What Congressman Paul Ryan Can Teach Us About Modern Fathering

It is truly disappointing how some folks in the political sphere reacted to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s public concerns for what serving as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives would do to the work/life balance he seeks and his relationship with his family.

Over at Medium, I write on the importance of Ryan’s public statements, and how every father can and should learn from this important topic. From my electronic pen:

America’s fathers must stop making excuses for why we can’t be a larger part of our children’s lives and we must stop punting responsibility for our families to the women in our lives. We must spotlight those men, like Paul Ryan, who ask the right questions and make the right choices, seeking the right balance, and trying to do what is right for them and for those that truly love them.

The role of a father in the 21st century cannot be understated and cannot be dismissed. As we demand more from our schools and our communities and our kids, it will fall to fathers to be a key part of any meaningful progress.

For #SmartParents, It’s About Getting Smart

I’ll admit it. I get into far too many Twitter fights where someone asks me what right I have being involved in education policy or even talking education and classroom instruction, having never been a teacher myself. Sure, I can offer the resume, detailing two decades of experience in education policy and education research. I can cite my tenure as a school board chairman, school volunteer, and advocate. But more often than not, my immediate response is, “I’m a parent.”

During my time in the education trenches, I have seen too many parents who seem to abdicate responsibility for educating their children. The common line is that it is the school, and more important, the teacher, who is responsible for instruction. That what happens behind the schoolhouse doors or between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm is the responsibility of the educator, and not the parent. But we all know that just isn’t true.

The most successful of schools are those where educators and parents work in partnership. It isn’t the adversarial relationship, where parents come in when there is a perceived problem with the teacher or the student. It isn’t the absentee relationships, where parents don’t come in at all. And it isn’t the “Facebook” relationship, where parents pretend they are active parts of the school community to impress their friends, but in reality could never find their way from the office to their child’s classroom without a guide.

No, the success comes from parents and teachers working together. It comes from parents being smarter about how school work, what is expected of teachers, what is expected of students, and how parents can support all of the above. It is about parents understanding what teaching and learning really means. And yes, it is about a keen understanding of assessment and how good tests should be used (and how to determine when a lousy or unnecessary test is presenting itself).

I’m proud of my role as a parent. One of the reasons I wrote my book, Dadprovement, was to issue a call to arms to have fathers more involved in their children’s lives. That means more than just putting down the iPhone during the weekend soccer game or asking “so how was your day, sport?” on one of the few evenings when the family is actually having dinner together. Real involvement means knowing your kids’ interests and friends and teachers and classroom lessons and general progress in the learning process.

Earlier this year, I was part of an important project from Getting Smart called #SmartParents. It was developed, with the support of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, to provide both guidance and personal stories from parents to parents about how we can be more active and positively involved in our kids’ learning process. The final product of that effort is a new book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning.

I am incredibly honored to be a contributing author to this book, offering an essay based on my SXSWEdu talk earlier this year on parental engagement. But I’m even more excited by the total product and the inspiration, the guidance, the support, and the sense that we are not alone that it provides to parents, all parents of school-aged children. It serves as a true unifier for those parents who understand the power of public education, for those who know how important a positive experience in the classroom and with the teacher is, and who are committed to being a part of that learning process.

As I recently said about Smart Parents:

There is nothing more powerful than an engaged, informed parent. Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning provides all families – regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or zip code — the tools and resources they need to be effective advocates and inspiring teachers for their kids. Successful learners need smart parents supporting and encouraging them.

Check out the book. You won’t be disappointed. And I guarantee you will see your own family in at least one of the stories told. If you don’t, I’ll personally buy the book back from you.

Happy reading!

Woo Hoo! I’m Evergreen

Readers of the Eduflack blog know that I am particularly proud of my book Dadprovement, which chronicles the adoption of our two children from Guatemala and what raising these two incredible kiddos has meant to me and how it has helped me change my priorities and become a better father, husband, and man.

I can’t put into words how it feels when someone tells me what the book has meant to them or how it had impacted their own thinking or their own family dynamics. And that is the point — to break from the stereotypical role of the “father” and to help establish a new look at what a modern-day day really is.

Earlier this month, I learned that Dadprovement was the winner of a 2015 Living Now Evergreen Medal from Independent Publisher. According to IP:

We launched the Evergreen Book Medals to commemorate world-changing books published since the year 2000. We all seek healthier, more fulfilling lives for ourselves and for the planet, and books are important tools for gaining knowledge about how to achieve these goals for ourselves, our loved ones, and for Planet Earth. Divided into five categories, these books are honored for their contributions to positive global change.

For 2015, Dadprovement received an Evergreen Medal for Personal Growth. In honoring my book, the folks at Independent Publisher singled out an excerpt that is particularly important to me:

I was playing at being a father; I wasn’t being a father. I was playing at being a husband; I wasn’t actually being a supportive husband. I was doing everything I had always done. I was being selfish. I wasn’t being a real man, and I certainly wasn’t being a real husband or father. I was a selfish little boy. And I had had enough.

Big thanks to the Independent Publisher judges who bestowed this honor, and to all of those who have been so supportive of both the book and of my personal evolution.

