Parents, Who Needs Them? by Guest Thomas Whitby Pt 2

Tom Whitby

After tweeting about schools needing to teach parents about educational technology, I was quite surprised to find out that the idea was widely tweeted all over the twittersphere. This is geek speak for a message being sent and resent around on Twitter. I imagine that even Ashton Kutcher read my thought. Since neither he, nor Demi, tweeted me back, I have no way of knowing for sure, but I hold out hope.

Parents, A Problem for Teachers?!

I was a single and very arrogant high school teacher in the beginning of my career in the early ‘70’s. I made certain observations of parents in general.

  • When most parents came to our school building, they were not there to praise their child’s teacher. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Many parents caused administrators to react to requests, resulting in edicts and orders for teachers. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Parents attended Board of Education meetings demanding and getting changes resulting in administrators giving edicts and orders for teachers. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Parents’ Night required teachers to come back to school at night wearing jackets and ties for the men and dresses for the women. This was a problem for teachers.
  • As a result I concluded that parents were a problem for teachers. To further this “well-founded opinion,” I came to realize that students did their best to block parents from their world in school. They would always share the negatives with their parents but rarely the positives. Again, this was a problem for teachers.

Because everyone in the system reacts to parents, sometimes policies are formed around what administrators perceive as the least objectionable policy in order to make the parents happy. These are policies, which are not solely based on the advancement of learning. These were my observations and not necessarily facts.

Wearing the Parental Shoes

My life as well as my perceptions and observations all changed when I became a parent of two daughters, four years apart. Now, I observed that in elementary school children were enthusiastic about learning, and as a parent, I was with them every step of the way. I knew what they did, and how they did it. As they moved to the middle school, I was less and less involved. By the time they got to high school it was a dinner discussion.

My observation now has been that as parents become less involved with their child’s education, the children became less involved with learning. I know, “The chicken or the egg?” theory.

Technology is Changing our Schools

Now we reach the age of Technology. Classrooms begin to look different. Things can be done in schools that were not even conceived two years ago. All this is taking place while some parents are saying that they cannot even program the VCR. The kids have to do it. By the way, it is now a DVR. I can never understand why some adults pride themselves in being computer illiterate.

Practical Advice

It is now time to add up all of my observations and try to make something of this which will benefit everyone.

  • Parents who are involved with their child’s education will see a child who is involved in learning.
  • Some teachers, who may feel threatened by parents, must still attempt to involve them.
  • There may be some administrators making technology decisions based on what they think will please the parents. They need to know that parents have knowledge of what is needed to help their child learn. Parents, if made comfortable with the technology, can embrace the technology and understand its purpose in the curriculum not only to enhance learning, but to make their child competitive in a technology-rich, work environment.

Why Schools Need Edtech Parent Workshops

Schools should conduct parent workshops to explain and demonstrate technology in education.

  • Parents need to know how it is applied in school, as well as out of school, applications.
  • We need to teach them the dos and don’ts of the internet if they are to prepare their child for the real world, unfiltered and competitive.
  • We need to have people make decisions based on learning and not lack of understanding or fear.
  • The more the parents know, the more they can be partners in their child’s education.


Share your thoughts through comments! Let us know about the challenges you have faced with parents by writing a comment. If you are a parent, would you attend a workshop that demonstrates how your child learns via various technologies? Parents, what are challenges you face with teachers and administrators?

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If you enjoyed this post, please check out Part 1, Tom Whitby’s Profile and the Tweet that started it all!

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at


  1. I would definitely have attended any tech education offered for parents while my kids were in school. We had no contact with school use of technology other than the permission slip! When I’m teaching, I hope to involve parents, as you suggest. Keep up the good work!

    • Victoria,
      My sister who is a parent of a 9th grader said the same thing! She said that the parents at the charter school my niece attends are always complaining they have to pay to learn the technology. The parents want free resources, because they feel silly asking their children to help. I think Tom has wonderful ideas that parents would really get excited about.

  2. This was an excellent article. You articulated what we’re all thinking with a positive spin!! The problem is when the administrators refuse to be involved with the newer trends. Without their support, it’s very hard to move forward.

