The ‘to don’t’ list

# 1:  we DON’T need to educate our parents . . . .

Kevin Bartlett, Founding Director of the Common Ground Collaborative argues we don’t need to ‘educate’ our parents with one-way flows of information. We do need to co-create our Learning Communities with them.

What role should parents play in their child’s school?

As a school leader, that phrase, ‘We need to educate our parents’ always jarred with me. We would make a change that impacted their children and then that phrase would pop out. I’d always think, ‘Really? The ones I’ve met seem pretty well-educated already‘. So, when it comes to parents, and learning, some new perspectives:

The Mine School, Ecuador

The Mine School is a truly inspirational new school in Quito, Ecuador, where the founders are the leaders are the teachers and the vision is clear and bright…it’s ‘MINE‘ as in ‘Mine, Yours, Ours’. Mine is a school built, literally, on the wish lists of children. The CGC has been fortunate enough to work with Mine from its inception. From the get-go, we’ve worked with parents in very different ways. We’ve worked with them to connect to their own personal learning stories, and from those to send messages to teachers, ‘Dear Teachers, please remember that…’. Positive, insightful, constructive messages in Spanish and English.

We’ve asked them, ‘If MINE is the answer, what was the question?‘ and ‘What would you like to give your child that your own schooling never gave you’. We all want to give our children something better.

We’ve had moving, authentic conversations, and left the evening exhilarated and affirmed. At  Mine, we call the parents and children our ‘Learning Families’. Names matter.

Here’s what Carolina Ulloa, one of the Founding Team at Mine, has to say about their experiences:

Parents are an integral part of Mine and together we are building a learning community in which shared principles and conversations lead us in building our relationships, and together we are part of the growth of the lives of each one of our students.  As one parent shared with us, “I am part of the community, I participate, what happens at school is replicated at home”. 

Mine is about conversations and agreements with our students, families, teachers, the CGC, the Ministry of Education, and everyone who wants to be part of learning and growing together. 

The International School of Arizona

Similarly, with the leaders at the International School of Arizona, we’ve unpacked the CGC’s 3 Cs of Learning with parents, based on their own professional or parenting expertise …the concepts and competencies they have built, and the character traits they want for their kids. We showed them the new CGC Portrait of a Learner, and asked, ‘Is this what you want for your children?’. Again, heartfelt, affirming answers.

Montcrest School, Toronto

At Montcrest school in Toronto, we had a wonderful learning conversation with parents, based on their own experiences as learners…for better or worse! They drew, then told, their own ‘learning stories’, sharing in groups in genuine, moving exchanges of lived experiences.

They then translated those into ‘ messages’ to the teachers, about their children, their unique qualities, their hopes for them.

The Pan American School, Bahia

With the leaders at the Pan American School of Bahia (PASB), Brazil, CGC used Parent Focus Groups to solve problems and map new directions for the school…genuinely, deeply. Into those groups we’ve invited highly intelligent, critical parents..not just the obvious friendly faces. Smart, perceptive people. We need them.

Here’s what Mike Martell, Director of PASB, shared about their experiences:

The Pan American School of Bahia is the only international school in the state of Bahia as well as the only non-profit school owned by a parent association. Because we are so unique within our region, many of our families have difficulty understanding the important role they play in our community and in their children’s learning journey.

Early on in my tenure, it became obvious that we had extremely active, parent WhatsApp groups that were not always positive. Pandemic isolation made it harder to  bring parents together to build relationships. Trivial issues began to gain momentum.

To address this issue, we put our heads together with the CGC and reinvented The Focus Group!  When we hear problems beginning to percolate in the WhatsApp-o-sphere, we invite parent representatives to participate in engaging, transparent, and honest dialogue. In these focus groups, we use Cognitive Coaching techniques with the sole purpose of listening to deeply understand, while we ask parents to share their perspectives and ideas for solutions.  Leadership  teams use their understanding to generate solutions while giving feedback to the Focus Group and creating a cycle of co-creation in problem-solving. Building community through conversations!

 As Eduardo, Chiara’s father, told us,

 “Even in the pandemic, the school made an effort to listen to the parents and all decisions were made together.

Beacon Private School, Bahrain

At one of the CGC’s Founding Schools, the Beacon Private School in Bahrain, we have invited the Parent Teacher Learner Association(PTLA) to join us for a series of engaging, inquiry-based conversations on key aspects of learning. Amira Hachem, Beacon’s Curriculum and Training Coordinator, shares these insights:

At Beacon Private School (BPS), in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we believe in creating meaningful and authentic partnerships with our parents.

‘BPS has worked closely with Kevin Bartlett to rethink the way we engage and collaborate with parents. We kicked off the new year with a learning conversation facilitated by Kevin, entitled ‘If Beacon is the answer, what was your question?’ Parents were invited to respond to the following prompts: When you were choosing a school for your child(ren), what were you looking for? What special school qualities did you hope to find? Why did Beacon seem to be the best fit? What did you never get from your own schooling that you would love to give to your child?. It was insightful and affirming listening to parents conveying their wide range of educational aspirations for their children and seeing how closely their hopes for their children matched ours.’

Building learning cultures, learning curriculum, learning communities.

In the CGC we work in close partnerships with our member schools to build a Learning Culture, a Learning Curriculum and a Learning Community. As Margaret Wheatley said, in Leadership and the New Science, ‘We need to reach across traditional boundaries and talk to people in all parts of the system’. She also pointed out that it’s only a culture if everybody owns it. The same applies to a community. That’s how CGC thinks. We’re proving that  we don’t need to ‘ educate’ our parents with one-way flows of information. We do need to co-create our Learning Communities with them.


Kevin Bartlett is the Founding Director of the The Common Ground Collaborative

With grateful thanks to Bambi Betts for the idea of the ‘To Don’t’ list.





FEATURE IMAGE: by AlexMile on Pixabay

Support graphics kindly provided by The Common Ground Collaborative


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Common Ground Collaborative