Happy reading!

The Importance of Smart Parents

Earlier this year, I shared a post I had written for Huffington Post, as part of Getting Smart’s Smart Parent series. In it, I wrote about the importance of fathers being actively involved in their kids’ lives. That included their academic/school lives. From my perspective (and I can only write about what I’ve experienced with my own two kids), technology can’t replace an involved parent. But an involved parent can dramatically increase the impact of ed tech, particularly as it relates to student learning.

At the time, I wrote:

But the real power of the technology comes from understanding what is happening in class, from seeing my kids’ strengths and knowing how to supplement what is happening. It comes from seeing where they struggle and embracing where they soar. Such determinations can’t be made from a report card or an email from the teacher or a quick review of the evening’s homework. They require hands-on knowledge that comes from being in the classroom, watching the learning process.

That essay, along with a great number of other pieces Getting Smart inspired for its Smart Parents series, is now part of a new book coming out soon. The book is available for pre-order now, and you can learn more about it here.

Big thanks to Getting Smart, Huffington Post, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for making this book happen and for advocating for such an important (and often neglected) topic–the role of parents in the educational development of children.

When asked why this book and project was so important, I told Tom Vander Ark and company:

There is nothing more powerful than an engaged, informed parent. Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning provides all families – regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or zip code — the tools and resources they need to be effective advocates and inspiring teachers for their kids. Successful learners need smart parents supporting and encouraging them.

And I meant every word. Parents, pre-order, receive, and then read the book. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Fathers and the Learning Process

Over at Getting Smart, they are running a new Smart Parents series that looks at parent perspectives on many topics exploring the future of education. One of those topics is what relationships help drive the learning process. And this week, dear ol’ Eduflack has a piece that explores how fathers are an important driver in the learning process. For this piece, I put on my Dadprovement hat, reflecting on some of the parenting lessons that have come as a result of my award-winning Dadprovement book.

As I conclude in the piece:

Last year, there was a study in Psychological Science that found that daughters aspire to greater professional goals when they see their fathers doing tasks such as washing the dishes. Consider that for a moment. A young girl has a better chance of become a CEO or governor of even president if she sees her dad at the sink, scrubbing away at the remnants of dinner.

If that’s true, imagine the possibilities for all of those girls (and boys) who see their dads volunteering in school or visiting the classroom, right alongside all of the moms they come to expect. Imagine how much more interesting that science project looks when dad is in the class to help. Or how intriguing the field trip can be with dad leading a group. Or how that device can be transformed from a Netflix machine to a learning device that opens up new worlds and unlimited possibilities.

I hope you’ll give the full piece a read here. And I really hope you give the #SmartParents series a deeper look. It is definitely worth the time, and provides some interesting perspectives on school improvement and technology in learning.

Imagine What a Father Could Do …

This week, I was in Austin talking about my Dadprovement book, fatherhood, and parental engagement at #SXSWedu. Had a tremendous time, and met a growing number of folks eager to see dads more involved in their kids’ school lives. 

I’ll reflect more on that over the weekend. But I wanted to share the following. Typically, when I give speeches, I work without text and without notes. Partly due to habit, partly due to dyslexia, it is just easier for me to think in advance about what I want to say and then just let ‘er rip once I get there. 

So I’m thankful for one of the audience members for capturing this nugget from my presentation. I was referencing a recent study ther found the girls who observed their dads washing dishes were ultimately more successful than their peers who did not. 

And special thanks to Ethan Demme from Demme Learning for capturing the photo. 

(Also posted on the Dadprovement blog.)

Engagin’ in Austin

We’ve talked about SXSWedu in this space before. It is part Woodstock, part prom for all of those who spend their waking hours thinking about education issues and how technology and innovation and social change can influence what is happening at our educational institutions.

Well, I’m thrilled to announce that Eduflack will be speaking at this year’s SXSWedu conference in Austin in March. On Tuesday, March 10, I’ll be leading a solo session on the importance of parental engagement. More specifically, my Forget Leaning In, We Need to Dadprove session looks at how we “need to inspire a generation of men to realize what they can and should do as dads, being active in their children’s lives and involved in their learning processes.”

The presentation will be based on my Dadprovement book, which examined the topic from about as personal a perspective as possible, me and my own family.

We’ve all heard the stories. Women are told they can’t have it all, so they need to “lean in,” and all but forget about families if they want to be successes. Men pretend they have both, but largely go through the motions on the home front (or on forums like Facebook” to appear like the ideal. And what happens when a father falls from a high-profile position? He inevitably announces he is departing for “family reasons,” until we can regroup and get back on that career ladder.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it shouldn’t. When we talk achievement gaps and student learning outcomes and college/career ready and our hopes and dreams for our kids, we can only help our children achieve it when we are all truly active and engaged parents. We need to be active, invested participants in the process, recognizing that parenthood is the most important job we will have, or at least the job with the greatest potential impact.

If you’re down in Austin for SXSWedu, be sure to check out my session. I’m the solo act for the 1:10 slot that Tuesday. You’ll never forgive yourself if you miss it. (and I’ll even have some free books for those who check it out)