Today's post comes from Eklund Consulting's newest team member, Lesley Fisher. With over 20 years of experience in education as a teacher, board member, and parent/community leader, Lesley is an instrumental partner in our work with schools as they strive to maximize their work with their communities and leverage the talents and passions of the whole community of people who surround students. In this first post on this topic, Lesley explores some of the existing challenges and rewards of working with parents and community members as we all strive to make schools great places for teachers and students!
Relationships can be difficult. Spouses, parents and children, friends, coworkers, teammates; where human emotion is found, waters can get rough. Even under the best of circumstances, there are natural ups and downs, ebbs and flows, that occur between people. Add children, distrust, and momentum of the masses to the equation, and a strong undercurrent builds in our schools, leaving disillusionment in its wake.
Few things in life elicit as much emotion as our children. They are our most cherished possessions. We care for them selflessly (most of the time) and endlessly (always). We can also control most of what they experience in their early years. Whether we are at home with them throughout the day, or entrust their care to another, we are in charge. We leave lists upon lists of dos and don’ts. We know our children best and therefore know what is best for them. Then, school interferes. While we realize this is a natural step in the progression of development, the image of our all too small kindergartner lugging her all too massive backpack into the shut-very-tightly doors is a difficult one to swallow. Are they ready for this? Will their teacher be kind? Will they find the bathroom? Sit alone at lunch?
Parental controls are abruptly released, leaving us uncertain about half of our child’s waking hours. We, as parents, are left with our ambiguity and wavering optimism.
Familiarity breeds contempt
Recall watching your son play Little League. There is ‘that’ parent who is overly invested. He becomes more emotional than the other parents, dissatisfied with the umpire’s calls, questioning player positioning, and making the experience of a day at the ballpark quite uncomfortable for all in attendance. This father is not delusional. He knows his ten-year old probably won’t make the majors, but he cannot resist the urge to voice his dissatisfaction. It wasn’t so long ago that he himself was in the dugout, then up at bat, failing to bring in the winning run.
One of the main issues that exists between our schools and their communities is that the community members have been there, have done that. Everyone has gone to school. Everyone can relate. Everyone’s an authority. To further complicate the matter, many of these former students are disappointed with their school experiences. They carry heavy educational baggage, collected over at least a dozen years. Schools emote very vivid feelings for all community members. We share the common experience of being educated by teachers: Cells and bells, the Sparrows and the Blackbirds, the lefty forced to write cursive with her right hand, the one who fidgeted too much, the other who raised his hand too little. These experiences color the current outlook on our schools, our teachers, the treatment of our children. Community members have a preexisting condition, and it evokes mistrust, doubt, and defensiveness.
It’s a numbers game
Between social media, soccer game sidelines, and grocery store run-ins, word gets around town. All too often, the words shared amongst community members about school aren’t so positive. In many instances they are simply untrue. A game of Operator has ensued, alarming the public and leaving the District shaking its head. Our schools are at a disadvantage simply because of the size of the population they serve. A mob mentality usurps the levelheadedness of individuals. Dissatisfaction gains momentum in our community, and sensibility, decorum, and civility are a distant memory.
Sounds rather bleak, I know. Do not fret! There is hope. There is calm after the storm.
As schools recognize the many benefits of improving their relationships with community members, this once stressful source of contention can transform into a positive alliance, enhancing the experience of all stakeholders. More to come...