Energized Parents & Community
A great system needs energized parents and community support. Support for the work developed by teachers. Support and high expectations for student effort. Support for opportunities for teachers to expand their knowledge and their capacity to develop quality work. Support for students that are struggling. Support for art and music and sports and chess and debate and so many other activities that can help students learn and grow. Excitement and energy.
Parents and community members can get excited about a system obviously focused on the fundamentals of teaching and learning. Getting them excited before the system is prepared to deliver a different and better product, however, is a recipe for disillusion. Here are some other steps that a system can take to support effective teaching, to encourage student engagement, and to energize parents and the community.
First, systematically solicit feedback, and then respond to it. Regularly and professionally seek data from students, parents and the community through surveys and focus groups. Provide opportunities for each of these groups to give feedback about the quality of work for students, and the overall greatness of schools. Respectful listening, especially if followed by responsive action, generates support. So, once parents and students speak, respond. In Nashville, the demand for magnet schools for over a decade clearly showed a demand for academic challenges. Parents who did not want to send their students to a magnet school questioned why the same opportunities were not offered in zoned schools. At my urging and based on a unique analysis I developed, Nashville reversed a decline in Advanced Placement courses in high schools and high school credit courses in our middle schools. When parents and students speak, we need to listen and respond.
Provide choices. Whether it is of schools or programs, opening choices to students and parents not only allow for a better "fit" between student needs and learning opportunities. It is respectful of their knowledge of their needs and interests and engages them in the learning process.
Develop leadership. Work with interested organization to develop study opportunities for leading citizens to become knowledgeable and engaged with their community's schools. Over time, these programs will produce critical leaders, within schools, in support organizations, and on school boards.