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Mom Congress Challenge – Working with Administrators

Parenting.com

I emailed our Mom Congress delegates this week with the question, “What are your suggestions for building productive relationships with school administrators?”  These relationships are so important to successful advocacy and the Mom Congress delegates have LOADS of advice to share.  I’m including it all here so please read through and find something that speaks to you.

I do realize administrators can be intimidating and here's what I recommend.  Attend a PTA meeting, or any school get together.  Get to know your principal and how they communicate.  Do they appreciate humor, are they easy going, formal, etc.  Once you can determine their communication style and get to know them on more of a personal level, it's much easier to communicate.  I think of my daughters principal as not only a principal but also a friend with a great sense of humor! ~Shayne McCaslin – Arizona Delegate 2011

My advice is just ask what they need help with!  Most administrators know of teachers that could use help in their classroom or with classroom needs!  Let the administrators what your strengths are.  There are lots of committees at school that could use a community expert.  Ask how you could share your expertise. Once you create a helpful relationship, the administrator is more likely to listen to your concerns when you have them. ~Chanda Kropp – Minnesota Delegate 2010

Great topic!  I am in regular communication with my district's administrators.  I have spent a few years building those relationships.  I truly feel that my children's education is a partnership between home and school.  I take my role in that relationship very seriously, and feel empowered to act.  I do my best to present clear and concise points of concern (and only those I am really passionate about fixing) and invite discussion, always trying to be conscious of their point of view, and offering to be involved in the solution.  I also take opportunities to thank them for what they are doing well.  I have found my district's administrators to be open and welcoming of my input.  We have even collaborated on opening a new school!  In my urban district, my administrators have personally told me that if more parents were as engaged, we would be in a lot better shape.

One more thought...  I realized early on in my children's education that the ultimate responsibility, and therefore authority, for them is mine alone.  That fact has emboldened me to act and speak on their behalf in way I could not have predicted or imagined 10 years ago.  ~Ami Boehlje – Missouri Delegate 2011

I think the best way for parents to get to know their administrators is to be involved. Volunteer with a big event or volunteer to be an office volunteer. Be present and active without being pushy and overbearing. Principals will appreciate you and your time! One more! Choose what you wish to share wisely. Overwhelming anyone with dozens of emails or requests is off putting. :) ~Lyssa Shadevan – Georgia Delegate 2011

First, spend some time getting to know your school administrators.  Volunteer to do some simple projects for them, show them your dedication, let them know that they can trust you.  Once you have an established relationship after a few months (yes, building a solid relationship takes some time), then begin asking their opinions on an issue that is important to you.  Say it is school lunch.  Ask them for the vision for what the school lunch program would look like if money were no object.  From there, share your vision as well.  Then volunteer to be a part of a project to make the dream a reality in your district or at your school. (within budget or by finding funds) ~Lisa Falduto – Wisconsin Delegate 2011

School personnel are people and most are parents themselves.  I personally feel that if you treat them in a courteous and respectful way in most cases you will be treated the same.   Spend time in your child's school volunteering and get to know the staff.  If that is not possible, drop notes of appreciation and support throughout the year. Spend time with your child making sure homework is done and requests made from you as a parent (permission slips, form completed) are done and on time.  Attend parent teacher conferences and ask questions when you have them, rather than letting issues fester.

When there are moments of conflict, check the facts before you jump to conclusions.  Most teachers become defensive when parents come in screaming before they have checked all the facts or when they defend their child's inappropriate behavior. If your child has been inappropriate, work with the school to make sure the behavior doesn't occur again. Children are watching to see if their parent will defend them or hold them accountable.  Their future behavior is determined by what they see.  Also, don't assume that the "other" child involved isn't being disciplined as well. The administration and teachers can only talk to you about your child and not others. This should not be a you-against-me relationship but one where everyone is working in the best interest of the child. 

Just my thoughts. ~JoNell Bakke – North Dakota 2011

Donate time to tutor, chaperone fieldtrips, open community relationships to promote community involvement.

