21 Sep Winning Friends and Influencing Schools
The following is re-printed with permission. It was prepared by a teacher to help parents affirm and assert their collaboration in shaping stronger schools.
As parents, you are trying to provide the best possible scenario so that your children can grow into happy and successful adults. Schools collaborate with you academically, and your role as a parent gives you both the right and the duty to co-operate with schools in bringing about the best learning conditions for all children.
Positively influencing the stakeholders in your children’s education benefits the entire community. Your reputation as a parent leader, as a concerned and informed parent who cares, will allow you to creatively promote the values needing improvement in society today. Remember that most stakeholders are parents like you!
Meeting Other Stakeholders
- Meet your trustee at functions, or simply telephone and ask what issues are most important for him/her.
- Network on report card night to find the parents who are leaders so that you can team up.
- Attend at least one Parent Council Meeting and meet the members. Better still, join the Council.
- Meet the parents who volunteer regularly at the school.
- One encounter counts as one encounter, be it five minutes or an hour.
- Show appreciation and gratitude whenever you can. Praise what is laudable: successful aspects of activities, yearbook, club or team …
- Congratulate staff when an improvement occurs: it leads the way to further improvements.
- Acknowledge achievements by simply stating the facts. (You obtained 14/20 on your test, Joe.) This subtle praise validates individual effort and avoids comparisons with others. It applies analogously to staff.
- Volunteer for something short and sweet: eg. Annual Ontario Ministry of Education testing. Ask how you can help.
- Fund-raising is important for schools but focus on bigger issues at stake that require your attention and leadership.
- At the end of the term, drop off a plate of homemade goodies for the staff room with a little note of appreciation. You will soar in staff’s eyes.
- Make sure you are receiving all the school’s newsletters. The September newsletter usually has a calendar of activities for the year. (Some schools have their information now on-line.)
- Chat with teachers while they supervise the school yard or school functions. Be brief.
- Some teachers use e-mail or e-class as a means of communication. School may have a webpage.
- Smile when you are talking to other stakeholders. Good humor moves mountains.
- Keep conversations brief, cheerful, specific and courteous.
- Using the broken method is more effective than long speeches. Courteously asserting evident or objective truth puts the onus on the listener to provide reasons.
- Call teachers rather than asking them to call you. (Ask them when is the best time.)
- Read between the lines. The adverbs sometimes, usually, often … veil subtle messages.
- Use the right channels: teacher, principal … Exhaust your possibilities before going up a level.
- Make a positive statement to counterbalance each criticism you cannot avoid.
- If the teacher catches you off-guard with a comment and you lack a well-formulated response, pick up the conversation a few days later. Some issues take several encounters to resolve.
- Keep in mind that apparent opposition can be a subtle search for reasons to change positions. The person could also be testing to see where your bottom line lies.
- Remember it takes the time to change, but don’t be afraid to reiterate your desire for higher standards.
- Call your elected trustee to ask how a specific issue is going or to present your concern at Board level.
- Make a compliment or express a concern in meetings: other parents will approach you if they have the same issue at heart.
- Speak to the heart: talk to them parent to parent.
- Always give the staff member the benefit of the doubt.
- Keep the final goal in mind, and then break it down into attainable steps.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: choose your issues carefully.
- Remember that staff may not necessarily agree with the policy but have to back it up. Read between the lines and you may find collaborators.
- Ask for items to be put on the Parent Council agenda. At the meeting, give 2-3 supporting reasons and it will probably fly.
- Suggest postponing items to the following meeting if you need time to lobby for support.
- Support the teacher and principal. Your comments give them the ammunition they need to tell other stakeholders that parents are concerned about an issue.
- Communicate to the principal or Superintendent the good things you observe in the staff or school; then make your dreams for the education system known.
- When you want a change, start by agreeing with the person on a common point and go from there. If you are not getting anywhere, leave the door open to a further conversation.
- Study the school syllabus and discuss course content. Suggest changes.
- The family has a particular role in exemplifying virtue in society. Parents, therefore, play a unique role in influencing fashion by helping children dress and amuse themselves fittingly.
- Remember that everyone uses the excuse Everyone else is doing it. Not everyone is!
- Comment informally on the moral content of plays, variety show, novels studied etc.
- If the school is Catholic, attend Holy Mass at school occasionally. Reflect on what you observe.
- Ask how doctrinal issues are handled in specific classes. Listen.
- Comment on the manner in which students wear their uniform, or suggest changes to make it more modest and becoming.
- Comment on students’ bearing and behavior off school grounds.
- Keep abreast of sex education and presentations of a moral nature in the school.
- Ask the Physical Education, Biology or Science teacher how sex education is handled in his/her course.
- Be vigilant about your child’s reading materials. If they seem sub-standard, communicate your concern: suggest a better title in its place if you can.
- Meet the librarian and visit the library. Reflect on the appropriateness of its contents.
- Inform teachers about recent excellent books you have read.
- Donate a book to the library in lieu of gifts to teachers.
Connecting with Teachers
- Reinforce math and language skills at home, especially at the elementary level.
- Read your child’s novels and discuss them. Many ideas will carry over into the classroom.
- Make sure your child has the same standards at home and at school.
- If you think homework is overlooked, ask the teachers to initial your child’s agenda. This will generate an objective database for analysis and accountability in both directions.
- When a teacher suggests an improvement for your child, make sure there is a follow-up. Call back for feedback after a few weeks.
- Always leave the staff in a good light. Your respect will win their good will.
- Make suggestions, but remember – they are suggestions!
- Congratulate the teacher for instilling virtues in students. Give specific examples.
- Focus on your role as a primary educator, not a subject specialist.