How to Recognize a Lifelong Learner

Have you ever wondered why some people seem barely aware of what is happening in their own home or work environments? Do you find that some people insist that myth is fact? Do you know people who quote others but seem to lack an opinion of their own; or people who blindly follow the leader without taking time to learn about a topic from other sources?

If the answers to the questions above are mostly “yes,” then you know that these individuals are not lifelong learners. But what is a lifelong learner? How can we identify them?  Well, I found one of the better descriptions at a school district web site from the Plano (Texas) Independent School District.  Read on for the characteristics that lifelong learners display.

Lifelong Learner Traits

The students of Plano ISD will be 

Self-directed learners who
• accept and seek new challenges in learning.
• identify purpose, define courses of action and follow through with a plan.
• apply prior knowledge and processes to construct new knowledge.
• access and utilize information from a variety of sources.

Effective communicators who
• express themselves clearly and concisely.
• listen attentively, receive, interpret and respond to communication.

Complex thinkers who
• demonstrate creative thought.
• construct meaning, solve problems, make and evaluate decisions using a variety of thinking strategies.

Quality producers who
• evaluate and adjust work to reflect best effort.
• persevere to create products which achieve intended purposes.

Responsible citizens who
• demonstrate respect and concern for self and others.
• assume responsibility for own actions.
• understand and participate in the democratic process.
• demonstrate sensitivity to cultural and individual differences.
• cooperate with others.

Collaborative contributors who
• work with others, acknowledge and contribute ideas, suggestions and effort.
• demonstrate the qualities of positive leadership.

Plano, TX, is a near neighbor to Lubbock, TX (that means the cities are less then 120 miles apart) where I lived for 7 years while earning my doctorate from Texas Tech.  TTU was heavy on the teaching of lifelong learning, and the College of Education stressed that its graduates be not only lifelong learners, but enlightened practitioners. More on enlightened practitioners at another time.  The point is that The Lone Star State has a vested interest in the independence of its students and other citizens.  Independence of thought leads to independence of action, and the intent of lifelong learning is to have and display both.

Now ask yourself this:  If you are a parent, is your school district teaching your children to become lifelong learners, or merely to pass a test?  If you are a teacher, is your school more interested in the whole individual or in where your students’ achievement test scores stand in relationship to the state and the nation?

Now ask yourself, “What can I do within the limitations of my family, job, community, and personal constraints that can help my children/students to become lifelong learners?”

Please feel free to express your thought in the comments section below.  Also, please take the quick surveys in the sidebar.  Thank you for your interest in this topic.

What Does Parental Involvement Mean???

Yesterday, I posted an annoyance over the political educational shunning of parents in the dialog to improve schools. Over and over I used the term “parental involvement.” The intent of that post was that parents–the very people who know their children and the children’s needs better than anyone else–are excluded from major educational discussion and decisions.

The response below was posted earlier today, and I realized that I was using “parental involvement” as professional jargon, without adequately explaining what the term means. This particular individual began to touch on areas that academics consider part of the idea of “parental involvement.” I’ll continue after you read what this individual has to say.

Needing parental involvement just means that teachers are not doing their job well enough. Being raised in China and America gives me an unique perspective into the education culture of both countries. In my opinion, American teachers rely too much on parents to encourage students, teach moral values, and completing homeworks. As an elder sister to a very young teen, I must protest for parents that teachers are shifting the burden of education onto busy parents. Students spend the bulk of their waking hours in school, how in the world can parents fit another 8 hours of “together” time after work and meals? It is a simple fact that while parents are important influences in a student’s life, teachers are a much more powerful force in education if they choose to do their job to the full extend. Parents are not professional educators, that’s why they need teachers. It is not fair to ask them to pick up the slack when teachers can do so much more.
(Posted SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 1:29 PM)

Although not a parent, this sibling definitely meets the criteria exemplifying “parental involvement.” Aside from family expectations, this individual represents cultural expectations as well. Although not Asian, I came from a culture in which I was expected to contribute to my sister’s upbringing, even though I was trying so hard to be more “American,” as defined when I was growing up. I had a foot in two cultures. However, when I was attending school, there were no services provided to help students 1) whose first language was not English, and 2) came from a social unit that differed from the typical American/Western European model of–well, of Americanism. Parental involvement back then meant that the parent was expected to attend PTA meetings and parent/teacher conferences, to appropriately punish their children for misbehavior during the school day, and to make sure the child was doing their homework.

So what is it that academics teach to pre-service teachers about the meaning of the phrase “parental involvement?” In American culture, the traditional parenting parties are the child’s mother and father (or guardians). It is a dyad that works together to help the child grow up into a contributing citizen. Many Asian cultures the responsibility for raising a child to the extended family–grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and cousins, and other blood relatives. Families often have cultural traditions which require the family patriarch or matriarch to make all important decisions for the family and to participate in important events, including those related to school.

Just as “family” means different things to different people, depending on their own circumstances, so too the phrase “parental involvement” depends on a child’s “family” composition. Unfortunately, for many inner city teens, “family” can easily become the local turf gang. For the purposes of discussion about education, I will exclude the gang from the definition of “parental involvement.”

