Professional Learning for Parents
Schools will have more success in addressing the issues of public education in their school systems — issues like student performance, funding, school closures, and bond elections — when there is a strong group of parents who partner with their children's schools as well as with the school system as a whole. Schools need a core group of parents who understand these issues and who commit to working with their school board to provide quality schools for all children in the community. These are parents who share with the school board the desire to serve all children well. Some would say that parents cannot take on this role, but experiences in certain school systems suggest otherwise.
School boards can encourage schools to actively engage parents, using various methods of professional learning. Many school systems have sponsored parent leadership academies, which can be great learning collaborations with parents and educators. Some school systems (e.g., the School District of Philadelphia) have started system-wide leadership programs, bringing parents into a yearlong learning process that exposes them to school finance, facilities, accountability, testing, curriculum, school board governance, and other topics. Individual schools and school systems can both welcome parents into decision-making groups where their input is valued and considered. This can be done effectively in school councils, site councils, and communications groups. Parents may wish to begin by becoming involved with their children's schools, but as they learn more, they can become engaged at the level of the entire school system.
Schools, educators, and school boards can be apprehensive about parents becoming overly engaged. Such fears may be justified — especially when parents attempt to exert influence without a proper understanding of educational issues. However, when parents have the information and knowledge they need and truly partner with schools for student achievement and continuous improvement, schools will benefit. When parents understand the challenges that teachers and public schools face, many will become advocates and work in partnership with schools. Parents can be part of the school system's learning community, and when they are included as valued partners, they will work to help build a community for public education.
How Engaged Parents Impact Schools and School Systems
One powerful example of an issue parents can help with is professional learning for teachers. Parents often complain when schools release students early or for an entire day so that teachers can engage in professional learning. They do not understand the implications of professional learning and how it will benefit their children in the classroom. Most schools don't make an effort to educate parents on the importance of professional learning. However, the more parents learn about student achievement, quality teaching, and reducing barriers to student achievement through collaborative professional learning, the more they are in a position to support professional learning and advocate for it with other parents.
When school boards tackle tough issues like closing schools, merging schools, or changing attendance boundaries, engaged parents are the best partners they can have to help find solutions. But parents have to be part of the process long before those issues come up. Parents need to understand things like funding, demographics, and facilities management. If they obtain the proper professional learning themselves, they can have an understanding that goes well beyond their child's school and extends to the entire school system.
Parent engagement works best when schools, school systems, and school boards realize the potential role of parents and proactively include parents in the process. Professional learning, when extended to parents, helps teachers in the classroom and contributes to a climate of school success.
What Do You Think?
How might an effective parent-engagement strategy assist your school system with its current problems?
This post is adapted from A School Board Guide to Leading Successful Schools: Focusing on Learning.
Stephanie Hirsh & Anne Foster