Beyond Fundraising

Schools need parents to create change

As we begin a new school year, parents will receive newsletters from school with information about what’s going on, what’s coming up and maybe even an invitation to participate in some way. My advice – get in there!

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Schools are like dysfunctional families. They exist in a kind of bubble where they create their own reality and come to believe in their own definition of “normal.” Dysfunctional families behave better when visitors are over. What schools need are more visitors from the outside world – reality checks – and parents can be that.

No shame and blame

In every school there are great teachers and every board has its great principals, but there are still too many dysfunctional situations. Schools need to be challenged – not attacked and criticized – but spoken to in a rational, adult way about the choices they are making – about technology, about rules, about so many aspects of our kids’ day-to-day lives.

Here is a list of questions I have received from parents:

• Why are they learning from blurry, disconnected photocopies instead of textbooks?
• Why are they watching Disney movies in grade 3?
• Why do they take away recess as a punishment?
• Why are they so quick to suggest medication for my son?
• Why is EQAO causing so much stress?
• Why are kids not allowed to run or use a ball at recess?
• Why does our playground look like an abandoned parking lot?
• Why is my child still being bullied even after I’ve reported it?
• Why does my child say he hates his teacher?
• How can I get my child to like school?

Parents “hand their kids over” to the school system, and then feel shut out. Too many parents do not feel welcome in their schools or feel like they are simply being tolerated or patronized. Others simply keep quiet out of fear of repercussions for their child.

Parent councils too often are just token illusions of involvement. At the monthly meeting, parents are told what is going on in the school, but they are seldom asked for their input, and any input they do give is seldom acted upon. Parents come out in September eager to have an impact on their child’s education, and within a few meetings realize that this is just going to be about fundraising.

Parents need to be part of the discussion about how money is spent, curriculum priorities and school culture. What makes a great school? Ownership and a common core vision. This can only happen through meaningful discussion and participation.

The principal dictates what happens in the school and the teacher dictates what happens in the classroom. Too often our schools resemble small dictatorships. They need to become more democratic. That means more parental input at the local level.

Have meaningful discussions

• In every school there are great teachers who feel the same way you do. They are often parents themselves. Get to know them and support them.
• Get to know your child’s teacher on a personal level and have meaningful discussions about education and child development.
• Get to know your principal on a personal level and have meaningful discussions about school culture.
• Get to know other parents and find out what their concerns are.
• Discuss issues of concern to you – issues relating to your own child as well as issues affecting the whole school.
• Attend parent council meetings and make sure important core issues get discussed.
• Look for follow up on these discussions – what has changed?
• Challenge items on the agenda that are trivial or don’t really create change.
• Does your school use social media? Is there a way you can open up discussion there?
• Don’t be afraid to say what you think. There are many parents who feel the same way you do.
• Don’t allow yourself to be written off as a crazy parent. The vocal parent is sometimes isolated and ignored.
• Adopt a thoughtful, patient, intelligent, respectful approach – and don’t go away.

THINK before you speak. Is what I’m going to say…

T     Thoughtful
H    Honest
I      Intelligent
N     Necessary
K     Kind

If it meets these criteria, then speak. It is the only way things will change.

(In many American schools, parents have been incredible agents of change – transforming individual schools and whole school districts. Rent the 2012 movie “Won’t Back Down” with Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter. (It’s on Netflix) Based on real events in California, it shows how parents can change schools.)