There is often concern about the parents who are present and heard “at the table”. It may be easy to dismiss the voices of those who “show up” by saying they are just a vocal minority and/or not “representative” of the parent community or district. The avenues for parent input may not appeal to all parents. Who is invited and empowered to participate at the table? Are those who ask the hard questions or challenge mindsets welcomed and accepted as much as those who agree with staff or support the status quo? Are voices of dissent engaged, or ignored? What if the ones at the table are really informed or want to be informed about education? Are attempts to reach out to those not present at the table encouraged? How much willingness is there to change and do something different in this regard and who should lead this?
Should the concern be more with why parents are not at the table or leave the table? Do they come to get informed about the school and get handed a fundraising task instead? Do they come to ask a question or share a thought or idea but others do most of the talking? Do they come for a first time and not get welcomed or introduced? Do they come and find the process of the meeting confusing or lacking? Are they invited in the first place?
Maybe parent groups should not be involved at all in aspects of school planning and governance, but would that really be ideal? I continue to believe that there is much to be gained from parent perspectives and consultation on different matters. I think good leadership and facilitation skills can help ensure good outcomes, but it does take time and commitment.
I am no longer involved with school councils or parent committees, but I have been a member on a number of different school councils and I have dialogued with many parent members of school councils and parent groups locally and provincially over the span of many years… but maybe I am still missing something on all this.
A recent blog post by George Couros directed my attention to the Ontario’s Leadership Framework. George is doing a series of posts to examine its components. In this post he focused on: Building Relationships and Developing People. Some of the strategies in the framework extend to parents as well. George included a mention about “critical conversations”:
Once we start to build relationships and show people that they are valued, it is important that we are open to having critical conversations. People are less likely to challenge and feel comfortable being challenged if they don’t feel valued. This is highlighted a couple of places in the document:
- School leaders will…demonstrate respect for staff, students and parents by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas, and genuinely considering their value.
- School leaders will…establish norms in the school that demonstrate appreciation for constructive debate about best practices.”
In this post, Developing the Organization, George included some statements about parent engagement vs. parent empowerment.
As it should be, tapping into our parent community is expected under the framework…”
**Please read his post for his elaboration on this.
Another question might be: Are parents at the table because the school culture is not open and transparent, or are they there because it is? How might “the tables” differ? Are the relationships and participation improved if the principal is “leading from a transparent place”? (See this article, “How Transparency Can Transform School Culture”.)
Also from the Ontario Leadership Framework document, a mention about a meaningful role for school councils:
Some encouraging stuff.