School Councils: Sustained

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A recent Canadian Education Association (CEA) article (spring 2016; Education Canada), written by Jim Brandon, was an interesting read and examination of school governance in Canada. It discussed district leadership in strengthening governance at the different levels of education — school, school board and provincial.

I was pleased to see that it included an update on school councils in regards to school level governance.  Here is one section (but please do read the entire article):

Studies and annual provincial surveys indicate a general state of comfort with and appreciation of school councils’ involvement in schools and have put to rest past concerns that that school councils would evolve into de facto school boards. To the credit of provincial governments in Alberta and Ontario, a more evidence-based policy course has been steered since the introduction of school councils in the 1990s. In contrast to policy directions in places like New Zealand and England, school councils in Canada have not wavered from the path of serving schools and districts as collective associations who work together to effectively support student learning.”

I am no longer directly involved in Ontario’s school councils, but I was for many years. I became somewhat familiar with situations and structures in some other Canadian provinces through reading and conversations within my parent advocate network in the past.

It was reassuring to read that “concerns have been put to rest about school councils becoming de facto school boards.”  Should that have ever been a concern?  Should it have taken over 15 years? I think it was always the intent of the Ministry to ensure that school councils would be democratic and advisory. They were first mandated in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Regulation 612/00 provided clear guidelines for their role at the school and board level. This also led to changes to Reg. 298 (Duties of Principals) in regards to school councils.  I would think that the guidelines were to ensure fair and meaningful parent participation in schools, but the legislation may have been threatening at the same time. I am not sure — I was not involved with parents groups during that time of introduction.

I have also sensed an increased “comfort with and appreciation of school councils” at the school level, but I suspect there is still some variance. I have written and reflected before about their governance role here.

The author states that Canadian school councils maintained a focus on student learning. I had a discussion with a few parents on Twitter about this aspect, but it might be difficult to know the current reality, even with surveys and research. Each province is so different and it can seem that what is wanted from a school council varies as well. I am not sure what the measure of success should be, or who should determine that — the school community, the school board, or the province? All?

What will the next 15 years look like for school councils? Ontario’s history of school councils seems relatively short when compared to The Ontario Federation of Home and Schools (OFHSA). They are currently celebrating 100 years of establishment. Who will accurately summarize school council history and successes in Ontario over 100 years? Will it be possible? Will it matter?

A consistent question about parent involvement

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There may not be as many articles and posts about parent involvement in education as there were a few years ago, but I still notice a number of posts on the topic circulating on social media.  The various terms are used and referred to: Involvement, engagement, empowerment, etc.  There seems to be a consistent question though.  I was reminded of that recently after reading an article about parent involvement plans in Scotland which included the statement,

One of our challenges is a lack of common understanding around what ‘involved in learning’ actually means in and around schools.”

I have written before (for example, this post) about defining and understanding the meaning of parent engagement (in schools, learning, education). I think it is important to remember:  When the different terms are used by one person, another person may understand them in a completely different way. Maybe a further question would help clarify references and appeals for parent engagement: Involved in/to do what?… Empowered in/to do what?… Involved in learning how?  If parents are to learn how children learn, is there enough agreement on that amongst educators (let alone parents)?  Would a fuller discussion and analysis help all decide if and how the goals can be supported?

Feedback and thoughts appreciated.

A blog series for and by parents: A follow-up

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Earlier this year I posted about a blog series for and by parents.  I recently caught the follow-up on the project and news about a book that represented the stories and the parents who participated.

The follow-up post, 8 Ways Educators Help Parents Promote Powerful Learning, suggests four things that schools can address in support of student-directed learning and also shares how the blog series taught four lessons about parenting for powerful learning.  There are some great points about student learning and support, so please check out the full post.

I especially liked the list of questions near the end to help spark conversation amongst school staff in regards to planning and thinking about parent involvement.  From the post:

  • How are parents involved in their child’s education? Are they coming in regularly and participating in genuine parent-teacher conversations for and with their kids that help drive and encourage student-centered learning?
  • Do they understand how their children are being assessed? Can parents read and understand the reporting system and/or assessment system?
  • Are parents getting phone calls from educators?
  • Are parents being given the opportunity to mentor their own kids and/or other kids in the school?
  • Is their genuine collaboration and communication occurring between home and school?
  • What school work and/or projects might create genuine and authentic parent and student collaboration?
  • What opportunities and/or ways can the school promote and invite parent participation at assemblies, at other student gatherings and at parent nights?
  • How are parents invited to the school to participate and provide genuine feedback at project nights and/or student exhibitions of learning?
  • How does what is on the wall/in the office/in the classroom invite and welcome and/or inhibit parent involvement?
  • To what degree is parent involvement a priority and what would it look like if that was indeed the priority? What does it mean to the school staff to have parents involved? Is it a hassle or a genuine partnership?