Promote active PTA, help organize fundraisers (several of these ideas are things that are often given to administrators to do and they do not have the time to do), organize math and science night, go to different businesses to sell banners that can be placed on the school fence.  We ask our high school students to give 40 hours of community service to earn their high school diploma...we need all parents to give some time to our schools. ~Marilyn Zaragoza – Florida 2011

I think the best way to get parents to feel that they can approach the school officials is to get the school officials out there with the parents.  My old school had great "get to know the school" events and had food so people came for dinner and to meet the staff.  It was a great meeting event and was a great fundraiser.  The PTA pre-sold pizza and drinks and the kids all wanted to go see their friends and show off their teacher so parents came.  Some nights I just went so I didn't have to make dinner!  :)  But getting the officials to come out and mingle with parents helps parents feel that they are approachable. ~Leesa Arnes – Alaska 2010

When I was asked to be involved in our parent task force PAWWS (Parents At Work With Staff) 5 years ago, I expected the agenda to include the usual items: volunteering, math/literacy events, Kindergarten readiness, etc. Guess what?  It did!  However, what was refreshing was at each meeting there were parents, staff AND administration.  All were there to represent each other’s view and each were there to prove the commitment we all had going into these projects together.  What stemmed from that is unbelievable "open door" communication...two things happened. Number 1- parents were more understanding to what all the lingo and policies were about and more apt to work WITH staff instead of against them; number 2-  administrators were immediately viewed as less intimidating and also more apt to approach parents instead of waiting to be approached BY them.  

It's funny you should ask this question now. We had a newly hired Superintendent this school year and as of April 1st I had yet to lay eyes on him (although I had heard wonderful things and his written communication with the parents had been excellent).  As soon as my article about Mom Congress went in the paper, I received a personal phone call, flowers presented by him in front of the school board, a personal meeting the day before I left and a follow up meeting set for next week. (Ummm, thank you?)  Great advocacy for the schools and great PR is what they want and you can be treated as an asset.  On the other hand, maybe they want me on their good side in case there is something I DON'T like about the schools...but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. ~Marni Fennessy - New Hampshire Delegate 2011

It is important as you pointed out these people are just like us.  Some people want to put them on a pedestal and think they should do or know more than us but the truth is they had to learn how to become who they are.  Some took classes to help them but most of them learned the hard way trial and error, reading and asking questions from all sources from the department of education in each state to other school districts to other schools.

Sometimes their job is overwhelming or their "social" skills ability is not capable of dealing with the people of their district.  So an approach would be to drop them a short note or e-mail to let them know you are a concerned citizen of their district or school.  Then drop by their office and say hi once in a while, introduce yourself, let them know who you are and what your face looks like.  It is best to work on them slowly, volunteer to help them when necessary, that shows them you are not just after them for something but you are willing to meet them half way.  If the only contact you have with them is a concern or complaint you will not get very far.  Also one of the best ways to handle a concern or complaint is to have a solution thoroughly considered and written out.  Most likely they are aware of the problems but don't have the time or the solution to overcome the situation.  If you give them a valid idea as a solution they are most likely to take you seriously but if you only come with the problem they just have to throw up their hands and put it on a back burner. They may not take your solution but they will think of you as trying to solve the problem.  If there is a problem make sure there are others who view it the same way.  Big problems sometimes take an army of moms or parents to get addressed. ~Tonjia Haskins – Oregon Delegate 2010

Building positive and productive relationships with administrators takes time, but will inevitably help families feel more “at home” and welcome in the school environment. It is also a two-way street—the administrators need to make efforts to connect to families and develop those relationships as well. The more open and welcome the administrators are, the easier this process will be.  I was always amazed that my daughter’s principal knew the names of every single student in her building by the second month of school! And she knew most of the parents too!

The following are a few things parents can do to begin building those productive relationships with administrators:

  1. Become active in the school’s PTA. This is a quick and simple way to learn what is happening in the school as well as some of the key players in the decision-making processes. The principal generally attends these meetings too, so it is a great way to get your name and face recognized. As you become more comfortable in the meetings, you can also start to volunteer to coordinate or assist in events, or even join the board.
  2. Volunteer as a classroom parent. Not only will this be a great help to your child’s teacher, but it will also provide you with an inside view of a typical school day, and the feel of the school culture and environment. And you will inevitably see the administrators during your volunteer time there, so they will know you are involved and interested in the education of the children. This will place you in high regard.
  3. Send in notes/emails/phone calls when you are appreciative of an event or a decision made by the school. If you are really grateful that the school held an anti-bullying week, for example, then be sure to express your gratitude. This will again make that connection with the administrator(s) that you take notice and care about the school and children. It will also open the door for you to make suggestions in the future.
  4. If you do have an issue that needs to be addressed, remember that you will always get more with honey…in other words, keep your voice and tone pleasant and come to the table with the mentality that you are on a team and can work out solutions together. Try not to be accusatory or on the offensive when meeting with teachers and administrators, because this will only put them on defense.

