Once again, I am pleased to publish a guest post by Nancy Angevine-Sands (@WithEqualStep).  She has provided thoughtful and insightful posts about parent engagement to my blog in the past here and most recently here.

I appreciate her thoughts regarding Ontario’s School Councils and also her on-going work with parents and staff as a parent engagement advocate.  She asks…

What’s in a Word?

Responding to a half-hearted “Sorry, Mooom,” I’ve been known to tell my children that words are cheap; actions matter. However, I’ve seen the effects of words – both good and bad – on the faces of my children and students. They can inspire or deflate. Words have meaning. Words speak volumes. Words show intent. In the last few weeks, there have been many places where I’ve read the word “Parent” council – newspapers, twitter, school signs – when they mean SCHOOL council. One word. A world of difference.

In 1996 (confirmed and revised in 2001), Ontario’s provincial government established SCHOOL councils, whose purpose was “through the active participation of parents, to improve pupil achievement and to enhance the accountability of the education system to parents.” Among other things, they would do this by making recommendations to schools and Boards. (most provincial school councils are similar to Ontario in makeup and intent)

Complete School Council Guide here.

Each council is to be made up of parents, teachers, support staff, community members and, at middle and secondary level, students. They are not parent groups, meeting within schools to support decisions made by others. They are official SCHOOL bodies where all stakeholders partner together for student achievement.

But words are cheap if Board officials, school staff and parents do not let their actions fit the intent of the word. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, parents should not be expected to understand and support education initiatives if they do not receive training in them. They will not adequately advise schools and Boards on school matters if they do not receive regular information on policies and procedures. They are not a SCHOOL council if they don’t help to build partnerships with teachers, staff, principals and their community. The word is SCHOOL.

When SCHOOL councils work effectively, they are able to determine how to meet the needs of their whole community. Information workshops, sharing parent/guardian ideas and talents, developing resources for home and school, involving parents/guardians in training on new methods in education, finding numerous ways to communicate with each other, and building ways to problem-solve school issues are all within the purview of councils. This is part of what Dr. Karen Mapp encourages in building the capacity of parents to support their children’s education. (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/14/11/building-capacity-family-engagement) I believe that this is the intent of SCHOOL councils.

All parties need to understand that the word ‘partnership’ is a fundamental building block supporting the intent of SCHOOL councils. Ignore this and we’ll only have “parent” councils. And then our aim of improving student achievement will not be fully realized.

Words are cheap when they aren’t respected or understood by the user or receiver. But when the correct words and their intent are realized, they can be powerful. Great things may happen when everyone involved in a common cause are on the same page. Remember this when writing articles, tweeting, announcing meetings, speaking about your work, and supporting the infinite possibilities of SCHOOL councils.

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Nancy welcomes your feedback and comments here, or you can connect with her on Twitter at @withequalstep

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