Connecting with Parents over The Big Disconnect

Late at night, I am reading a book that has become popular in school circles called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, by Catherine Steiner-Adair and Teresa H. Barker.

I wish we could make it required reading for all parents, and I offer some suggestions to facilitate that process in today’s post.

The book paints a pretty bleak picture of family dynamics in the digital age, and much of it rings true. Adults are withdrawing into our devices and interact far too little with our children at a time when they need us the most. We are more connected with the external world than ever, more invested in making computer-mediated connections than ever, and less connected with those right under our own roofs. All of that is taking a toll on the development of the whole child.

What does all this mean for those of us who have been actively engaged in the pursuit of a paradigm shift in education toward more systemic and ubiquitous technology integration in schools to better prepare our children for participation in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy (to transforming teaching and learning for the 21st Century)?

The reality on the ground in schools is that more and more technology is being put into our students’ hands. Given that reality, and in recognition of the powerful hold that computer-mediated communication in virtual spaces has over our children in their formative years, some schools are rolling out digital citizenship curriculums (Common Sense Media has developed wonderful and free curricular resources in this area). Some schools, on the other hand, are simply trusting students to develop their own digital citizenship skills – a high-stakes roll of the dice given the potential for the wrong Facebook post to impact lives.

The technology push in schools is not likely to abate. New teaching and learning technologies simply offer too much potential to spur more personalized and active teaching and learning environments, ultimately leading to improved learning outcomes. We live in a world, too, where a highly sophisticated technology skill set (hopefully combined with a strong interpersonal skill set) will be rewarded in a tightening and competitive jobs market.

The Big Disconnect focuses primarily on family dynamics in the digital age, but what about the dynamics of the school-family relationship? For obvious reasons, parental engagement with the life of the school remains an elusive goal. Parents lead busy lives juggling job and family responsibilities, but partnering further with their schools as primary stakeholders in the success of their children will (properly approached as a partnership) have a profoundly positive impact.

Ironically, however, virtual spaces are the tools that schools might well soon be deploying to facilitate the dialogue between schools and parents on this subject of The Big Disconnect.

I am imagining a two-pronged approach, with facilitated meetings in both physical and virtual spaces:

  • At the beginning or end of the school year, when parents assemble for beginning or end-of-year ceremonies, a challenge should be issued to parents to read The Big Disconnect and to engage with one another as well as with the school on the subject of successful strategies for helping our students make the most of today’s technologies as cognitive tools without neglecting the family and peer connections that are so vital to their socio-emotional development. Parent volunteers could host discussion groups, or those groups could be facilitated by school administrators or members of the school’s technology committee in face-to-face style meetings.
  • Since we are so spread out in physical space, meetings in virtual spaces to hold these same conversations should also be part of a holistic approach to the problem. Google Hangouts (the subject of both past and future posts here at transformingteachingandlearning.wordpress.com) or group Skype sessions should be regularly scheduled between school personnel and parents on the subject of The Big Disconnect. In your weekly newsletter push, send out a signup form for the various Hangouts/Skype sessions. These can be recorded and shared on YouTube (as unlisted or private) with the broader school community if they are particularly profound and productive.

If you are a school administrator and you are reading this, you are probably thinking that the last thing you want is a challenge from parents to your school’s noble push for innovation in teaching and learning. You probably already hear too many complaints from parents, and this book does open a bit of a Pandora’s box in the area of technology integration in school settings.

Ultimately, though – and that is the spirit of this very virtual space – thoughtful, guided, productive dialogue between stakeholders is most likely to lead to the best outcomes for all involved. These conversations should be happening, and in fact are already happening.

We are, after all, about the development of the whole child. Let’s have conversations along those lines, in both physical and virtual spaces.

Let’s connect about The Big Disconnect.

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