Since connecting on Twitter with Nancy who is behind the @WithEqualStep Twitter account, we have chatted a lot about parent engagement in education. She has mentioned the workshops that she does in her district to support school council functioning and parent engagement, but I didn’t really know the details of her work and outreach. Nancy agreed to answer and clarify through three direct questions of mine and I am happy to share her responses on my blog. I appreciate the wisdom she articulates behind what she supports and facilitates for school councils — for all its membership and the schools they serve. I am also excited to hear that she is close to launching her website with more resources and information about her work. In the meantime, an interview…
1. Tell me about the kinds of workshops you do? Why do you do them? Who are they for?
Nancy: “We work to support family engagement in education. Our workshops are designed for parents, educators and community.
For councils, possible workshops include the legislation that governs school councils, writing practical bylaws, and suggesting best practices for effectively supporting their parents. We do the same for the province’s PICs. For educators, we assist them in creating sustainable engagement that is integrated into the curriculum and life of the school, for example building beneficial two-way communication. We also work with principals to understand the legislation so they may establish effective partnerships with councils. Finally, working with community organizations, we have developed and delivered workshops for newcomer parents on the Ontario education system and their place within it.
At the end of the day, every parent and teacher wants only the best for their children. We help councils, PICs and staff build the capacity of our parents to do just that.”
2. What will school council members learn about in your workshops?
Nancy: “Few councils have a clear understanding of what their role and responsibilities are or could be, so they may learn more about the legislation governing school councils. This begins with the writing of meaningful bylaws that govern how the council will work in their community. Once established and working, we can help councils learn how to operate efficiently, developing methods for strategic planning. We also feel there is a need for councils to learn how to assess and evaluate their work. Too often, good ideas are abandoned because they didn’t work well; or bad ideas continue because they’ve “always done it.” Effective councils have a vital role to play in building parent capacity to support their children.”
3. What do you say to a parent, an educator or council member when they say that the School Council regulations and/or bylaws are too overwhelming or that they scare parents away?
Nancy: “Many councils think bylaws are scary. Perhaps they’ve seen long, complicated ones. But really, bylaws are there to give structure to the council. Without structure you risk a collapse at some point.
Here is how I like to think of it. Regulation 612 is the framework of a house – it tells you what the structure will look like in style and size. The bylaws are similar to the walls – what will the interior of THIS house look like? How many rooms? Where are they? I don’t want to know what colour the walls are or what furniture you’ll have or who gets what room. That will change each year. But I do need to know what type of house it will be.
Regulation 612 tells Councils how elections must be run; what the makeup, minimum number of parents and roles of their membership must be; how conflict of interest and dispute resolution must be handled (the framework). Bylaws describe the membership size for each school; how their finances will be handled; what permanent committees they will have; their voting procedures, etc (the walls). Bylaws do not have to say what days the meetings will occur; who will sit on committees; what projects the council will undertake; how decisions will be made. (the wall colours)
When writing their bylaws, Councils should think about their community now but consider that it will change every year and make allowance for that. Build the structure but let each council decorate!”
Thank you, Nancy! I wish you all the best in continuing your work and sharing your expertise and insights with others. I can’t wait to see your new “home” online!
If you would like to contact Nancy directly, you can email her at email@example.com or tweet her via @withequalstep
Update!: Here is the “With Equal Step” new website with resources and more here!