Chad Dumas, a parent, teacher, researcher and author who focuses on collaboration in schools shares his thinking about parent-school collaboration. Communication around needs and goals is highlighted.
Follow Chad on Twitter: @chaddumas
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Steve: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:34 Parents collaborating with schools. Chad Dumas is joining us on the podcast today. Chad is a experienced teacher, principal, central office administrator, researcher, and consultant to schools and he’s the author of several articles and a book on teachers working in collaborative communities in schools. I’ve asked Chad if he would take a little bit of time to talk to us about how we as parents can best collaborate with schools. So Chad, as a past principal and teacher, what ways did you want to encourage parent collaboration?
Chad: 01:20 Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you for having me on here. Really appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts from my experiences. We know that it takes a village to raise a child, you know, from the great African proverb. And so, I really firmly believe that and I think most educators and leaders that you talk to also believe that. The challenge is how do we do that together, right? And so, I think in terms of how do we go about doing it, I think the first thing that comes to my mind is the need to make sure that we are working together. That we’re not pulling in opposite directions that can sometimes happen in schools. And so, I think that the way that we go about working together is identifying needs. And so, I always encourage parents with whom I’m working. Whether I was a principal or a teacher or a central office administrator or as a parent myself, is what are the needs of the school? Because what I want to do may not match what is needed.
Chad: 02:29 And so, working together with the building principal and teachers in the school to figure out what are the needs? And my mind always goes beyond fundraising. There’s a great book by the national PTA organization, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, and it’s titled, Beyond The Bake Sale” and I think it’s a powerful book because it provides all kinds of examples of how parents and schools can collaborate with each other that goes beyond fundraising. Because I know my experience as a parent and as a principal and as a teacher, that our minds first went to money. You know, what money do we need to raise for this field trip or money do we need to raise so we can buy this gadget or whatever. And that’s important, right? Those things are really helpful in schools. And there’s a lot of other things that can be done and can have a really powerful impact and things like that come to my mind are like in this COVID time, for example, when I was with Ames, we partnered with the Rotary Club and with the library and with the transportation division, a private company and delivered two and a half thousand books to kids. To 500 or 600 kids in the district. That could not have been done without that partnership between parents and community and the school district.
Chad: 03:50 And it wasn’t just the fundraising. Like, the fundraising, actually, we didn’t have to think about it at all. It was actually the logistics of finding out what kids need what books at what interest level, at what reading level, and then bagging them, you know, ordering bagging and getting them out. So there was a whole supply chain of things that went along to make that happen. Things like volunteering in the schools, reading to kids, engaging in things like bringing pet therapy dogs to school. Obviously, you know, these are things that have to be partnered with. But, I’m a believer that when we first sit together and say, “what are the needs,” then we can work together to figure out what those needs are through positive relationships and then figuring out the best path forward.
Steve: 04:35 So how about if I take that now to the needs of my individual child as a parent? I’m thinking in my head that communication
is always a big piece that gets pushed but similar to the concept of the bake sale and fundraising, communication most often got looked at as communication going out from the school. And I’m wondering what the thoughts are as a parent. What are some of the things I should be thinking about that I communicate back to the school or for sure back to my child’s individual teacher?
Chad: 05:15 So, the number one thing I think about with parents and their kids is focusing on learning as opposed to grades, behaviors, et cetera. Now behaviors can be a manifestation of learning, but I think it always comes back to learning, right? So if my child is misbehaving in X, Y, and Z way, then as a parent, I can ask the teacher, “okay, so what are the behaviors are wanting my child to learn?” And so then I can help reinforce that at home. I found it fascinating as a parent, myself whose children are now at university, somewhere around middle school, there was that flip between focusing on learning and focusing on grades. And so as a parent, I think it’s really important to bring it back to learning because it’s not the grades that matter. Grades should be a reflection of learning but they aren’t necessarily always. And so bringing it back to, what is my child supposed to be learning as part of this unit or this semester, grading span. And then asking questions around that. So that way that you can support your child in their learning because we all know that grades are gonna be forgotten. The learning hopefully will endure and not just the academic learning, but the interpersonal skill learning, the social-emotional skill learning. This is equally as important as the academic learning.
Steve: 06:43 Yeah. So the parent being comfortable asking those questions is a big kickoff point. I’m wondering the thoughts on what the parent sees at home or reads at home in the child’s responses and the ability to share those things with the teacher as kind of filling in a chunk of – we did a podcast a few weeks back with a person who has researched homework for 25 years. And one of the big issues she raised is, there’s a whole lot of stuff with homework that we as teachers don’t see. And if the parents don’t fill us in on it, we continue without having that information. So I’m wondering about the comfort that I should have as a parent in sharing information back to the school or back to the teacher because I feel they can better serve my child if I provide them with that information.
