A couple of weeks back, our school division invited a representative from the Alberta School Councils’ Association to provide a workshop on some of the functions of school councils. The presentation reminded me of the important work that should be done by this group but often gets lost because of well -intentioned volunteerism. I don’t believe that staffs will ever say no to the work that many of our parents do in schools today but, the true essence of their role is far more reaching than simple involvement.
One of the non-negotiable roles for school councils and parents in general, is being well-informed about school/division goals, results, and the strategies that are being implemented to enhance the quality of education for their children. They should at the very least also have a general understanding of the state of education.
Pause: Look at your last school council meeting and see how much time was devoted to discussing the above.
Part of the issue is that most of us in education are quite content with the high level of involvement and volunteerism and shy away from the “meatier” topics. The flip side is that many parents don’t really want to be highly engaged in things like school plans and budgets because they just really want to help out. Neither of those are necessarily wrong but I think we can do better!
To begin with, schools need to communicate without using a bunch of “edubabble.” One of the courses I teach for Gonzaga University is Educational Leadership and School Improvement.” I constantly remind my students (and my own staff) to “keep it simple.” Ensure that the language you are providing makes sense and is easily understood by parents, the general population and your own staff. Fancy education terms may look great on paper but, if your parents don’t understand them, schools have lost a tremendous opportunity to engage. Schools must also be able to provide multiple types of results (i.e. not just large-scale standardized assessments) for parents to review and ask questions. One piece of data that schools have not leveraged well is that of improvement. The media tend to love to communicate low achievement results without any context. For example, if you have a class where 50% of students writing a standardized assessment are not at grade level, why would you assume that they should suddenly be at grade level on the test? However, what a powerful and motivational message when schools communicate to parents the growth and the closing of the gap that occurred from one year to the next.
We recognize the importance of fostering a strong partnership between home and school and so school council questions, parent inquiries and/or teacher requests should never to accusatory in nature. I always ask our schools to review any results through an “autopsy without blame” lens. Pointing fingers or making excuses never leads to positive conversations. Instead, I would suggest pluralistic questions like the ones below. These questions might assist school council members and parents as a whole in gaining a better understanding of their child’s education, the school’s results and education as a whole.
- What might be some reasons for these results? (positive or negative)
- What trends are you seeing in the data?
- What are some key strategies that you will be focusing on in the coming year? What might be some results you’ll be hoping for with the implementation of these strategies?
- What are some of the school’s greatest strengths? What are some of the school’s greatest areas for growth?
- What are some ways that I might be able to assist in my own child’s learning?
- What are some of the trends in education? What are some of the things the school is doing to best prepare students for an ever-changing future?
- What types of professional learning is the staff engaging to impact their own practice?
This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it does provide for some focused discussion around the school council table. When we can get to this level, school councils are not simply involved but rather they are engaged and can contribute the effectiveness of schools themselves. In the end, we all want high quality learning for our students and school councils that are effective in their roles, can contribute to that goal!