Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Effective Schools Part VI

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).

The lottery motto is "You can't win if you don't play." Part six of this series focuses on encouraging strong partnerships with parents as a way to get the parents playing the game of education. And who knows, maybe by playing, they will win the jackpot of a well education child to support them in old age. I believe that this sixth trait is my most perplexing. Since the first day of school, I have spent a great deal of time wondering of ways to involve parents beyond the phone calls home or parent teacher meetings.
In Joseph A. Michelli's The Starbucks Experience, the author explains, "Unfortunately, leaders in companies of all sizes...often fail to realize what they can do to contribute to their communities and to society as a whole" (154). Though Michelli's observation relates to businesses, the truth of it should not be lost on the parents of our students. Parents of all classes often fail to recognize their contribution to the success of their local schools. Many approach their local schools with the attitude that Las Vegas promotes in commercials--what happens there, stays there.
What is more depressing is the extremely high number of low income parents who do not share in the process of educating their child. Their absence is noticed in two key areas. One, many low income parents do not attend Open Houses or parent teacher conferences. This is a result of many factors, but is not limited to the easy explanation of having to work. The second place low income students are missing is at the conference tables of the local board of education and the principals conference room.
It is the second place of absence that bothers me the most. I often wonder what the parents of my students would notice or comment on if they had the opportunity to clandestinely walk the halls during our school day. What would they say about their children who wander the halls, running from security or refusing to give their name to a curious teacher? What would they say about our security guards who, at the end of their ropes because of such behavior, lose their calm when confronting other students? What would they say about our teachers who, weary from the daily grind, cannot keep the class focused on the content and language objectives? What would tehy say about our administrators who, overwhelmed by Connecticut's demands for failing schools, cannot build teacher and student morale?
It is these questions that I want answers to. But how do we accomplish this? In the spirit of bipartisanship, I offer these two beginning points:
1.) Community Walk-Abouts--At my previous school north of Seattle, an up and coming administrative intern implemented a program for community members to assist in building community at that school. Part of the program encouraged these participants to be a friendly face on our campus. But the main part of the project was to ensure that students were getting to their classes on time. I wonder how young Javy would treat Grandma Hernandez from down the street if she were the one reminding him to have his planner if he needs to use the bathroom?
2.) Parent Forums and Seminars--Just as the school board meets on a regular basis, I think that my school would benefit from monthly forums and seminars for the parents of our community. These forums would seek their input on our honest conundrums--like curbing the amount of skipping. But it would also be a place for parents to bring up their concerns about how we are going about the business of educating their children.

In the end, I recognize the many potential flaws in both of these ideas, but don't we have to start somewhere? Isn't there more to the success of our school than Effective Teaching Strategies and pointing to the number of free and reduced lunch students?
And of course there is the other elephant in this room. How can this peon of a teacher convince the machine that there is more we should be doing?


At 3:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. M,

Again, I teach for an urban school district in Pennsylvania and experience many of the same issues you do.

This year, we have a new superintendent of the whole district, who has been immensely unpopular with teachers and administrators because she has the kid's needs as priority number one, not theirs.

Just this week, she sent an e-mail informing everyone that there will be a parent adviser in every high school as well as every regional office, a total of 130+ parents informing her regularly of their suggestions.

This more progressive attitude is again, unpopular, but I wonder if it's not the best first step anyone has taken to involve more parents and fix our broken schools.

At 3:41 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Your superintendent has recognized the importance of parental involvement.
I was reminded of the importance of parents again yesterday when I asked a student if her mom was coming to parent conferences that night.
"No. She doesn't like this school," my student snapped.


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