Another point of interest to me in this reply is the following sentence:

“In my opinion, American teachers rely too much on parents to encourage students, teach moral values, and completing homeworks.”

I would like to address this statement in another post. As a parent and grandparent, former teacher and current mentor of educators, this statement rankles on many levels.

For now, keep the discussion going on issues of parental and teacher involvement in educational decisions. Please also feel free to add your own interpretations of “parental involvement” and “teacher involvement.” Thanks for reading! Come back soon for more.

Parental Involvement and School Success

Postsecondary education in the U.S. is no longer holding its own internationally in regard to the quality of baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees. However, the difficulties start much sooner–in pre-school–and the critical and vital link to student success is parental involvement. Research over several decades has shown how important it is to involve parents in their children’s education throughout pre-school to high school. This research relates most strongly to public schools. Unfortunately, it seems that the only place where parents feel comfortable is in their living rooms while they home-school their children. Interestingly, popular news media are showing that home-schooled children do very well, often surpassing achievement test scores of their public school peers.

Last evening, I missed an online forum I very much wanted to attend. It was a panel about what can be done to fix American Education. The discussion, Education Nation Panel Live Stream held on Facebook, was posted as starting at 8:00PM, but it did not state that the time was given as Eastern Time. Oh, well. I got my two cents’ worth into the comment stream, and will not share them here. If you have a Facebook account, you should be able to easily link to the comments.

While reading the comments, I realized two things: No teachers were involved in the discussion, and no parents of school-age children had been invited (not counting any panel member who happened to have children). In addition, most discussion post commentary was contributed by educators, so parents were underrepresented here, as well. This made me wonder, Why not?

The importance of parental involvement in a child’s education process is stressed by every college and university in the country that offers teacher training programs. Yet, beyond scheduled conferences and PTA meetings, how often does the school reach out to parents and invite their participation. Do educators look down at parents because they are not professionals? Do parents feel they are not qualified? What is going on?

Although I have not seen it yet, the documentary movie “Waiting for Superman” supposedly addresses the ills of public schools. From what I am reading about it, however, there is a lot of one-sided argument, and parental involvement is glossed over: Parents are allowed to air their complaints, but not discuss their suggestions for improvement. Just those things–especially not addressing adequately the importance of parents (other than complaining), and not showing the good things educators in the public schools are doing–makes me think this is just another attempt to incite without offering manageable solutions.

But here is the bottom line: Education research has convincingly shown that the single most important aspect of a child’s success is the involvement of at least one parent or custodial adult in the educational process from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Unfortunately, during the past two years parental involvement seems to have lost its importance to the U.S. Department of Education. I blame Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. The parent websites had managed to survive through numerous presidencies, so I can only surmise that Dr. Duncan does not feel parental involvement in education is an important topic. Again, this is DESPITE RESEARCH FINDINGS.

Too many people do not understand educational research. Indeed, much of what is written up and published include professional jargon and descriptions that are difficult for non-professionals to follow. Clearly, more solid information written in ordinary English needs to be available to the general public. Government sites, such as the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), offer links to specific government education sites, including links for parents, as well as explanation of research findings written in plain English. Other links include several to both the home page and specific survey sites for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Another important site is the home page of the U.S. Department of Education, where information is available to the general public regarding long- and short-range college planning, student loan updates, and other sources related to postsecondary education. There used to be a segment of IES that specifically aimed at parents, but that seems to have fallen to the wayside during the past year, perhaps because education is the province of the state, and most states already made parent-related education materials available (not just for home-schooling), or perhaps due to federal budget cuts. Among publications, the most recent downloadable information related to parental involvement seem to be contained in a regional study, Parent involvement strategies in urban middle and high schools in the Northeast and Islands Region (published in 2009), and a program study A Study of Classroom Literacy Interventions and Outcomes in Even Start (published in 2008).

Interestingly, an event local to me (West: Leading Successful School Turnarounds: Learning from Research and Practice) is open only to very targeted individuals, with education union representative, but without any representation of parents (unless “external partners supporting turnaround efforts” counts–which I doubt). Here is the intended audience and location information, for any SoCal parents interested in finding out why they were omitted:

Date: September 30 – October 1, 2010
District and school leaders receiving School Improvements Grants (SIGs), state education agency staff, union representatives, and external partners supporting turnaround efforts in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah.
Expected number of participants: 200

Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel; Los Angeles, CA

Contact: Meg Livingston Asensio 415.615.3196

Parents and teachers, it is time to unite and put the facts before the eyes of government leaders like Dr. Duncan. Dr. Duncan seems to me to be just another pretty boy who takes advice without considering or reviewing sources, as he is too busy to keep abreast of research aimed at education. Although postsecondary education is important and the U.S. is no longer holding its own in regard to the quality of baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees, the difficulties start much sooner–in pre-school–and increase through the 12th grade. Parental involvement is a critical aspect of success, and it is time parents were spot-lighted and helped.