This article shares the success of a learning journey with parents in a PYP school in China.
One of the things I love about the PYP is the emphasis on community learning. I am continually developing my understanding of the programme and am fortunate enough to now be in a place where I can pass on what I know to others. The teachers in my school are also continually learning and I see evidence of this in their lessons. In the past two weeks I have seen students dissecting organs and a music provocation where classes visited an organ being installed in a concert hall. It should go without saying that the students are learning, but this blog post is to share the success of the learning journey our parents have been on.
I remember when I took my first PYP coordinator job a couple of years back. We were in the process of authorization and our consultant advised us to build community with our parents through creating a parent newsletter and scheduling regular parent information sessions. We created presentations for our parents about the history of the programme using the wonderful resources available from the IB Digital Toolkit.
After I attended my second PYP workshop, I realized that our workshop leaders were modelling how to teach in the classroom and we could use their strategies in our classes, and for staff meetings. I immediately changed my staff meetings to be more collaborative, but it was not until later that this initiative carried over to my parent information sessions.
Over the past couple of years I have led parent coffee mornings on the five essential elements, concept based curriculum, approaches to learning (transdisciplinary skills) and assessment. My own learning and development can be clearly seen in the way these meetings were facilitated, from that first presentation in the auditorium to the most recent one on the five essential elements.
During the essential elements session I started with the provocation, “What is worth learning?” and had the parents share in groups. I provided large sheets of paper and pens for them to illustrate their thinking. I told them that they could present their thinking in any language in any form.
The combined parent responses seen below amazed me. From those early days when parents were asking me for more homework and if there was a textbook they could photocopy, to this current development is incredible. Themes like: “learning how to learn”, “appreciation of art” & “care for the environment” really showed me that we, as a learning community, are starting to better understand the programme.
Here is a suggested way to plan a parents coffee morning:
- Send out the invitation to all parents and ask for RSVPs. Ask them for questions about the programme to encourage active participation. Do not be deterred by small turnouts. I have had turnouts of 2/3 parents.! The numbers will grow over the years you invest in your community.
- Have the tables set in groups as a classroom would be and have large sheets of paper and markers on each table.
- Offer refreshments. I start the meeting at 9:00 am but tell parents they are welcome for coffee anytime after 8:30. These casual conversations that can provide very interesting information.
For the first few minutes of the coffee morning, I introduce the 5 essential elements or the theme of the event. After that, I pose a provocation, “What do you want your child to learn?” I give as much time as necessary for parents groups to share their thoughts and write them down. If you are in a school with a large number of parents who do not speak the language of instruction consider having a translator at their table to help out.
Next, I ask each group to present and reinforce their points, like “We want our children to learn how to learn.” After this, I do my presentation but always come back to their ideas and connect them to the theme of the workshop.
I cannot stress the fact that where we are at now did not happen over night; it has been two years. We took it a step further this year at my school and scheduled not only PYP coffee mornings but also MYP and DP ones throughout the year. The calendar may be seen here. This gives our parents time to plan their schedules around these events. I am noticing a direct impact between the coffee mornings and school culture. As parents grow in their understanding of the programme, they seem to be happier and promote what we are doing to other community stakeholders. They are a valuable part of our school’s development.
Brian Lalor is the Head of Primary at Xi’an Hi-Tech International School in China. He has been teaching internationally for the past 13 years but is relatively new to the PYP, 3 years. Brian loves learning and connecting with educators worldwide. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianlalor.