As a teacher, I thought I knew the value of good relationships with parents. In truth, though, I focused on relationships with students; if possible, I tried to make sure parents understood I had their child’s best interests in mind.
As a principal, I have learned the true value of family engagement. When I interviewed for my position, I talked a lot about the importance of bringing in families and helping them see the school as their school. I held that as a core value, but in reality, I never had to put it into practice.
- Welcoming all families into the school community
- Communicating effectively
- Speaking up for every child
- Sharing power
Over the last year and a half, I have learned what those standards look like in practice. In August of 2014, Clintonville Middle School had a negative image reflective of its toxic culture. From day one, we worked to make the middle school a place that welcomes all families into the school community. We worked with staff and a fledgling PTO to spread the word that the middle school was safe for students, and families started to ask about enrolling their students at CMS. Before we knew it, private school students started walking through our doors on a regular basis – and many of them stayed.
Welcoming all families also included working with students and families who had not had positive experiences at the middle school. Some of that negative experience stemmed from the fact that the middle school originally served as the high school, and some of that negative happened inside that walls of the middle school.
My principal, Scott Werfal, and I greet families at the door and always want to know “How can we help you?” It seems simple, but an office design focused not on the adults in the office but on customer service for students and parents has made a world of difference. The change seems subtle, but parents now have room when we ask them to wait, and the new flow in the office allows us to have a friendly face greet all comers. Students, parents, subs, and community members have all commented on how friendly the school and particularly the office feel. We are proud that people don’t automatically look at the building or the office with distaste and disdain.
I strongly recommend that educators read Beyond the Bake Sale. You will start to see the importance of trying to form true school-community and school-home partnerships. Joining Twitter chats will also afford you the opportunity to collaborate with people who have already made inroads to become more connected with families. You may even develop your own cohort who will go through the process with you.
What do you think? What experience have you had with trying to cultivate positive connectedness with home?