As 4Moms we have had a lot of experience supporting our children as they moved through the education system. We have worked with teachers, principals, trustees, district staff and the Ministry of Education. We have volunteered countless hours to support parents at the school, district and provincial levels of education. In our formal roles as parent leaders, we have worked to educate parents and educators on the rights, responsibilities and roles of parents within the education system as defined through legislation. We have helped parents learn how to best advocate for their children. But legislation can only take a parent so far. It is our fundamental belief that our “main job” was and still is to build positive working relationships with teachers, support staff, principals, district staff, trustees and our provincial education leaders. We believe that positive relationships are key to supporting and enhancing parent engagement, to support student success.
Our volunteer experiences have taken us from the classroom to the provincial level. During our journeys, like many other parents, we have had both good and not so good experiences in the education system. While we could have chosen to let the negative experiences guide our thinking we would rather focus on the positive aspects of being involved and engaged in our children’s education. We have had many opportunities to see and participate in parent engagement at all levels of education. Some of our experiences have been:
· Participating in parent and teacher meetings where the teacher wants to learn about our child from us in order to create a full learning profile of our child by putting the knowledge we each have about the child together. When meetings are a two way conversation, you know that the teacher cares about your child and welcomes parent engagement by valuing your input.
· Being a member of the School Planning Council where the principal genuinely wanted to hear what the parents had to say… the good, the bad and the ugly. The principal was not just looking to the parents to rubber stamp the school plan. The principal created an atmosphere where the parents felt safe to express their views without criticism and that their contributions were valued and, when appropriate, acted upon.
· Representing the parent voice at the district level as they developed a new long term plan for the district. What this entailed was representing the voice of parents as the district began the process of appreciative inquiry to identify what we believed was important to our district. Having determined what our priorities would be, the district further engaged parents to be part of the working group who identified what and how we would accomplish each aspect of the plan. When parents can sit down in a room with educators, support staff, district staff and trustees and have an in-depth conversation on how to achieve each goal of the plan, you have involvement. When the views and experiences of the parents become part of the working plan then you see genuine parent engagement at work.
· Working with the Ministry of Education to develop resources for parents (i.e. Performance Standards: A Guide for Parents), working with Ministry staff and educators to develop and lead provincial webcasts, working with provincial partner groups to lead workshops at provincial conferences, working with provincial partners to develop resources and participating in the training of district review teams. Experiences like this validate and demonstrate that the parent’s knowledge and experience is valued, is an important part of success for students and in building a stronger education system.
We have had many great opportunities to be engaged in education over the years. That is not to say we have not had barriers to overcome as well. Fortunately our experience, education, knowledge and belief in the importance of building positive and respectful relationships have helped us overcome a lot of those barriers and challenges. However, there are many parents and educators who, for a variety of reasons, may find it more difficult to build those relationships. That is why it will take commitment to working together to build positive relationships that will support all our students to reach their highest potential through a variety of methods. It will not happen overnight, because we all know that building healthy relationships will take time.
We have found through blogging, tweeting and networking that there is an amazing community of educators out there working hard to engage parents, all in an effort to support kids. We are extremely hopeful for the future of education in BC. It is already a world class system, but we are collectively beginning to recognize that all parts of a child’s life impacts their learning. So as long as we all continue to blog, tweet, talk, build, share, learn and grow together, our kids will win out in the end.. The best way to learn and understand how good parent engagement supports students is to share your experiences for others to read.