This is my last blog for the parent community of Winans Elementary and I'd like to say again how appreciative I am for letting me learn from your children this year. I hope you enjoyed this weekly blog. It was one of my goals this year to write every week to help the parent community and so I hope it did indeed help. Thank you again for your support and for you childs' smiles and hugs that have brightened my days and lifted my spirit. I truly hope they had a wonderful year of learning.
Farewell Dr. Brooke... where to now? I wanted to share that we are really excited to be moving to Missoula, Montana where my husband grew up and we will be joining much of our family there. One thing we learned while living abroad in Ecuador the two years before we moved here, was that the world will always be there, but our loved ones may not... and even three hours away this year has been too far. With my mother-n-law just recently in hospice care, we have been reaffirmed of our decision to move from Livingston to Missoula. I have a great opportunity there to lead a school community and I am hopeful I can continue to learn and grow and give to this community.
Although, I only lived in Livingston one year and in the school district for one year I learned quite a bit. And as a parent myself and one who cares deeply about parent engagement and student advocacy I wanted to write my last blog and give you parents a challenge.
I feel like this parent community has a lot going on but I feel deeply that your children are your number one priority. Knowing this I really want to challenge you to step up and be a leader for your child.
What do I mean- be a leader? Just like empowering our students to step up and be leaders in the community, I feel like parents also in this community should also be empowered to do the same. It is well known that when teachers and parents work together, students achieve at a higher rate. However, I know sometimes parents don't always know how too... in fact many of you have mentioned this to me. During my doctoral studies at Seattle University, I read a book called, “The Leadership Challenge” by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. This book completely resonated with me and I begin to see the leadership challenge everywhere.
Because I am passionate about teachers and parents working together to create success for students, I kept framing this “leadership challenge” as a parent and how parents could be leaders in their children's education and not just be passive observers, but truly involved.
I learned that Kouzes and Posner share five traits on how to be an effective leader: Inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, encourage the heart, model the way and empower. And so, how do you be a leader from this day forward in your child's education? I give you the leadership challenge.
Inspire a shared vision
Everything we do as parents should be in the best interest of our children. Whenever making decisions that affect our children, we should ask, is this what is best for kids? And we must ask this of all kids, not just our child or a select group.
Parents who want to build a relationship with their child’s teacher must remember this. We are advocates for our own child of course, but when we volunteer or step in the classroom we are there for all the children. The teacher needs us to share in this vision and make the job easier, not more difficult.
As parents, we must be ready to help all children succeed in our child’s classroom. Some parents I know just want to volunteer so they can see “what’s going on in the classroom.” This is an added plus of volunteering but this should not be the goal. The goal should be to help all children learn when we are in the classroom. Listen to the teacher. Use the words he/she is saying. When the teacher claps to get the children’s attention, you clap and encourage the same. When the teacher is explaining directions, listen. Being a classroom volunteer is just one way you can build a relationship and share in the vision of helping all the children there succeed. However, it is not the only way. Even if you can not give your time as a classroom volunteer, take the time to donate items or resources, volunteer to do a special project, or share your expertise. Most of all support your child at home by reading aloud to your child every day (yes, even if they can read by themselves), provide learning opportunities, encourage the passion of learning, and converse with them about their day.
Learn more about the vision of the district! Much of our students at Winans experience trauma at home. We also have a lot of students with special needs. The Livingston School District is trying to become more trauma informed (less punitive), integrate social and emotional curriculum called MindUp, and also not outsource special education services anymore but have our own employees be part of the collaborative work that is so necessary to help our students and families with special needs... learn more about this good work and become involved through the Collective Impact Work or just attending board meetings.
Challenge the Process
As parents, we are our biggest advocates for our child and we should be! We want the best for our children. Sometimes, there are disagreements. This is okay. However, the way we go about “challenging” the process is key. Parents who disagree with a teacher on how something is handled should first go to that teacher and discuss the issue. Many times the issue is just a simple miscommunication that can be solved with a quick conversation. Other times, this is not the case especially if the same problem keeps repeating itself with no solution. If we as parents feel the problem has not been solved after exhausting communication efforts through emailing, conversing, and trying to solve the problem, then would that be the time to get the principal involved. We as parents also must pick our battles at times. We must know when to challenge. My gauge is if there is immediate danger or emotional upset being caused to my child (ie. bullying issue) or if in the future the issue will affect other students in a harmful or negative way. This is when I would step in as a parent and advocate not just for my child, but for future children to come. Maybe you saw an adult not treat a child in a respectful way. Tell someone! Don't be afraid. Many parents throughout the years have challenged the process in education that have created great impact on student learning such as the healthier lunches, walking to school, afterschool activities offered, and implementation of emotional and social curriculum. Be an advocate, speak up, and partner!
I would also encourage you to attend board meetings, ask questions about curriculum, the learning that will take place throughout the year, help with the PTA, and reach out in different ways to help if you can. Talk to the principal about where you could make the most impact. I loved that this year when a parent came in and just asked that, "What can I do?"... and I told him!
Encourage the Heart
This to me may be my most important role as a parent in helping the teacher. Possibly, it is because I am a teacher and I know the reason I became a teacher is because of my heart, my passion, and my love for teaching and for kids. Our hearts need encouragement. Kind words from parents are like no other. Stories of how your child’s learning has changed at home or attitude has become more positive or more passionate about a subject is like music to our ears. When you take the time to tell us that even through a quick email, it shines bright in our inbox and is treasured more than you know. Emails, little notes to say thank you, a latte “just because”, a class book just out of the blue to add to the library, and of course a gift card is always nice! Also, if you are pleased with what you see in your child’s classroom tell the teacher, tell the principal, tell the community! Share your love for that teacher and that will indeed get back to them and they will feel your support. Oh, and remember the paras, custodians, specialists.. and principal too... it takes every piece of the puzzle working together!
Model the Way
If we aren’t learners, how do we expect or children to be? I am not saying we parents all go back to school, I am saying that we continue to grow by sharing stories with our children of the new learning of the day, our work, our goals, and our achievements. We model that we are readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and care about the issues and our community by giving back in acts of service. These are the lessons happening outside the classroom that you as the most important teacher carry over into the classroom and make a teacher’s day brighter. Model the love of learning!
As a leader in your child’s education it is so important you help give your child the tools at home to support the learning going on at school. By reading to your child from the beginning and never stopping you are giving your child the biggest advantage of all. Talk to your child about what they are learning at school, engage them in books on the subject, on projects that integrate the subject matter, take them to the library, to places that will them give them experiences that solidify the learning. When you do these things you are empowering your child to be an engaged and active member in their learning.
I thank you for being your child’s first and most important teacher and a strong leader in your child’s education. Best wishes for this incredible relationship and life journey with your child as you take on this challenge to be a leader in their education. I look forward to hearing great things about your children in the future!
You can always keep in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you again for taking on this leadership challenge!