    • @bztek, Imagine if you trained 30 parents to use twitter to get hmwk assignments of their kids and communicate with the teacher. The Superintendent would look a little silly when a number of parents called to praise the teacher and technology and the Superintendent did not have a clue. This is how change can occur.

  3. Tom,
    You made a good point with assigning homework via Twitter. I think this a wonderful use of the service. That way parents know exactly what their students should be doing. I think a lot of administrators think that technology is always changing so you can’t use it. Once you buy it, it’s out of date mantra. Or at my school, they are too afraid of using anything about the internet because of viruses or privacy concerns.
    There is definitely a need for administrators to come to edtech workshops too.

    • Neal,
      I teach adults and kindergartners in Germany. The adults and parents of the children have the same concerns about privacy. So far the wiki page I made is beginning to take off but I have worked on this for months with very little response. Do you think some technologies are easier for parents and adults to trust than others? Do you think parents can be eased into acceptance of technologies like Twitter, SecondLife, Moodle, and so forth for learning?

      • @shellterrell, I believe the situation might be a little unique here in Japan. People are very concerned about privacy. I’ve heard it explained to me this way: In America, people lock their cars because they are afraid someone will steal something from them. In Japan, people lock their cars because they are afraid someone will enter their private space. Just to give you an example, we have to shred all of our paperwork that has students’ names on it as well. Student records are locked up every night as well. And that’s just paperwork. I’ve talked to a few of my students about hopping on Facebook so we can stay in contact and some of them (usually the 35ish+ group) are terrified that someone will get them.
        Now I can understand some privacy concerns, after all we’ve been known to teach every one from famous actors to yakuza crime bosses, but it can get a little ridiculous at times.
        I think generally speaking parents are okay with Moodle because its limited to the realm of education, but Twitter and SecondLife might take awhile. I know Twitter for one is not getting any media coverage here in Japan. Hardly anyone knows about it. I have never experienced Second Life, but I know there have been complaints about its more adult offerings.
        Hope this helps Shelly. You are always contributing great ideas!

  4. Thanks for your post. I disagree with a couple of points. I’m writing from Germany – so perhaps there’s a difference in our education systems or social structures that creates the different perspectives.

    My observation now has been that as parents become less involved with their child’s education, the children became less involved with learning.

    I can’t see how these two aspects form a cause-effect pair. Instead, I think they are two processes that occur during the same period in life but without causing each other.

    Parent’s become less involved because the childre grow up, become more self-reliant and depend less on help. A 15-year old simply does a lot of things on their own which a 10-year-old could not.

    At the same time students become less involved with their learning because their interests shift elsewhere as they turn adolescent. They are also more aware of flawed teaching or a teacher personality they don’t like which might turn them off as well.

    I just can’t see how a 16-year-old would be mor involved with learning if their parents took more interest in it. For most of the adolescent students I know it would turn them off their parents even more during their puberty – most of them want more distance from their parents and feel that they get involved too much anyway.

    Parents who are involved with their child’s education will see a child who is involved in learning.

    I can’t agree with this, either. SOME parents might find that, others will realise that their teenage son/daughter is indeed not interested in learning at the moment – or at least not in the topics that are being dealt with at school (the choice of topics and the lack of choice on behalf of the students is one major cause for disinterest, IMHO).

    I DO agree that involving parents in technology questions is beneficial. Most aversion by parents against the technology their kids use is based on ignorance. So creating a common ground of understanding in this field would help.

    • @Andreas Kalt, perhaps it is more that if children see their parents as learners, they as well will be learners. The power of modeling runs deep, especially when the behavior(s) being modeled are perceived as positive and beneficial/worthwhile. It is wonderful to see someone who is so engrossed in learning; so excited by what they are discovering or capable of achieving; unabashed in their perception that there is nothing that they cannot figure out… I think these are attributes that our children need to see, both in their parents, but as well in their school teachers. I specify school teachers because parents are teachers, too. Too many children feel disempowered or feel incapable. Newer technologies just add a relevant layer to this complexity that parents and teachers should understand and embrace.

