I recieved a delightful phone call from the American School Board Journal which represents the National School Board Association and was asked to give an interview from A School Board Member’s perspective on, of all things, Parental/Community Engagement. It seems I was seen somewhere recently ( Boston) espousing the real benefits of family engagement and was subsequently tagged for their cover story in September 2012.
I did my due diligence and spoke about the subject matter but there was so much more left unsaid for a myriad of reasons not the least of which is this; Many STILL have no idea how families fit into the fabric of schools and we have historically played around the subject matter because ( And yes, I am going to say it) too often, families are felt to be more of an intrusion in an already jammed packed educational schedule during a school year and beyond having familes read to children, help with homework and volunteer WHEN CALLED, this is just another box to check off.
Added to this mess are families who feel for whatever reason, that they are not welcomed when they walk into a school. Whatever do I mean by this? I had a parent call one day who was mortified that she went to a meeting for her child and she could hear the Principal telling the Secretary ( who was not at all friendly) to make her sit and wait. Which she did. for more than 20 minutes. After she was given an appointment. When she was finally seen and began to discuss the issues as she saw them, she was subsequently dismissed as out of hand which so infuriated her, she broke down. Then she called me. She made another appointment and we when we both walked into the room, the Principal again tried the same thing until he became clear that I understood the policies and procedures of said school of which he had broken every one beyond hello. As a direct result of this person, the climate of the building plummeted and the building developed a reputation for being unwelcoming to say the least.
The other side of this coin is the parent who asked for a meeting, was greeted warmly and asked if she wanted something to drink, made to wait less than five minutes where she was then brought into a well lit room , all the participants had smiles and gave solid eye contact. She felt heard because her words were repeated to her for clarification and when it became clear there had been a serious communication issue, the Principal looked at her squarely the eye, apologized and went about the task of making things right. It has been years and this parent still speaks highly of that Principal who has since retired.
I have even had Teachers say it’s amazing how differently they are treated when they are wearing the “parent” hat in the schools their child attends and it brings into sharp focus, what they could possibly be projecting to families that enter their classrooms. I really believe when college students are looking to become Educators, there ought to be a course on working with families. We keep saying “congratulations you are a teacher, here is your class and supplies but oh yes, good luck with their parents…”
This is just a small piece of a much larger issue and I will be discussing parents who are considered a nightmare to schools but they too can be addressed to for the benefit of the children involved. I know, because I have done it. It takes authentic, relationship building on both ends to make this work and if we stop pointing fingers long enough and just be human to each other, things would get better after all.