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A Fruitcake to a Powerful Organization

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I often hear parents say they don't feel welcome at their child's school. This is especially the case if they disagree with something the school leadership or staff has done: When parents voice their disagreement, they are sometimes shut out. Of course, strong leaders welcome constructive criticism, welcoming it as a source of continuous improvement and creating a climate where it is encouraged. But what can parents do in situations where they feel completely excluded?

After my last post where I encouraged parents to advocate for home visits, a father wrote to me asking how he could get that best practice started in his daughter's school. He had tried before and was concerned that no one would listen to his suggestion.

One of the best practices I have observed is suggested by the Commonwealth Institute For Parent Leadership (CIPL). CIPL offers a variety of programs aimed at bringing together parents, teachers, community members and school administrators for training, information and experiences that help them work as partners to raise student achievement. The program was developed by the Prichard Committee in 1997 as a way to support informed, skilled parents as effective advocates who are passionate about improving public schools.

During a recent CIPL session, director Bev Raimondo talked about the correlation between school leadership accepting input from parents and the number of parents voicing similar concerns. Bev shared this visual to illustrate the point:

1 PARENT = A FRUITCAKE

2 PARENTS = A FRUITCAKE AND FRIEND

3 PARENTS = TROUBLEMAKERS

5 PARENTS = LET'S HAVE A MEETING

10 PARENTS = WE'D BETTER LISTEN

25 PARENTS = OUR DEAR FRIENDS

50 PARENTS = A POWERFUL ORGANIZATION

When voices which need to be heard are being ignored, numbers equal power and attention.

Again, great leaders understand the direct relationship between strong parent and family involvement and academic achievement and do everything possible to cultivate it. They develop a school culture that supports parent and family partnerships. They know educators cannot be successful without families. Many great suggestions and examples of school cultures and climates that encourage parent and family involvement exist and are readily available. When schools truly partner with parents and families, the kids are beneficiaries.

As we move forward we must understand that taking the next big steps in education will demand the involvement of parents and families . If we're not already there, we must reform our thinking, culture and climate to ensure that our parents and families become and remain deeply involved in our schools.

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