Chad: 07:43 Yeah, absolutely. The two-way communication back and forth between home and school is really important. Just to be a realist, I do want to put this out there as well, just to be a realist that we don’t want to overwhelm teachers with, you know, three or four or five emails every day. I’ve also seen that happen where then parents, you know – you don’t want to become that parent where the teacher gets the email and just blows it off, you know, because you know, I’ve got another email from this parent. And so, just a word of caution that, however, once or twice a week email to a teacher, particular at the elementary, I don’t think is out of line at all. Or a note to the teacher or a phone call. When you get into secondary, again, just a word of caution, you know, you’ve got teachers that have 150 kids and if you’ve got, you know, each of those parents emailing you, it easily – please don’t hear me saying, it’s an excuse. It easily becomes overwhelming for the teachers. So I think it’s important for the parent to be aware of how do I make sure that I’m communicating with the teacher in an effective way without overwhelming them.
Steve: 09:00 I’m hearing respect. The same respect that we need teachers to have for parents, we need parents to have a back for teachers.
Chad: 09:08 Yes.
Steve: 09:09 I sensed on both sides, that COVID was a time where that respect grew a little bit.
Chad: 09:15 Yeah, yeah. That may be one of the great things that comes out of this crisis. A number of things, but that may be one of them, for sure.
Steve: 09:22 As you talked about secondary there, it raised a raised another thought that I had had. And I’m wondering if you’ve got any thoughts about how we look at a parent teacher and student becoming a partnership team?
Chad: 09:41 Yeah. I mean, there’s some pretty good examples of those partnerships. And one of the fruits of that is really effective parent, teacher, student conferences when students are actually leading the conferences, the student-led conferences. I mean, I’m not saying that all student-led conferences are the way to go because sometimes they’re not very well done and the kid is just coming in and presenting what the teacher told them to do. But I think this the more that we engage learners in their own learning, the better. The learner is in charge of their learning. And so as the better we as teachers and as parents are able to realize that when students have and take control of their learning and we are the supports of that learning, the better off we’ll be.
Steve: 10:34 Yeah, you mentioned earlier needs. And as I was listening to you in my mind, I was tying the word goals to it. So if we reached a spot where parent teacher and student were partnering, collaborating around a common set of goals and expectations, that really is the ultimate of building a powerful team.
Chad: 10:58 Yes. Yeah.
Steve: 11:00 Well, Chad, as a parent with students who have made it through the school system and moved to the next stage, I wonder if there’s a word or two of wisdom you’d want to leave our parents with?
Chad: 11:15 I would. And that is, one of my regrets as a parent, was that I did not advocate for my children enough. And that was because I was a school, you know, I was the principal and then the central office administrator. And it wasn’t until later on in high school that my wife looked at me and said, you know, Chad, you’re always concerned about all the kids. Your kids are some of all the kids and you need to advocate for them too. And so, you are as a parent, whether you’re an administrator or a teacher or anything, it doesn’t matter, you are the best advocate for your kids. And so, advocate for them. Do it in a kind and loving and respectful way and make sure that you’re there supporting them and helping them out. Because, you know, as schools we’re doing the best we can and we need to work together to be better together.
Steve: 12:04 I’m so glad that you shared that Chad. I’m certain we’ve got quite a few educator parents who are listening to this podcast. And I think sometime for educator parents, it can actually be more difficult. Similar to your wife setting you straight, it was one of my daughter’s teachers who set me straight. She told me I needed to get involved in my child’s placement as she moved from elementary to middle school and my response was you know, “I’m an educator. I wouldn’t interfere like that.” And she grabbed my arm and said, “this is your daughter. This isn’t interfering.” The whole story went right through my head as I listened to you say that because for all of us as parents, there’s a time that we’re questioning that level. But I think as educators, it’s probably extra reinforced. Chad, would you tell folks how they can connect with you? I’m sure there may be some parents want to send you a question or two that’s come up as they listened.
Chad: 13:10 Absolutely. The best way is through my Twitter handle, @chaddumas. No spaces, underlines, numbers, anything. Just @chaddumas and then that’ll get you to everything else that you need. But my website is nextlearningsolutions.com.
Steve: 13:24 Well, Chad, we’ll put both of those in the lead-in to the podcast. And thank you again for sharing your insights and personal stories with us.
Chad: 13:34 My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on here. It’s truly an honor.
Steve [Outro]: 13:39 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.