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trouble

This month our elementary school welcomed a new principal. As with the changing of any leader (be it in business, sports or school), there is always that level of uncertainty. Some questions I heard during this time…will they change everything? Will they see our school for what it really is…beyond the test scores? Will they welcome families and the community in the same way? Or, as my children put it…will they be nice?

Starting over with a new principal feels much like when my game piece, that was over half way around the board, is sent back home while playing the game Trouble with my youngest this week. You are back to first working to get that 6, and then turn by turn, making your way back around the board to not only get to where you were before you were sent home…but beyond that and to the finish line (although in the school relationship, there is no finish line…it’s ongoing).

So, with a new face, comes our group’s responsibility to go back to square one (or “home”) to build that relationship and trust. Much like we do when welcoming new families, through a warm welcome; the sharing of important/key information; and the getting to know what skills and/or assets they bring to our school (everyone has something), we must do with our new principal. The trust piece simply will be earned over time and through various ways including respect, each of us following through on the promises we make, and always doing what’s best for the school and kids and not for one’s self.

If we are truly to work together as a team, before too much time passed, it was important to discuss expectations and communication. These are not givens. Without having this conversation, there is no way one can accurately assume what the other expects and how they best communicate. (I gave our new principal a week I think before requesting that we sit down and go over these). As much as I would have loved to let him get settled a bit more, we have a busy Jan coming up.

So what were some key pieces we talked about?

  • Expectations:
    • What we as the parent group and as parents need from him as the principal
      • I have created a Google doc to list these things…not because the needs are endless…but because sometimes it is those little things that you don’t give much thought to…until they aren’t done or are missing.
    • What does he, the principal expect of us
      • Not only does he not know us, but he may have a different idea of how things should be implemented; asking his preference is the only way to know. In our case, it is different from what/how we did things before. Neither way is good or bad, right or wrong…just different.
      • Not a conversation I have had yet given the newness to the position – but once he gets settled, I will ask him the same question I asked our middle school principal when I first met with him…what role does he see parents and the parent group playing in the school?
        • This is one that I feel isn’t set in stone. The answer doesn’t define how parents are involved…but it does tell you where your starting point is. From there you can push the thinking if needed.
  • Communication:
    • Frequency: On a schedule or as needed (at our elementary school, I find it is needed almost weekly…middle school is far less)
    • Method: not only how they prefer to communicate (email, collaborative Google doc, face-to-face meetings), but what works best (are they always in their office, at a computer, or constantly on the go with or without access to technology?)
      • With our last elementary principal, we played with a variety when we found that emails were NOT the most effective. They got lost in other emails (going unanswered) and at busier times of the year, filling an inbox with dozens of emails each week.
    • Finding the balance of what works for all
      • Without reliable means to effectively communicate – even the greatest of plans will have its limits of success
      • It is also ever-changing. What works in week 1 may not be what works in 6 months. It needs to be evaluated regularly.
  • Successes and Shortcomings:
    • In this conversation we touched on what our school is doing well and how those pieces have made our school community what it is (or isn’t).
      • I say touch because I (as much as I try), as one person, from one lens, cannot accurately sum up all of our strengths and weaknesses. I think for him to get an accurate picture, it will take getting feedback from say our ESL families, our families with children in learning support or the gifted program, families from various economic circles, AND our teachers.
    • We do many great things, and want to preserve what we do well and what makes our school so special – but it is equally important to be candid about our shortcomings and maintain an open mind to new ideas so that we can continue to become a better place by the day for our children.

Our principal is still very new…and I know that although it is smooth going to start, as we dig deeper into tackling tasks, we will have our differences, and pieces may end up back at the start. But, with patience, an open mind, respect for one another and continuing to remember our kids are the why; I can go on believing that we will soon reach that second half of the game board again.


Family Engagement in Middle School

middleschool

 

In the next few weeks, my oldest is finishing up his elementary school experience and moving on to middle school. Having been in the same school for 7 years, we have had plenty of time to build relationships with his teachers. Ones where I feel comfortable that any one of us can address a concern before it becomes an issue. I also had 7 years to become progressively more involved in not just my son’s class – but the school in general. In September, when he starts middle school, I anticipate my involvement will be different.

Last week, we hosted our final monthly home & school association meeting at the middle school and invited a group of our elementary alumni currently attending the middle school to sit on a panel and share their middle school experiences. We also invited the middle school home & school association’s president. The topic came up about parent involvement; we had the H&S president say they still have many similar fundraisers and volunteer opportunities as the elementary schools that need parent participation. While the home and school association was crying out for parent help, several of the students chimed in about how they were OK with their parents volunteering at the book fair or during picture day, but they didn’t want their parents chaperoning events such as the dances.

I have no idea what my role is going to be, come September. I know I cannot jump in with both feet given that I will still be in the president’s role at the elementary school and several other larger commitments – but I know that not being actively involved is simply not an option. That meeting left me wondering; how do you go about getting parents to participate? I can only imagine that by 7th grade many of the parents comfortable with diving into the parent association roles their first year are possibly burned out, and those who aren’t, may need a year or two to warm up to the idea (and at that point they are on their way out and getting ready for high school).

My opinion…

Although being personable, welcoming and putting family engagement efforts at the top of the priority list are important for all schools; I think these are crucial in settings where your families are only there for a few years. You don’t have the time to let the parents “warm up” to the idea of getting involved.

I understand these roles are volunteers, and everyone has busy family lives, but these boards/associations need to build relationships with the elementary school families BEFORE their children start middle school. A rep from the MS should attend a handful of the elementary monthly meetings and the elementary school should have a spot at the MS meetings.

I know fundraising is necessary to fill the gap between what the schools can provide and what we wish for our children to have at school – but I don’t ever believe that should be the parent association’s primary role. I would rather see one large fundraising event for the year, and all other volunteer efforts focused on supporting education. Parents don’t want to sit through a meeting with a dozen parents they either don’t really know or care to spend their limited free moments with – but they are interested in sitting to learn about topics such as tips for paying for college, how to use the technology their children are using or effective ways to communicate with their children, and seeing their children demonstrate what they have learned and worked so hard on.

Let’s provide parents with the tools and resources to better support their children’s education. Family engagement is what has been proven to provide our children with a better education. Family engagement doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Are you a middle school parent? How are you involved? What tips do you have for others? I will share how I am involved (or not involved) going forward.

image credit: baldwinpta.org


SheilaSpeaking

A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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