School improvement 

The school Improvement plan (SIP) at my school has a major section about communication. We are trying to improve the ways that we share information with the parents of our kids and with other members of the school community at large, collectively referred to in the SIP as “stakeholders.”

I think this whole communication thing went awry the minute we co-opted that term from the business world. We are a school family, not a board of directors and a group of stakeholders.

But we are a dysfunctional family. Most of the staff mistrusts and maligns parents at every turn. And it’s likely that the reverse is also true. Can’t say that I blame them. 

Do we really believe that robo-calls, even if they are delivered in cheerful voices, will unite this school family? Do we really believe that classroom newsletters and the rare newsletter from administration will override the deeply rooted divide between the school and parents? Do we really believe that parents are unaware of the disdain with which most staff treat parents out of earshot?

If we do not trust our parents we will never unite this school family. If we disrespect them behind their backs, our school will never improve our relationships with the people who we need to have standing with us.

The prevailing attitude is that parents don’t care.

The reality is that our kids’ parents, grandparents and guardians care deeply. They may forget to sign planners, to pull papers out of book bags or to read newsletters. They may not be able to attend school functions or join the PTO. They may send a sick kid to school, forget a bagged lunch on field trip days or drop their kid off early. They may be working two jobs or weird hours or who knows what is going on in their home or the shelter in which they are living. 

I met a mom earlier this year who described her reality to me. She happened to walk in on a home visit I was making to a family living in a housing project. When I told her I was a teacher, she said that her child had attended our school and had moved onto middle school. Then she erupted, “I know they think we don’t care about our kids and about education over there, but we do. We don’t have cars, we don’t have school supplies at home, we have trouble helping our kids with homework that we don’t understand and some of us can’t read.” She was eloquent and passionate. And I apologized to her on behalf of our staff.

Why can’t we give parents and others caregivers the benefit of the doubt? Why can’t we begin with trust? Why can’t we use compassion instead of accusation? 

We must believe that each member of our school family is doing the best s/he can with what s/he has available and that each individual cares deeply about the success of each and every child in our school. Only then will we be able to effectively communicate with our school family and work toward the united goal of improving our school.

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