Speaking Up at Parent Meetings
Last month, the parents at our youngest child's elementary school were asked to come in for an information evening. At such meetings, we get to know the new teacher, receive information about class rules and procedures, and ask questions.
What was new this year was the introduction of a new student management system, with accompanying app, and textbooks from a different publisher. Both of these will have some impact on how I manage my software and devices, but the big surprise was yet to come.
What I learned that evening is how important it can be to let teachers know when they are making incorrect assumptions about your use of platforms and apps. Let me explain what happened.
Facebook as a communication tool in schools
One of the items on the agenda was a school field-trip. The kids would be away for a week, and lots of photographs would be taken, and shared with us. At this point, the teacher informed us that a join link to a private Facebook page would be shared with all the parents, with a limited time window. Additionally, parents would be kept up-to-date about travel times on the return journey through that same Facebook page, quite essential information.
I was annoyed about missing out on the daily photo updates, but knew I could see those via my partner's account. Missing out on arrival times was a different story, however.
I was sitting there with about 20 other parents in a rather hot classroom. I thought I'd better keep quiet, partly to avoid extending the evening, and partly because I was sure I'd be the only oddball without a Facebook account. It turned out I was wrong about that assumption.
At the very end of the presentation there was time for questions. I told myself, 'If she asks one more time if there are any other questions, I'll raise my hand.' She did, and I raised my hand and stated that I don't have a Facebook account.
At this point, I was quite surprised to to hear another parent join me, and several others murmur with shared concern. We came to a solution that, at least the updates about return times would not be limited through Facebook. For the photographs, parents who did have Facebook were asked to share photo's with parents like me, who didn't.
Neither agreement was remembered during the field trip, but I am still glad I spoke up. I hope it gave the teacher some food for thought regarding assumptions about app use, which could affect how communication is planned in future. It was also good to see I was not the only parent without Facebook.
Parents, pick your battles
I have written before about the challenges parents have of finding the right balance between speaking up and becoming a 'problem parent'. I have experienced this dilemma from both the parent and teacher perspectives. The 'complaining parent' is a label you'll want to avoid, if only for pragmatic reasons. You'll have more sway if you are the parent who picks their battles strategically, which will ultimately lead to the best outcome for your children.
A good friend once gave me relationship advice, using a phrase that sounds childish but is actually quite insightful. I feel it also applies here. He said, 'You know the saying "tit for tat?"' A better strategy for a harmonious relationship with your partner is 'tit for tit for tat'. It's a playful version of turning the other cheek, but with a reasonable limitation.1
In my case, there were two issues that had come up in the meeting that bothered me. The Facebook as communication tool was one. The other was that the new textbooks have QR codes in them, which students can scan with a smartphone for revision. I was tempted to raise this point during the meeting too, but felt doing so might weaken my challenge Facebook challenge.
The QR code came up in parent discussion afterwards, and I was again surprised to discover that some parents don't allow their children smartphones yet either. I do continue to be baffled by the assumptions made by schools about the smartphone use and even participation in social media, like TikTok, at elementary school age. But this is something that can be addressed another time, perhaps initiated by another parent.
Google in schools
While schools relying on Meta's apps (WhatsApp is very popular in school communities) for important communication is bad, there are even bigger issues that need to be addressed, and on a totally different level. I am talking about the widespread introduction of Google hardware and software in schools today.
I did express concerns when Chromebooks and Google platforms were introduced, but was very aware that the Head of School was most likely not the person behind the decision. Adoption of curriculum, assessment and IT platforms is decided on a city or even state or national level, and challenging such decisions requires more than raising one's hand at a meeting.
I know someone who has taken on this challenge, with some success, and I am looking forward to sharing his thoughts on this blog in the near future!
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I have a hunch I have read about the 'tit for tit for tat' strategy before. I'm tempted to say it was in Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene but I am not sure.↩