Friday, April 29, 2011

Meeting Parents Half Way

by Steven W. Anderson

If you have read any of my leadership posts in the past you know I am all about reflection. One of the most important things good leaders do is reflect. Time must be taken to think about the direction our organizations are going and if any adjustments, at any level, need to be made.

Many leaders, schools and districts have done a great job with reflection. They have looked at everything from the way kids get to school to what is done with them while they are there to teachers and the types of professional development offerings.


There is one place that maybe we don’t think about much. Or it might be an afterthought. Or in some cases ignored all together.


I will admit, when I was in a leadership position (School Improvement Team Chair) when I was at the school level I didn’t think about it. Our group worried about test scores, staff morale, bullying and other topics. But, like any leader should do I have since reflected on that time I spent in that position and realized we missed chance to really think about parents and what their perceptions of our building were.

Parents should be advocates on our side. But sometimes they are seen as the enemy rather than our ally. There are lots of terms out there. Absent parents. Helicopter Parents. Parents We Love To Hate. But they are still parents. We still want to believe they have the best interests of their child in mind, just like we should.

And it isn’t just schools. Individual classrooms are that way as well. When I was in the classroom I had a teammate that refused to call parents, sit in on conferences, just about have nothing to do with them. She said her job was to teach kids and didn’t get paid enough to “deal” with parents.

The whole point of this is we have to think differently about our parents. The best ally you can have in your classroom is your parents. Think about it. When you want to do something “outside the box” it is easy for your admin to shoot you down. It’s a lot tougher for them to shoot down a room of 30 parents. (Now don’t go doing anything against your admins wishes and said it was ok because I told you so. I will deny everything.)

There is a cliche about flies and honey and vinegar that fits in here...

One of the issues with parents and schools that comes up time and time again is that many parents are bitter towards schools because of their own experiences growing up. In the current reform movement the battle cry is that our schools have virtually remained the same for the past 100 years. So this argument makes sense.

I was talking to a teacher the other day about another teacher at his school. He was saying there is a teacher there that has been there for 34 years. Quite amazing and something to be proud of. Except every year the admin in this school has trouble putting kids in her class because many of the parents had her as students and remembered their experiences and don’t want their child to have the same.

I dunno about you but I don’t think I would want to be remembered that way.

There are a lot of issues at play here with parents. But I think there are some things schools can do to be more parent friendly. And this isn’t even a list of things you can necessarily do. Just some things to think about.

Look at your building from your parents point of view. When they get there do they know where to go? Who greets them? It all comes back to customer service. Silly I know but it’s true. Even if your school secretary (or teacher) has had a bad day, the parent walking through that door doesn’t know that or the circumstances around that. Each parent that walks through those doors is a guest. We have to remember that.

When was the last time we asked parents what they really though about the classroom, teacher, school or district? If we want to be better we have to understand our weaknesses. By asking the parents what we are good at and what we could be better at we can begin to change our school culture, for the better and perhaps change minds.

How many parents are involved in major school decisions? Sure there might be a PTSA. But I mean on your School Improvement Team or Leadership Team. Do they have membership there. In NC we are required to have a parent involved on our teams. Perspective is important. And they can sometimes see things we don’t when it comes to our buildings.

What do you think? What works well in your building or your classroom when it comes to parents? What could you be doing better? Leave some comments below.

You may also want to checkout the archive from this week’s #edchat. It was all about parents and there were some really great things said and ideas toss around. 

Image CC DoctorStrange


  1. It is not enough to have "a parent" on a team. It is far to easy to pick a parent who is a teacher-pleaser and will agree with everything said. That provides no extra value to the team, and offers only the illusion of parental inclusion.

    Locally, I have seen parental relationships handled well, with parents actively and eagerly participating in the schools to subtle discouragement of parents ("your kids don't want you at the school") to simple incompetence (parents volunteer to help fix a 5-year-out-of-date web site and are initially welcomed, then told that there isn't enough staff time to let the parents do anything). Most of the maintenance staff laid off, but parents not allowed to fix things, since that is a union-protected position (positions protected, but not the people who were laid off from them).

  2. I have worked on both sides of this (school administrative office and as a parent) and can say that the artificial divide that is created between the educators and the parents is only harming the children. As a parent who currently champions my kids' teachers, I know that my support is invaluable to us all and I can only hope that community-building among teachers and parents will continue to grow, no matter the challenges that arise.


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