And when the parent comes to an event held in the classroom, it makes good sense to have interpreters available, and "invite the extended family," which of course is a very welcoming act of kindness and good judgment. The other parent in this list of "types" is the "Busy Parent," who is a person with a work schedule that is hard to get a hold of, or plan meetings for. Get the cell phone number of parents like this, and the email addresses, and "continue to send home their children's work on a regular basis, including writing samples, artwork, and test copies" - and even consider taking digital photos of class activities and attaching those pictures to emails that go to parents.
On a more serious note, the literature on school administration duties as far as training staff to be parent-active and family-friendly offers an article called "Where's the Ministry in Administration? Attending to the Souls of Our Schools." Published in Phi Delta Kappan (Graseck, 2005), though the article uses the word "ministry" the author is not talking about spiritual issues, but rather, he is alluding to the "barrier" that seems to inevitably be erected between administrators and teachers.
The cycle, Graseck writes, goes something like this; "too many administrators misread the central purpose of their work and consequently stumble into a hole, tumbling helplessly downward like Alice in Wonderland." In the process, these administrators lose their ability "to connect with teachers," and in time, erect barriers, which in effect send a message to teachers which says, "My job is more important than yours."
Once the wall is in place, and the impression is given that the administrator thinks his job is more important than teachers' jobs, a "preoccupation with longevity" and "survival" comes into play. Keeping one's job, and keeping the wall (barrier) in place, are efforts that not only waste the talent of qualified, bright administrators, Graseck writes; they are acts of selfishness that "poisons the atmosphere in which he or she acts."
And moreover, these wall-building processes too often lead to a situation in which "the importance of [teachers] developing education-centered relationships with parents" takes a back seat to front office politics. It doesn't take a psychologist to figure out that a situation like that is unconscionable, wasteful, and unacceptable. If the purpose of spending taxpayer dollars on public schools is to give the children of the community the best possible education for theirs and the society's future, then petty behavior on the part of administrators - who are just concerned with hanging onto their well-paying jobs - cannot be allowed to fester in any school.
For his part, the writer, Paul Graseck, who is curriculum director for secondary English and social studies in the Hudson Public Schools (Mass.), recounts that he was appointed, "quite unexpectedly," to an interim principal assignment at a middle school. His predecessor had failed to reach out to the parents or the community, and the school "was in crisis." At a parent gathering, Graseck suggested setting up a "house calls" program, for willing parents; this "spontaneous offer" led to a series of meetings at parents' homes that "turned out to be refreshingly honest and substantive."
Those "house calls" allowed Graseck to "share my background and educational vision" and allowed the community to see the fact that a new principal was very willing "to reach out to the taxpayers who send their children to the school."
This idea has value even for administrators who do not need to put out fires in the community, nor do they need to reassure parents that the school really cares; even when things are going swimmingly between the school administration (and staff) and the parents it behooves school leadership to become a close part of the families of the children the school serves. Graseck's example shows why this "house call" project is worthy.
It was a colloquy, an event market by genuine trust in dialogue," Graseck wrote. "It revealed a willingness to be vulnerable." And, importantly, the conversation between parents and the school principal was "authentic." The discussions were "frank" and they lasted until 11:00 P.M. (when they were only scheduled to run from 7:30 to 9:30). "Griping" was permitted, he continued, but Graseck emphasized "the need to avoid getting stuck in the muck of whining."
His perspective after these meetings has proved to be so useful, he wondered "...how is it that such an enriching practice is not commonplace?" And again, this is a situation where meetings in parents' homes can bring about good communication, can become a regular forum for parents to have their say in their domains (away from the school, which is intimidating for some parents), and can become a way to build trust.
This is what the author means by the title of the article, "...Attending to the Souls of Our Schools." He quotes philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who wrote that people are spiritual beings, "seekers reaching beyond themselves." And further, there is a need for constant input from parents, and communication to parents from schools; "The mind is never passive; it is a perpetual activity, delicate, receptive, responsive to stimulus," Whitehead explained.
Graseck believes that schoolteachers are "obligated to nurture this inborn seeking"; administrators should be expected to "lead teachers in this endeavor, both by precept and by example," he asserted. Of course, that is the point of this paper: that administrators need to provide the inspiration and leadership to make sure exciting, worthwhile things are happening as part of the learning experience in school for children, and that parents should be encouraged to become as much a part of that excitement as possible.
In concluding his article, Graseck writes that "truth seeking" is what teachers and students are really doing, and a school administrator's "ministerial capacity - to listen, comfort, support and inspire - is vitally important to the cultivation of an energetic learning community."
Another way of establishing a steady flow of good communication between the school and families has been created by the Kennebunk High School in Maine; their story is featured in an article in Education Leadership (Beaudoin, 2006). The principal of this high school began meeting on a regular basis with a committee of 11 students in the fall of 2005; together they were working on a "new governance structure," a way to "advance student voice" and benefit the school as well.
The work between the principal and students resulted on a proposal to create a "tiered" structure, which would work like this: the first tier offered "all stakeholders a voice in school decisions through voting on referendums, responding to surveys, or speaking at school-wide meetings"; the second tier included the "main stakeholders" (parents, faculty, student council); and the third tier was the student senate (8 teachers, 12 students, 4 parents), which would review all proposals that go through the first two tiers, and make "final recommendations to the school administration."
The proposal was approved / endorsed by 96% of faculty in February, and in March of 2006, it was introduced to the parents. How did the idea come into play in the first place? The writer of this article, Nelson Beaudoin, is in fact the principal of Kennebunk High School. He writes that four years of "promoting student voice and pursuing school renewal" had been fairly effective, however in the spring of 2005, "a volunteer student task force revealed growing frustration among students."
Although the students had been serving as representatives on the school board, and on hiring committees, and had led parent-teacher conferences, something was missing; "...too many students were on the outside looking in," Beaudoin wrote. Furthermore, most students felt that they had "no clearly defined path leading to involvement."
And so the principal along with student and faculty leadership held a meeting in August, 2005, called "200 People for 200 Minutes for a Better School." "We were afraid no one would come or that we would fall short of 200 participants," Beaudoin explained. But, in fact, 183 people showed up (80 students, 60 parents, and 43 teachers), and indeed, that was pretty good considering it was the middle of the summer. What it led to was an opening of the process "to the wider community," which led the school "to the fringes of our comfort zone" and resulted in "community-grounded changes to our school governance."
At the meeting, data was shared with parents, students and faculty that showed "tremendous growth in positive school climate"; the DVD from Stephen Covey's book, "The 8th Habit," about goal-setting and working together, was shown; and in mixed groups, parents, students, and faculty members "reviewed how fully they believed the school currently empowered their group." More than 20 posters were produced by the three groups, "outlining ideas to improve school governance." The fact that there was a "positive outcome" to the plan was "less significant" than the fact that Kennebunk High School "opened up our change process to the community," Beaudoin concluded.…