Following these steps will ensure that teachers and administrators know your name and face, and will lay the foundation for building those positive relationships. Then you need time and consistency to continue the process, and soon you will find yourself in a happy, harmonious relationship where you feel welcome and appreciated. ~Jennifer Lavender-Schott - Michigan Delegate 2011

I made the mistake of always trying to be nice, trying to suck up, and get on the principal's good side. That didn't help me when my daughter's teacher was awful - the principal told me she knew about it and would handle it. The teacher did get let go at the end of the year but my daughter suffered for a year and dropped below grade level. Now I still try to be polite but stand firm in what my kids need, and ask, and ask again, and ask again.

Don't sacrifice your kids’ education because you're worried about getting on the bad side of teachers or the principal. You can be polite and say what you need. Your kids are relying on you to advocate for them.

If the principal doesn't listen to you by yourself, bring in others that feel the same way. Then, she might listen. ~Melissa Taylor – Colorado Delegate 2011

This is a great question! I have a few ideas for this:

 

First, find the time to go to at least one school board meeting a year. You can find out about these either from your school district's website or you can call your district's central office. To illustrate this--there is a school district near me that has board meetings, sometimes twice a week and often early on Saturday mornings! For some reason, there aren't a lot of people at these meetings! Often there is only one parent, and it's usually the same parent each time. So they are a good opportunity to get a feel for what's going on in your district. Here's what their meeting schedule looks like: www.rtsd.org/Page/306, it can be a little buried. Pay attention to the meetings on budgets (on that page, you can see the budget meeting was held at 9 am on Saturday). As Secretary Duncan said at Mom Congress this year, "These are horrendous budget times, but [our budget decisions] reflect our values." Curious about how much money was allocated for professional development? New hires? Legal fees? It is all there, in the budget, so read it closely.

My second tip is about principals. After school starts in the fall and everyone has had a chance to adjust, make an appointment to meet your principal. Introduce yourself and talk about your child's strengths and needs. Keep it brief and make the most of the time. Most principals are teachers by origin. They love children and want to help them grow and meet their potential. They often miss the daily interaction with parents and children. Knock on the door and welcome him or her to your child's educational team. This is a great way to build the relationship.  ~Melissa Bilash – Pennsylvania Delegate 2010

As an educator AND a parent, I understand both sides of this issue. Many educators and administrators are as frustrated with 'the system' as you are, so treat them like members of your same team. Start off with a thank you - you'd really be surprised how rarely this happens. At the 2010 MomCongress conference, I couldn't count how many times I heard the old addage, "You catch more bees with honey than vinegar!" ~Jamie Pearce – Idaho Delegate 2010

As a teacher I invite my administrator to events that my parents will be at.  This helps to open the door to parents to feel more comfortable.  It also greatly depends on the administrator.  Our principal we have right now has an open door policy that parents are aware of.  She is out every morning and after school greeting parents and students.

As a parent I get involved.  I take a personal day off from teaching and chaperon field trips, go to school functions and events and run to be on the school's parent group.  The administrators are a part of the parenting groups so it's a good way to get to know them and them to know me.  My husband is not an educator and volunteers at events he's comfortable with.  By doing this the principals of our sons schools know who he is. ~Tiffany Pratt – Hawaii Delegate 2011

My suggestions to the parents is first to get to know the administrative staff and became friends. Try to help any way that they need your help and always stop by the office, smile, and say good morning or afternoon.  Try to call them by their names and make them feel important.  And then they start to know you and care about you and your child. ~Apolonia Arevalo – Maryland Delegate 2011

From the time my oldest started Kindergarten, I have been a regular attendee at PTO meetings.  The principal has always attended and interacted with parents at the meetings.  There have been plenty of opportunities to share ideas in a casual, non-threatening setting.  Regular volunteering in the school also allows for frequent interaction with the principal and teachers. ~Jennifer Allison – Wyoming Delegate 2010

 

So, I presented my Mom Congress 2011 recap to our School Board & superintendent this week. I am not easily intimidated, but I did feel "blown off" a little myself. I brought up the question of chocolate milk in our schools. I thought this would be a "no brainer" - since our school has already removed all soda/pop from our district's schools (except teacher lounges)- but got little to no feedback.

I can totally see the average parent being shot down and done after this point. Me however, well they will hear from me. I was told I could join the Wellness Committee, now on to educating them... I invited the Chair and any members that think our school lunches are fine, to dine with me at school - "my treat"

My plan is to show them the facts. Show them I care and that others behind me care. Most dealings I've had with our district thus far have been pretty good. I can say the most "tension" I've felt is with this nutrition issue. The principal actually called me (which he does regularly for school issues) to give me a little heads up as to what & how to bring up my item of concern to the School Board- but I think he was more worried about my addressing his "boss". The Board Members didn't say too much but they seemed to be listening and looking through the information I handed them. The Super. almost had an attitude that I was directly attacking him, I just said we need to be involved, we have concerns.

Any way that is a bit of my experience with administration. I respect their positions (I intent to hold a seat on this board at some point) and I do not want to make enemies, but I'm not here to make friend either -I have a job to do... represent my parents! ~Angela Fiedler – Minnesota Delegate 2011

I think that one of the biggest issues revolving the parent/teacher/child relationship boils down to communication.  That communication has to be handled professionally. Listening and learning by including all facets of the students day.  The lack of knowledge is extremely dangerous and parents and teachers both have to learn to keep the lines open for questions at any time. ~Jerri Ann Reason – Alabama Delegate 2011

Growing up, I watched my parents build productive relationships with my teachers, principals, staff, and other school/district administrators.  By communicating on a regular basis, my parents were able to make it clear that they valued education and that they were advocates for me and my two younger sisters.  These memories of my parents coupled with my years as an elementary school teacher have informed the way that I go about establishing and building productive relationships with school administrators.  Here are a few suggestions that I have regarding building the parent-administrator partnership:

•             Set up at least one appointment each school year to sit down and chat with the administrator.  Start by introducing yourself, let the administrator know about any skills and/or talents that you have that may benefit the school community.  As the years go by, focus the conversations on things that are working well for your child/children or things that could work better.  When talking about things that could work better, try to bring solutions to table for discussion.

•             Use email as an avenue for communication with school site as well as district administrators.  Also, making a good old-fashioned phone call is still a viable option.  Earlier this school year, I had two very productive conversations with our district’s GATE coordinator (regarding the new GATE identification process) as well as our district’s executive director of elementary education (regarding a district quarterly language arts assessment).

•             Do your best to make your presence known at the district level.  Attend school board meetings, regularly visit the district’s website or get on the superintendent’s email list to stay informed about district-level issues.  Participate in community forums and volunteer to help out with initiatives that will positively impact the district.

•             Assume goodwill.  We’re all human beings, we’re all on the same team, and chances are we all want the very best for all of our children.  ~Cushon Bell – California Delegate 2011

Building effective relationships with administrators involves patience and planning.  A few tips:

     ~ Learn the proper chain of command within the school district (possibly starting with the teacher) and act accordingly.

     ~ Be professional in your approach and respectful of others’ points of view; be articulate and tactful.

     ~ Prepare well for your meetings; be well-organized and accurate in your reporting. Do not exaggerate and do not be emotional, but provide specific examples to illustrate your points.

     ~ Be calmly persistent and do not be afraid to ask questions.

     ~ Be prepared with practical suggestions and reasonable goals for the request you're making or the issue with which you're dealing.

Relationships aren't developed overnight; be patient, consistent and kind in your interactions and it will pay off! ~Bonnie DeLong – Indiana Delegate 2010

Become friends with the principal's wife!  (I am assuming a male principal) I actually talk with my husband a lot about what goes on at the school.  I often pass on information that a friend tells me. (I ask permission from that friend first) It is a very casual friendly way to build relationships.  But don't only contact the wife to complain about the school.  Be a true friend!  

Build relationships with your principal and superintendent.  Be on their team.  Do not go over their heads and tattle. This just frustrates a principal or superintendent who usually truly are trying to do what is best for the students.  First, go to them and try to understand the whole situation.  Usually, they want the same thing - but they have many road blocks.  Go to them with solutions to their road blocks.  You may have solutions they have never thought of before.  Try to do a lot of the leg work yourself, but know when you’re overstepping your bounds.  This way you become an asset. 

