This is not an easy blog post to write — we had high expectations for Parent Edcamp so when it didn’t work out, it hit us hard. However, if we take the time to reflect, we learn just as much (if not more) from our failures as we do from our successes. I also think we owe it to other educators to share what didn’t go well during certain projects, so that they can learn from our mistakes and do a better job when they give it a try. So here goes:
Early on in every school year, we have two Saturday Back to School mornings for parents – one for lower elementary, and another one for middle and high school – where we explain our policies and procedures. As our students get older, parents show up less and less for this activity, but who can blame them? After 6 or 7 years, they know the drill, and it’s hardly motivating to take precious weekend time to hear the same thing yet again from their children’s school.
Just like students and teachers, parents need to have both a voice and plenty of choices in order to make learning more engaging. With that in mind, we decided to change things up this year and hold our very first Parent Edcamp. We envisioned groups of parents and teachers discussing students’ issues and sharing ideas that had worked for them. We hoped for a positive experience that would bring parents and teachers closer.
Planning our Parent Edcamp wasn’t an easy thing to do, since we had no idea how many parents would actually show up. But we prepared our Edcamp board and decided to just relax and let things happen. After all, isn’t that the Edcamp philosophy?
We wrote to parents, asking them to come in with questions or concerns they’d like to talk about, and our parent delegates sent out messages as well. Yet, as parents showed up on Back to School morning, most of them said they didn’t have any questions and seemed confused by Edcamp. Despite their hesitancy, a few questions did come in, so we popped them up on our schedule board, with enough questions for one session. We had about 90 parents in attendance, so we hoped each of our 6 rooms would have 10 – 15 parents in them.
What Actually Happened
As it turned out, only the “graduation/university” group filled up. Two of the other rooms remained empty, and three others had only 2 – 4 participants in them. The rest of the parents stood around the courtyard in small groups, talking. Several of them came up to my co-director and I with different comments or questions such as not agreeing with our cell phone policy or wondering how to support the school’s philosophy at home. When we suggested they go to the “Uniforms and Cell Phones” session or the “Philosophy” session, they declined. We were surprised by this attitude and asked around to find out more. From the comments we heard, it seemed like many parents thought that by “discussion,” we meant “complaint session,” and that wasn’t something they wanted to get into at school.
This was an incredible surprise to us. We have wonderful parents who love and support the school, and we have an open door policy – they’re welcome to come in with their concerns at any time. We thought they would be eager to share ideas and learn from each other. But, instead a negative, uncomfortable atmosphere pervaded and we left feeling, quite frankly, disheartened.
Learning From Failure
It would have been easy to say, “Oh well, that didn’t work,” and just give up. But if we truly believe that we learn from our mistakes, we can’t have a defeatist attitude. So we stood up, brushed ourselves off, and began to look long and hard at what went wrong. Then we brainstormed ways to make the next Parent Edcamp a success. Here’s what we came up with:
- Skip Edcamp on Back to School morning. Just hold our general session and then offer coffee and snacks afterwards so that parents can mingle with each other and socialize (since they seemed to want to do this).
- Set up Parent Edcamp at a separate time (rather than using it as the format for Back to School morning), so that only parents who are truly interested show up.
- Set a theme for the Edcamp (ex: communicating with your adolescent, students and technology, etc.).
- Write parents in advance and ask for their questions, then set rooms up beforehand.
- Come up with strong discussion questions of our own, if necessary.
- Send out the sessions’ questions before Edcamp starts. This completely goes against the Edcamp philosophy, but for now, we think this could work better.
- Once parents become more familiar with the Edcamp model, we can rethink our plans and adjust as necessary.
To Other Educators:
Although this idea didn’t work out for us personally, I still think you should give it a try. I believe Parent Edcamp has great potential for bringing parents and educators together, improving communication, and helping us understand that we’re all working towards the same goal. I’d love to hear any ideas you have for making the experience a more positive one, and if you do decide to try it, please let me know how it works out for you!