Good stuff… and that is my follow up on the follow-up 🙂

(I had to search for that rule:  Follow up or follow-up? I am still not sure if I got it right!)

Principal prep for parent communication

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I haven’t been sharing resources for parent engagement in education as much as I have done in the past, but a few articles still catch my attention on Twitter.  This summer I saved a few to read that covered the topic, including this one, “The Principal’s Summer Excellence Checklist“.  It is always encouraging to find parent engagement strategies included in articles for principals.  Three specific questions regarding parents in this one were listed under “communication” and included:

  • How and when will you communicate student progress to parents regarding grades, attendance, and behavior?
  • How will you leverage social media as a tool to show the great things happening on the campus, and how frequently will you do that?
  • How will parents have a venue to express their concerns or frustrations to teachers and administrators in a constructive way, and how will you promote this form of transparency?

I thought they were really good questions to nudge practices and plans into place early in the year.

Another post I read (h/t @Philip_Cummings) was for new principals at the middle school level.  It offered 6 success tips, with #5 covering family/community relationships as follows:

No school is successful without effective communication and good relationships with families. But principals know that families are a very small part of their total community. Therefore, they create networks that allow them to advocate with key constituents and influential policy makers whose support is critical. Effective principals:

  • Build support networks that reach into all segments of the community, tapping into civic, religious, community, service, or other youth-serving organizations to advocate and build support for their school.
  • Talk with and learn from those who can share the history of their school and its role in the community.
  • Meet with both supporters and critics of the school to keep lines of communication open and build collaborative relationships.”

I like how both posts highlight open lines of communication and similar considerations.

The ASCD also recently posted, Rethinking Parent Engagement (I think many educators and parents have been rethinking it in the last 5 years or so).  The post mentions a proactive approach to parent outreach efforts,

Focus early outreach on relationship building, not information sharing.  This will build trust and open those crucial lines of communication, which will be helpful in the future.”

Parent engagement in education may be getting less attention in general now, but I hope the positive practices and outcomes continue to be shared ahead.  Communication with parents will always need consideration and planning.

 

A School Council “poem”

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Many schools and school boards in Ontario host appreciation nights for their parent volunteers and school council members.  Appreciation can be shown in various ways throughout the school year as well.  Sometimes the nature of volunteer work on a school council can be met with tension and not always appreciated. Parent representatives have to be voices of dissent at times and tread tricky waters as volunteers in education. 

I often can’t find this short school council “poem” when I am looking for it. I have no idea who wrote it, but I thought I would post to my blog for easier retrieval and sharing. I have sent it to parents in the past, especially when they were feeling conflicted about their continued involvement on a school council.  My days of school council involvement are well behind me, but in case anyone else would like to make use of it:

 

No one said that recruiting volunteers would be easy.

No one hands out gold medals.

No one waves flags for the work accomplished.

But you know. You are keenly aware of the value of the work

of the volunteer who makes a commitment to a school council.

*author unknown (let me know if you know of the source though)

A parent’s vision leads to research

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Not long after starting this blog, I invited some parents to guest post and share their visions and thoughts about parent engagement.  It has been over 3 years since a few of those posts, but those same parents have continued to contribute to education and schools in on-going ways and in new roles.  I plan to catch up with all of them again soon, but for now I wanted to give an update about my good friend, Tracy Bachellier (@bachtrac on Twitter).

Tracy shared this as the second parent here and then to her blog in early 2012.  One of the hopes she stated,

There must be continued support, resources and respect for all parents, students and educators as engaged partners in education.”

Since that time she certainly has put more action behind her words and vision! Tracy has now completed her Masters in Education and a Master’s level research thesis on — you guessed it — Parent Engagement!  More specifically, and also the title of her research thesis, Parent Engagement Pedagogy and Practice in New Preservice Teacher Education Programs in Ontario.  You can access Tracy’s full research document here.  She has done some great work, reviews and analyses, as well as shared some good practices and recommendations for preservice teacher education programs to benefit new teachers, and ultimately students and their families.  I hope readers will take some time to review her research efforts further.  The table of contents reveals the areas she examined, compared, and related to the Ontario context.  A great read in its entirety, with an excellent summary in the Discussion section (page 74).

Congratulations, Tracy! Hat’s off to you! Cheers!

Supporting Family Engagement: An interview @WithEqualStep

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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 withequalstep@gmail.com or tweet her via @withequalstep

 Update!:  Here is the “With Equal Step” new website with resources and more here!

 

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