Building Home-School Connections for Continuous Learning

It is natural as educators that our focus is upon the learning that occurs within our classrooms. We dedicate great volumes of time to the planning and delivery of learning experiences that will see the needs of our learners and that will prepare them for their lives beyond school. Beyond the content we teach are the mindsets, dispositions and competencies that we hope our students will develop and overtime internalise. We hope our students will leave our schools with an awareness of their growth and fixed mindsets, a positive disposition towards thinking, a healthy dose of scepticism, resilience in the face of adversity, a sense of curiosity and the desire to do something with the wonderings they have. 
These are indeed lofty goals, but ones that by striving for ensure our students will have received that 'life-worthy’ education we value so dearly. 
These are also goals that we cannot hope to reach alone. These are goals that can only be achieved through collaboration with all stakeholders. Through the deliberate nourishing of success network around every learner and the most significant piece of this (after the learner) are the learner’s parents. 
Parenting is hard work. It is a role full of delight but one that comes wrapped in challenges. Our children arrive in our lives with no instruction manual and sufficient uniqueness to ensure that what works for one, probably won’t work for the next. We do all that we can to support them as they grow but often times we are not sure what is best. 
Our children grow and develop in a space at the theoretical intersection of the many worlds they inhabit. They learn to 'play the game' on multiple fields, code switching competently as they need to. They learn what is expected of them at home, at school, with their friends and in the wider gaze of the public spaces they move in and out of, all the while trying to make sense of multiple and often divergent messages. 
This is where home-school partnerships can play a vital role. When schools communicate, and share strategies they are using to develop mindsets, dispositions and competencies with parents and when parents adopt these strategies and elements of a metalanguage for learning and thinking, our students are better able to integrate the desirable attributes. 
Carol Dweck’s concept of Growth vs Fixed Mindsets illustrates the benefits of this partnership effectively. At a superficial level the concept is readily understood. We have either a growth mindset, believing we are able to acquire new skills, expand our capabilities and through effort achieve success or we have a fixed mindset believing our ability is fixed and beyond our control; we have what we are born with and that is that. Such a superficial reading of Carol’s work brings with it many dangers. It paints a picture of people with one mindset, and of people with the opposite. It hints that if we focus our thinking on the value of effort to success we will move into a growth mindset and our goals will come easily. 
The reality is that we are all a mix of both fixed and growth and we all move between these mindsets based on how we respond to the context we are in. We also know that while through sending the right messages to students about the processes of thinking, learning, risk taking and of attitudes towards success and failure we can shift their mindset towards growth, we also know it is easier to move them in the opposite direction. We believe that by valuing the processes of learning, the effort given to a task, the risks taken in trying new learning moves we will swing the lever towards a growth mindset and so in schools where this is a focus great effort is given over to this objective. 
But all of this effort is undone if we have not taken the time to bring our parents along for the journey. Our students might exit our classrooms bubbling with enthusiasm generated by the feedback provided for their latest learning success, excited that their teacher noticed the additional care they had taken in editing their writing and their excellent word choices. At home, they are greeted by parents who are equally excited. But the critical point is what occurs next. Will the parents understand the value of praising the process, or will they praise their child for being so clever? Will parents know how to give praise that aligns with the school’s growth mindsets programme and how do we expect them to do so if we have not included them in the conversations leading up to this moment?
With this in mind, I share some strategies which might be of use to parents as they support their children through their learning journeys. The goal is to provide some idea of the strategies and learning moves being made in the learner centred classroom that while perhaps taken for granted by educators, are not typical of the experience parents have had of school and so might be completely foreign. 
Praise Effort, Process, Resilience and Struggle
When you are praising your child give specific, actionable praise around what they have rather than what they might be. Yes, your child is wonderful, amazing and perhaps even smarter than you but knowing these things won’t help them. Hearing that they have made variety of success-oriented choices, demonstrated resilience, taken responsible risks, embraced challenge and shown persistence will encourage them to do more of this in the future. 
The power of Yet.
There are many more things that you can’t do than what you can, but if we have belief in our capacity to grow and learn there is little we cannot accomplish if it is what we truly desire to do. This is where the power of ‘Yet’ comes into play. Add it to those statements you once made about what you cannot do, and you see your potential in a new light and your children are likely to copy you. Don’t say "I can’t do that” say “I can’t solve that YET"
Questioning Strategies
Teachers utilise a broad set of questioning strategies and see the value that comes from using the same language across learning areas and years of learning. These are useful when having a discussion with your child where you are hoping to push them towards deeper thinking. It can be useful to do this as a game. It is definitely important to explain why you are doing this; not because you are questioning their ideas, or that you think they are wrong, but because you want to encourage a deeper level of thinking. Some students initially think you are looking for different thinking; an alternate answer because their first attempt was wrong.

  • WMYST – What Makes You Say That – or What makes you think that?
  • Five Why – Have your child make a claim about a piece of knowledge and then challenge them by asking why (at least five times). It can be great modelling to reverse roles and let your child ask you Why five times. (Maybe don’t try this for the first time with ‘why do I need to help with the dishes’ or as any part of the bedtime routine)

Shift their focus from answers to questions
Instead of asking what did they learn today or what did they get right today, ask 'What questions did they ask today?' or ‘What questions occurred to them?' or What questions did they struggle with today?'. Sharing the questions you asked, found interesting and struggled with can take this even further and is great modelling of life-long learning. Particularly with the questions that they struggled with, don’t rescue them but get excited about the possibility of exploring these together.
That leads on to . . .
Don’t Rescue Your Child
Learning occurs when we are confronted with new ideas for which we do not have a ready-made solution. If we are going to learn what to do when we don’t know what to do, we must have opportunities to spend time in situations where we are struggling with new learning. It is tempting at this point to rescue the child and provide a solution and yet when we do so we rob them of the opportunity to learn. Next time you are confronted by a child struggling with a new piece of learning help them move forward with questions like, ‘How might you explore this idea further?’, ‘Can you look at the challenge from a different perspective?’ or ‘What do you think you know that might help here and what do you think you need to know?’. 


A More Beautiful Question
This is a great website for generating beautiful questions with some great examples to explore. The flow of finding questions is to notice something that could be better and then asking:

  • Why . . .?
  • What if we . . .?
  • How might we . . .?

You can tweak the questions to the situation, maybe ‘How might we explore this . . .?’
Taking time at home to explore great questions developed by your child can be immensely rewarding and can be an excellent bonding opportunity. You might like to start a “Wonder Wall” where all members of the family share the questions they find most interesting. Doing so will send strong messages about the value of questions and curiosity. 
The Understanding Map
This identifies the types of thinking your child is likely to need and suggests thinking routines to support this. Your child's teachers will use tools like this to identify thinking moves they want to see more of from their students and to then identify tools to make their thinking visible. When you adopt these thinking moves you are showing that you value thinking and recognise that it can be enhanced through the deliberate use of thinking routines. 


Nine Apps for Parents
This is a set of strategies for parents to use in supporting a culture of thinking developed by Harvard’s Ron Ritchhart. Don’t be confused by the title, these are practical strategies to apply, not computer/tablet Apps. It includes some of the ideas from above with some nice additions such as giving time to explore and share passions (those of your child and your own) making your thinking visible to your child and naming and noticing the thinking moves being made by all members of the household. 

By Nigel Coutts