When I became the Principal of Likely School in 1999, I learned a few things about engaging with parents and the community. Please note that I didn’t say I learned quickly, but I learned eventually.
Little did I realize when I first started sending home our school newsletters that there were many community members who wanted to receive the newsletters too. These community members did not have children in the school. They just wanted to stay in the loop.
From these requests, I quickly made the connection that our school newsletter was the also the community newspaper. That seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Long before blogs and vlogs were in vogue, I added what I called an “editorial” to my weekly newsletters. These editorials provided me with an opportunity to talk about significant events happening at the school, give praise to specific staff or students, or to wax poetic about the educational theme of my choice. While these newsletters were mostly one-way communication, I remember many times when a parent or a community member at the general store would give me their two bits about that week’s topic.
Another way I engaged with the community was my own version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” As a commuter, I stayed in Likely into the evening a couple of times a month for meetings. A couple of staff members were extremely kind and always invited me to their houses for supper. This too became another opportunity to build relationships. It also gave me another idea. Maybe other families in the community would be willing to have the principal over for dinner? Whenever I was going to be in town over the supper hour, I added a little note to my newsletter, informing the entire community that I was available to be a guest at their dinner table.
Yes, these dinner invitations became every student’s worst nightmare!
At the same time, the breaking of bread with families in the community deepened relationships, and when the next difficult phone call home needed to be made, there was already a level of trust developed.
Last week, we convened our second meeting of the Superintendent’s Education Liaison Committee. This month’s theme was parent and community engagement with those in attendance sharing a variety of examples of parent and community engagement in their classes and schools.
Ken Matieshen, District Principal – Information Technology, shared about the new Parent/Student module being rolled out in MyEducationBC. This module will be used in both PSO and LCSS as a trial with approximately 25% of the teachers at these schools currently involved. It is hoped that this module, showing attendance, marks, assignments, and more, will encourage interaction between teachers, parents and students. Details and training videos can be found on the SD 27 website.
For those with students in elementary school, an elementary module is expected in the future following recommendations from the provincial committee working on MyEducationBC.
Principal Clare Gordon and staff member Cyndy Abbott from Tatla Lake School shared about a project that has been ongoing for decades at the school. “Hoofprints in History” is a project which sees students use technology to interview, record, and write the stories of local residents, creating a written record of the area. These stories are then published and are available for anyone to purchase.
The Medieval Market has been in existence for approximately 30 years. Kim Nowotny, Counselor from Lake City Secondary, shared about the annual market and the ways it engages the community, students, and staff. The market began with employees of the Williams Lake Library before being transferred to the Columneetza PAC and teachers about 15 years ago. The numerous spin-off benefits include the positive interaction between Lake City Secondary students, staff, vendors entertainers and customers.
Jane Hancock, the Principal of Dog Creek School, spoke to the culture of collaboration that occurs at Dog Creek with the community and the school. She noted that the community is the heart of the school and the school is the heart of the community, involving each other in all activities. School trips include invitations to the community encouraging families to build memories. Monthly meals are shared with parents and community members, usually prepared by staff. Dog Creek seeks to be a school where community members feel comfortable going into the school for any reason.
Teacher Jenn Routtu displayed the Facebook page that she and her partner teacher, Melissa Porter, have created for their class. Jenn spoke to the many benefits of the page including communicating with parents on an ongoing, informal basis. She also noted the steps that were taken to ensure security and confidentiality with the page. Both teachers have agreed that this is a way for parents to always know what is going on in their child’s class, thereby minimizing the number of meetings that need to occur and the number of times students need reminders.
Principal Rick Miller shared with us Mountview Elementary’s website. Rick spoke to the positive response he has received from parents. The site includes a photo gallery, school newsletters, links to a variety of information and upcoming events along with many other items.
Principal Holly Zurak also presented Horsefly School’s website. Horsefly’s website includes 5 Great Things and class pages for each division at the school. While the school website receives many visitors, parents in the community still enjoy receiving a hard copy of the school’s weekly newsletter.
There are probably as many ways to engage with parents and the community as there are people in our communities. In an increasingly digital world, face-to-face meetings and phone calls remain a very effective way to communicate. Sharing a meal across the table from someone has not lost any of its significance. For others, accessing information immediately from their cell phone is the most effective way for them to engage with teachers and schools.
The important part is that we are all constantly trying to engage with parents and community members. Research is clear that if a parent is engaged in their child’s education, the child is much more likely to learn.
If you know of other effective ways for teachers and schools to engage with parents and community members, please make a comment below.
Watch for next month’s Superintendent’s Education Liaison Committee topic coming soon to an email near you.
I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries. As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain. While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel. I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources. While one of my goals for this blog is to open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved. Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark