Children and families arrive at the school doors, full of possibility. As children learn to do school, parents and families learn to do school all over again, this time with a much different purpose.
The role of parents and families is discussed at length in research publications, curriculum and policy documents, even the media where families are charged, as consumers, with providing just the right school supplies, clothing, even snacks to help their children fit in, belong, and be successful.
There are so many decisions to make, so many bits of advice, and so many ways of being in school and society. Where do we begin?
A Note to School
As I prepare my daughter for a new school year, I spend a moment reflecting on the school years that have passed. When I sent her to kindergarten, it was with wonder and excitement, but also apprehension. I wondered whether we, as family and school, could learn to play collaboratively in the sandbox of life – her formal schooling for the next 14 years? Could we collectively share her hopes and wishes, support her wellbeing, and keep her moving in the direction of her dreams?
I know that my roles and responsibilities do not begin and end with the school day. There are lots of things we do as a family, and lots more we can do. I know that the school wants me to be involved and engaged, but I am not always sure what that means. And… there are days when I don’t know which questions to ask, who I should be asking, or whether they are even valid questions.
Looking for guidance,
a hopeful but apprehensive parent
Parents play a vital role in education. When parents are engaged and involved, everyone – students, parents, and families, teachers, schools, and communities – benefits, and our schools become increasingly rich and positive places to teach, learn, and grow. (Ontario Ministry of Education)
- What is the role of families in your school community?
- How do you support families who are feeling nervous, overwhelmed, and apprehensive about their engagement in their children’s lives – school and out-of school?
- How do you help to build family confidence from their initial engagement with your school community?
- Do you help them to see how they are engaged as opposed to asking them to do school at home?
It is a reality that some families feel more comfortable on the landscape of school than others. Some recall positive experiences as a child that now allow them to show up and be seen at School Council meetings, volunteer at school, or help with fundraising. Others are not interested in doing school at home nor are they interested in school-based involvement; instead they willingly engage in events and rituals that extend their hopes, dreams, and interests as a family. And yet other families do not feel comfortable in the school building for a variety of reasons: negative experiences, fear of judgment, lack of confidence and comfort, and of course, inability to meet some of the school’s expectations. It is important for schools to understand that just because some don’t show up on the school landscape does not mean they are not involved or that they don’t want to be involved. Many of these parents need a friendly voice on the other end of the phone, encouraging them, inviting them, reassuring them that they are not alone and that they are not the only ones with these questions and concerns.
Consider setting up a family-to-family buddy system. Encourage incoming families to touch base with families already engaged with the school community. This provides a non-threatening forum to ask questions, and an informal way to build community within the school.
Invite families to share strengths, needs, hopes, dreams, and wishes for their children’s futures. Set this up as a conversation for children to have with their families in order to demonstrate legitimate and authentic interest.
Ensure that open houses and school functions have time for families to mix and mingle. Have children serve beverages and snacks, making introductions and facilitating connections among their friends’ families.