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Build the Bridge Between Schools and Their Communities

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What happens when a parent who is very involved as a positive supporter of the school and district comes up with an idea or request and "Yes" seems the only answer?

Far from an imaginary tale:
A parent approaches a principal with an idea to commit one day of the school year to having professionals from an international corporation with offices within the school district volunteer to present to the entire school on their career choices. The parent would coordinate the whole thing. The principal, appreciating the involvement of the parent and the value of the idea, agrees, but expresses a concern that after this parent's children graduated from the school, the parent would move on along with their children and abandon the effort.  The parent assured the principal she would continue her dedication to the project.

Far from an imaginary ending:
The first year goes extremely well.  The second year it was an assembly instead of a full day of activities. Third year, the parent follows her children to their next school.

Listening to parents and embracing their ideas for adding value to schools is paramount but there are lessons to be learned from this scenario.

  • How does the idea fit with the school vision?
  • If meritorious, should it be considered for sustained inclusion?
  • What are the steps necessary to get feedback and buy-in from the faculty?
  • Who within the school can become engaged and invested in the idea to help it become sustainable?
  • How will the positive impact of the idea be followed and measured and to whom will it be reported?
  • If the idea does not fit with the school vision and/or the current needs of the school, how can the conversation leave the parent feeling heard and respected?      

Parents who are involved in the education of their children can be found in classrooms as Class Parents, as volunteer chaperones on school trips, serving in the PTA and on other school-based committees, attending board meetings, or coming to the school to discuss matters with teachers and leaders. They are seldom a majority and they are vitally important.

Developing and nurturing positive relationships with parents and community members is a key to a healthy school/community relationship. Parents who feel connected to the school and its leaders and teachers are active participants in the education of their children. They are also ambassadors to other parents in the community. Their positive and respectful attitude toward the school and education, we hope, passes to their children. We all know parents who are disconnected from schools, who have strained relationships with schools, whether from past experiences,  a simple reticence to enter the foreboding school environment, or the absence of active welcome  from the leaders and teachers. They, too, share that attitude with their children and their communities.   

In new draft of the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards for school leaders (2014 draft), Standard 9: Ethical Principals and Professional Norms requires that "An educational leader promotes the success and well-being of every student by adhering to ethical principals and professional norms." One of the functions in support of that standard is "Works to create productive relationships with students, staff, parents, and 
members of the extended school community."

The Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC Core Teaching Standards) states in Standard #9: Professional Learning and Ethical Practice that:

The teacher engages in ongoing professional learning and uses evidence to continually evaluate his/her practice, particularly the effects of his/her choices and actions on others (learners, families, other professionals, and the community), and adapts practice to meet the needs of each learner.

These standards for leaders and teachers emphasize the value of relationships with families and the extended community. If it wasn't a value held before, the new evaluation systems for teachers and leaders have reinforced the importance of engendering these relationships.Relationships which build the future of communities and of our society, begin in our schools. 

A decade ago, a book, From Outrageous to Inspired, was written by David Hagstrom. It captured the stories of his experience as principal of the Denali Elementary School in Fairbanks, Alaska. As principal of the school, he asked the question "What do you want for your children, here at Denali?" to all members of the school community. He describes a process of going out to meet the reticent parents and the slow but intentional process of creating the welcome that brought them into the schools. Public schools, after all, belong to the communities they serve and we know all benefit when the school building walls do not keep parents out. Inspired leaders make them penetrable even for the most reluctant. Each has something to offer: a story, a skill an insight that will make our work more successful.

Resource:
Hagstrom, David (2004). From Outrageous to Inspired: How to Build a Community of Leaders in Our Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

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