Every contact I have made from Mom Congress - I have done the work to initially contact funding sources.  However, there comes a point where I need to hand the contact over to either the principal or the superintendent.  Our local rural development rep is meeting with our superintendent on Friday.  I would like to understand the program and how rural development can help our school.  But, it is the superintendent that will be able to work out the final details and make a contract.  Ultimately, I understand that the principal and superintendent are in charge.  I work with them.  I do not try and take over their job. Considering the elementary school principal is my husband, I really have to check myself on this one. 

 Without the superintendent’s and principal’s help, nothing will truly be accomplished. The programs will die when my passion dies or we move. 

Having said all that, I always always follow-up. 

I always try and let the teachers/ principal/ superintendent know I am there to help them.  I am not going out finding grants because I feel they are not doing their jobs.  Not at all.  I always tell them I think they are doing a wonderful job, but understand that with all their demands they do not always have the time to do what I am doing.  We are on the same team.  I often check in just to make sure I am not stepping on toes and have not overreached my helpfulness.  I always thank the teachers/ staff/ principals/ superintendents for all that they are doing.  Try to come across as helpful.  Remember to praise them for the work they are doing and ask where you can help.

We know that principals and superintendents have a lot to manage.  Our project may not be their top priority, they may not have the resources available, their maybe other road blocks they are legally unable to discuss with us, there may be roadblocks we just do not even know about or they may not be able to put in the time we feel they should on the project.  Get all the information you can before you try and come up with solutions.

For example, a lot of the states are adopting the core standards.  Our state has adopted them but will not be implementing them all for many years.  This may end up frustrating the parents and cause a mom to fight the school on the issue.  Well, do you know why it will take so much time to implement the new standards?  The district has to purchase all new textbooks and workbooks.  I think our district has this budgeted out over seven years.  That is if they can afford it.  So, if core standards is your platform, perhaps, you could volunteer to help find funding so your school district could implement the program sooner. 

Truly understand the situation, ask how you can help accomplish your goal, and then have at least a few suggestions as to how you can and want to help.

Also, remember to ask everyone in the organization about the situation and for suggestions as to how to solve the problem.  Our lunch lady/ janitor has had some of the best suggestions.  She has been at the school for a while. She is in charge of ordering the lunch supplies. She understands the system. She has some really good ideas of how the system could be made more efficient and cost effective for rural schools.  Always ask questions from everyone.  Always listen and really consider their suggestions.

One of the things that my husband does that I love...He always involves the staff and teachers in decisions.  Whenever grant money comes in he asks how they think it should be used.  With funding cuts coming up, he has asked them where they feel cuts can be made.  They feel empowered and ownership.  There are situations where they cannot be involved in the decision process or things need to be decided right away.  However, more often than not, they can be involved.  Involve the principal and superintendent in your project. 

Also, know your strengths and weaknesses and ask for help.  I know I can do the leg work.  However, my husband (the principal) is much better at public relations.  He is very charismatic.  I have never meet anyone who does not instantly like him.  He speaks well in public and builds relationships easily.  He connects well with people.  You will often find him playing with the kids at recess, during his recess duty. Therefore, any time a grant is presented to the school.  He is the one who meets and thanks the grant recipient.  This also helps the grant giver to form relations with the school district and not with a local community member who may move out of the area.

Be willing to hand the project and success over to the school district. I am not in this to get praise for my efforts, run for office, or somehow gain financially.  My ultimate goal is to improve the school for my children.  However, at the same time, I want to be able to improve the school for all the children.  I want the improvement to last.  If by chance my husband decides to apply for jobs in larger school districts or other parts of the country, I want the programs and changes to last.  The whole program cannot ultimately lie in my efforts.  I am just the ball that gets the program going.  The more people principals/superintendent/ teachers/staff/community members/parents/students I can get involved in, on board with and understand the program the more likely it is to succeed even if we move.

Basically, be helpful - but be on their team. Most principals, teachers, and superintendents I know truly do have the students’ best interests at heart - but lack resources or solution to make the necessary changes.  Be a resource!  Help be the solution!

Involve the principal and superintendent in the process.  Then slowly be less involved and hand the program over to the school and the community.  Then... move onto a new project.  :)  ~Candice Larsen – Idaho Delegate 2011

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