Monday, January 18, 2010

Parental Involvement

There's always lots of talk about how "bad parents" make it impossible to educate kids. That's the kind of post on Inside Ed that's guaranteed to get a swift retort from me, usually something along the lines of - there's plenty of blame to go around; public schools, by their definition, must take all kids; how can you so quickly condemn people you don't even know? etc. I don't think there's uniform agreement on what a "bad parent" is, so let's leave that for another post on another day. What I'd like to talk about is parents who don't ever come to school. Borderline parents - they'd like to come but somehow there are always schedule conflicts with the PTA meeting or the back to school night. These are parents that I think would come to school if they just felt a little more welcome or needed. After attending close to 10 schools between three kids there are some things that I've noticed have made a difference to my husband and I.

Value a parent's input on controversial topics
I realize asking for parent's input about something that is going to make people mad delays the decision and robs some of the absolute power from school administrators. In my opinion, dropped out of the sky decisions that have big impacts on my kids rob me of any sense of control. If I do come to future meetings I'm going to be skeptical that communication is honest. I'm not saying parents should have control, but honest, open communication when an issue comes up works wonders. This communication the hallmark of "good" and "bad" principals IMHO and I'm betting it's a reflection of the kind of communication going on between teachers and the administration as well.

Consider logistics when scheduling meetings
Having gone to local schools and far distant schools I've got to say that this might be petty, but it's usually the excuse I use when I don't want to attend a meeting. Things to consider include. If you've got both local and distant parents don't only consider one group. Realize that single parents are the norm as are families with more than one kids and often that kid will be younger. That means even if you're running a middle school or a high school consider elementary school kids. Realize that people work in jobs that will not give leave for school actives. There are people who take buses and do not have cars. If rules are made that don't take family's needs into account you might have good teacher turn-out or good discussions, but don't be surprised if your percentage turn-out is low and this lack of consideration will make it much harder to turn around attitudes if you schedule a better meeting in the future.

Find a way to let everybody make meaningful contributions
I understand that parents are being asked into schools to support these schools. Sometimes this is about about improving facilities. I'm happy that I'm in a position that I can pitch in monetarily most of the time. Not all parents can. Even when I can pitch in I'd like to know what the funds are being used for. There are parents who can help with sweat equity if you let them. Even if I can give money I feel more connected to the freshly painted walls if I held a paint brush. Even if you're buying computers or projectors parents can be involved in installation

Make meetings welcoming but efficient
I have a lot of things to do and typically I'm making choices. There are only so many long winded, disorganized meetings I can go to in a day and honestly, I usually do those while getting paid. Good meetings start on time, have agendas that are distributed ahead of time and are followed, accomplish things that require face-to-face communication (i.e couldn't have been done on paper), develop a sense of team as opposed to assigning blame. If there's going to be one-on-one discussions work on schedules ahead of time as opposed to making me wait in lines.

Consider divide and conquer
It's hard to meet all these objectives at the same time. Consider having several meetings to accommodate different schedules. This is more work for the school, but it shows that parents are valued.

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