they stand for (purpose) and what it means to be a part of their school community (conduct)… [because] true community cannont exist without these kinds of shared understandings” (p. 165).

Fullan also agreed that communities and schools can and should influence each other. He cites Senge’s (1990) concept of the “’divisible whole’, the realization that the earth is both small and of utmost significance to us” (Fullan, 1993, p. 98). He also firmly believed that “the closer the parent is to the education of the child, the greater the impact on child development and educational achievement” (Fullan, 2001b, p. 198). He shared from his experiences and his research that “teachers in moving schools [schools successfully implementing changes] saw parents as part of the solution” (p. 201). He also related that “researchers still find parent involvement as a crucial and alterable variable regardless of parents’ education and ethnic background” (p. 207), and suggested that “it is only when the majority of teachers are collaborating with the majority of parents that any sizable impact on student learning will occur” (p. 202). He even provided guidelines for parents, including:

1. Press governments to create the kind of teachers you want.
2. Leave nostalgia behind you.
3. Ask what you can do or your school as well as what your school can do for you.
4. Put praise before blame. (Fullan, 2001b, p. 214)

Only a learning community will be able to adapt to the changes necessary to for using video games and simulations as part of a constructivist learning environment in schools. Change agents need to be clear about the purpose behind the changes they propose, and they need to focus first on building the capacity of their communities to understand and adapt to the necessary changes. By following the advice of Senge, Evans, and Fullan, they can increase the likelihood their initiatives will be successful.