Same Page/Same Side

Happy New Year!  It’s January 1st and the first day of the A Blog About School January Blogathon.  In a show of solidarity, I thought I’d throw a few half-formed thoughts of my own into the blogosphere.

Parental engagement isn’t about telling parents what to do at home or assigning them homework.  It isn’t about managing parents or inviting parents to weigh in with only positive comments on limited, district chosen topics.

Parental engagement starts with getting on the same page and same side as the parents in the school community.  This requires a genuine interest in listening to parents and taking the time to respond respectfully to their comments, questions, and concerns.

In case you are unsure, the following responses read as disrespectful or as managing parents rather than engaging them:

  • You are the only parent concerned/complaining about this issue.
  • We are going to implement this program even if 100% of the parents object.  (See comments here.)
  • Any variation of you may be happier home schooling or sounds like you should home school, especially as an initial response to a parental concern or question.
  • We don’t care to understand why large numbers of students are open enrolling out of the district.  (Actual response from a school board member: Good, that’s fewer kids we have to worry about educating.)
  • Parents in this district are never satisfied.
  • Not responding at all to telephone messages, e-mails, or letters.

What responses might be more respectful or supportive of parental engagement?:

Return all phone calls and reply to all e-mails and letters, even if only to acknowledge receipt or to say that you have forwarded the comment, question, or concern to some other employee/board member who is the appropriate person to address it.  If the parent didn’t want a response they would have just complained about you, the school, or the district to their family, friends, and neighbors.

Don’t claim the policy/program is research- or evidence-based without providing the research or evidence.

Explain the reasons for the policy/program at issue.  We’ve always done it this way isn’t a good enough response.  If it is based on professional experience and judgment, then please explain it to us.  If the reason is administrative convenience, putting standardized test scores above an individual child’s academic needs, or any other reason you would be embarrassed to tell a parent, it is probably time to reconsider the policy/program.

If the policy/program is in conflict with the educational values and philosophy held by many in the community, it is probably time to reconsider the policy/program.

For parents, how would you like (or not like) to be engaged by your child’s teacher, school, or district?  Would you describe your district as on the same page and same side as you?

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3 thoughts on “Same Page/Same Side

  1. Karen W Post author

    By the way, thanks to Matt Townsley for “engaging” in the comment sections. I appreciate hearing your perspective.

    Reply
  2. Chris Liebig

    Fantastic post.

    The first item on your list of “don’ts” — “You are the only parent concerned/complaining about this issue” — is a particular pet peeve of mine. It’s the classic bureaucratic one-two: First do everything you can to make complaining futile; then interpret all silence as agreement. Suggested comeback: “How many parents have spoken up in favor of it?”

    I also like your suggestion that if a policy or program is “based on professional experience and judgment, then please explain it to us.” I would add: don’t just explain *that* it is based on your experience and judgment; explain *how* your experience and judgment led you to this conclusion. I’m all in favor of having judgment and experience play a larger role in educational policy, but no one should expect anyone to defer blindly to claims of expertise. If you’re unable to explain your conclusions, you’re not really an expert.

    “Don’t claim the policy/program is research- or evidence-based without providing the research or evidence.” Amen. This one might actually be too generous — maybe it should start with “Don’t claim that the policy/program is research- or evidence-based if you haven’t read the research or evidence.”

    Reply
  3. StepfordTO (@stepfordTO)

    Great post and list of don’ts, to which I might add: “don’t use the term ‘success’ — as in ‘parent engagement leads to student success’ — without explaining what you mean by success. And don’t assume parents agree with your definition.”

    Reply

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