      • Stephen,

        I also agree children are greatly impacted through modeling. I think this is a very valid point that parents who engage with technology will more likely have children interested in using technology. I am an advocate for teachers (parents as well :-)) having students problem solve with technologies. I think this is still an area in which US schools at least are lagging behind. Thank you for adding these points to the discussion!

    • Andreas,
      Thank you for your well written disagreements! I do agree that students need to have choices in the school curriculum. Moreover, I am glad you shared your experience with us teaching in the German school system. Currently, I live and teach in Germany and may soon be teaching in a German high school. I have read how different the system is than the US. My adult students tell me the different concerns over the system. Regardless of the school system students will be more motivated to facilitate and take responsibility of their own learning if allowed to problem solve and investigate what areas in which they have invested interests.

  5. Hey its Maddy.

    Thanks heaps for commenting on my blog Shellterrell and for answering the questions.

    I dont know how to make the music not play automatically but there probably is a way yet to discover.


  6. Great post. Our school district made parent technology classes available and I had the opportunity to work with several groups of really engaged parents. Although the focus of the classes was how to use some of the basic tools – along with providing a great deal of information about social networking, they had a chance to “pick my brain” during the class about how their children use technology for learning. I found that, for parents who are uncomfortable with technology, knowledge is power – and really prevented a lot of the fear about the internet and helped them understand why using technology is so important for developing life long learning. I hope I can continue teaching these classes as I thoroughly enjoyed working with these wonderful people.

    • Nadine,
      Thank you for sharing this experience with us! I just looked at your blog and it is full of wonderful posts and experiences. I did see your recent post of Sister Mary. I also was privileged to have a Sister as a mentor at the private high school I worked at. She was one of the most active members of the school and loved anything to do with technology!

  7. I agree that supportive parents contribute to improve students’ learning experience.
    I’ve created wikispaces for my classes and I mistakingly thought my students would feel more motivated to work at home. A few of them did and I’ve received lots of praise from some parents who thought it was a great idea.

  8. if children see their parents as learners, they as well will be learners

    This, I think, is an essential point. However, as far as I can tell, the families in which learning is happening beyond the school years are fairly limited. Too many people still are not lifelong learners (and don’t want to be).

    The same goes for many teachers, unfortunately. There are still many (at least in Germany) who preach their students to be flexible and adapt to change but are unwilling to learn even the most basic skills that were not around when they studied.

    Regardless of the school system students will be more motivated to facilitate and take responsibility of their own learning if allowed to problem solve and investigate what areas in which they have invested interests.

    This is crucial, I think. I teach a science class in Baden-Württemberg (the southern-most state in Germany). A new subject has been created which integrates the different sciences (unusual in Germany, until now) and operates on a project basis (no “lessons”, work groups, large goals to achieve, 2-to-3-month time frames). The motivation you see in students once they’re able to plan a project, assign tasks to each other which they feel will get them closer to reaching the goal, etc. is just tremendous. One phrase I always hear when I ask for the great motivation tehy have is: “because we can work more indepentently without a teacher telling us what to do all the time”.

    Just to be clear: this is not easy for them: they struggle to organise themselves, they have to evaluate their own as well as the group members performance (which means they have arguments with each oterh) but still they like it better than lesson-based classes.

  9. One K-12 district where I was the Technology Coordinator had a parent resource center that included a well equipped computer lab. The lab was open during day and evening hours and had a play area for younger children allowing parents to drop in or sign up for specific training sessions. Classes on computer use and Internet availability were offered at no cost to parents in this low income community. While the greatest interest was in job searches and job skills, there were parents who demonstrated interest in learning how the computer and Internet could enhance their life and overall learning. Now, this was before the explosion of My Space, Facebook, and Twitter, yet I am fairly certain these social networking tools would be of interest to parents. In addition, most parents do have a high interest in understanding what their children are learning. Programs that offer parent workshops that support student learning are generally well received.

    Many schools have computer labs that go unused during evening and even some daytime hours. With the right PR and a team of workshop presenters, a series of parent workshops would be a value added aspect of the school environment.

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