I returned from last night’s School Council meeting at my son’s school bouyed by a sense of possibility. This is the first year that I’ve been a member of an S.C. as a parent and, although I promised my wife that I would spend my first year of service simply observing the procedures and protocols—an unobtrusive bystander, if you will—the temptation to jump in was just too great.
So last night, I was actually on the agenda as Stephen, a surprise given the fact that I really wasn’t on a first-name basis with anyone around the table. Folks put two and two together pretty quickly, however, given the fact that, other than the principal, I was the only guy there.
I stuck around after the meeting and was able to chat with a couple of the parents along with the school administration. After nearly half a year on the Council, I finally felt like a participant and not just a bystander!
I’ll write more about what my “presentation” was all about at another time, but I wanted to pose the question that I found myself asking as I drove home last night; it’s a question that has to do with the place we create for parents in our school.
As a teacher, I’ve been the staff rep on quite a few School Councils, and it has often struck me that, even in our newest schools, we don’t really have a designated space for parents to wait, to gather or to keep their stuff! Even though many jurisdictions have legislation requiring regular parent meetings, it is my experience that these are usually held in the staff room or the school library. Although these are usually the most comfortable spots in the school (!), they usually need to be re-purposed for other gatherings: sensitive material temporarily cleared, furniture re-positioned and all evidence of meeting hidden before staff and students arrive for school the next morning.
But, I’m wondering what it would do to the level of engagement if the creation of a specific place for parents and community were part of the architectural thinking of the modern school. What would happen if all new schools were built with a “community room” specifically designed for School Council meetings? What if different groups could book the room for gatherings during the month, both in the evening and during school hours? What if funding were available to develop a resource library, complete with a couple of computers, media resources, brochures from community services and a good quality coffee machine? What if there were comfortable chairs?
We talked last evening about the reality that the handful of parents that regularly attend most School Council meetings are already engaged in their child’s education and in the life of the school. We also talked about ways to bridge the “engagement gap” that exists in most communities. While most of our conversation centered around how we could push information and resources “out to parents”, I’m thinking that there may be value in thinking about the ways in which we can draw the community into the school.
Could a first step be building the expectation and anticipation of parent engagement into the physical structure of the school? Should the School Council have a place at the drawing board when new buildings are planned or existing ones are re-imagined?
I would love to hear about the places that you have created in your own schools. What space has been created for welcoming and engaging your parent community? How has the parent community been drawn into the plans for your school?
Engagement by design…is it worth a look? Looking forward to your stories.