School community council members demonstrate a steadfast commitment to support schools. They work hard on behalf of families to plan events, enhance communication between families and school, support home-school-community-faith partnerships, contribute to fundraising efforts, and promote student well-being and achievement. Councils are not without their struggles though, most commonly how to increase membership and involvement.
A Note to School
As a family, we participate fully in the special events hosted by the school community council: the curriculum nights, guest speakers, and craft nights are engaging and allow us to connect with our children and with other families. We recognize that such events require incredible amounts of work, and we just want to say thank you. We wish that we could be more involved at the school level, but there are day-to-day factors that prevent our participation. We appreciate your understanding. Thanks for listening,
A grateful parent
School community councils are always on the look out for new members. Their goals include helping to ensure that families feel comfortable and welcome in their children’s learning as well as making contributions to the school in meaningful and localized ways. While attendance at council meetings may feel low in comparison to the number of school families, special events are generally well attended at the school, demonstrating that families willingly engage with their children and participate in the life of the school. It is, therefore, difficult to understand why more families do not participate in council meetings, which leaves us wondering:
- How do school community councils invite and welcome new members?
- How do we build healthy and flourishing school community councils?
- What is the general perception of the purpose of school community councils?
Effective school community councils, bound together by a common purpose and characterized by inclusivity in word and action, are more likely to draw new members than those characterized by conflict or misunderstanding of the role of the council. The leadership of the council is of paramount importance, as are the climate of the council, its overriding goals, and the guidelines that govern the functioning of council.
Flourishing school community councils do the following things:
Send invitations out early and often. Send a colourful postcard highlighting the work of the council. Encourage council members to bring a friend. Pair up school council meetings with functions at school when possible (e.g., Science Fair, Art Shows, etc.). Invite new members in as many ways possible and offer childcare and refreshments as needed. Structure the meetings in welcoming and inviting ways.
Make conscious choices that build partnership. Define your school council by such things as willingness to listen, learn, and adapt; discussion, interaction, and respectful problem solving; openness, support, and respect; trust, cooperation, and commitment. Begin each meeting with a quotation that inspires the work of council and allows members to connect through shared experiences. Solve problems before they escalate and review the goals and purposes of councils as needed.
Establish realistic guidelines. Time is never lost exploring the essential features, guidelines, and inner workings of school community councils. Establish bylaws in accordance with your board, district, or ministry guidelines, and review and adapt as necessary to reflect the unique context of your school community.
Set short-term and long-term goals. Keep student student success and student well-being at the core of all goal-setting. When planning events or undertaking tasks, ask, “How will this benefit the school community, the students, and the families?” Ensure that there are many check-ins along the way with the entire school community; ask questions such as, “How are we doing? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? What should we continue doing?”
Understand, accept, and celebrate differences. Every school council member, every family will have a different way of viewing things. Start where they are, use what you have, and do what you can, always aligning yourself with the greater goals of the council. Don’t expect everyone to approve of everything all the time. Encourage a respectful exchange of ideas that leaves everyone feeling valued and willing to be present at the next meeting or the next event.
Be willing to have courageous conversations and keep your assumptions in check. Make room at council meetings to discuss the impact of preconceptions, lack of understanding, or misperceptions, and how these render some families more vulnerable than others. Use thought provoking articles such as Debbie Pushor’s Looking Out, Looking In to explore the impact of the assumptions we make and better position us when we interact with diverse families. Before speaking or acting, ask: “What are the facts and what are my opinions (based on my assumptions)?”
Recognize that there are multiple levels of involvement, some more visible than others. Not all families will want to be a full member of the council but they might be willing to work on individual projects. Don’t take this personally… it likely has less to do with the work and council membership and is more reflective of the busyness of a family’s day-to-day life. Empathy and understanding of unique family dynamics can offset the judgment perceived by many families.
Ensure that families and parents do not view council membership as an extension of school discourse. Send out communication, event calendars, newsletters, flyers, invitations, etc. as a council, perhaps signed by the Chair. Establish a link on the school website that allows families to check in periodically. Investigate the possibility of an email list or even Remind (a communication app) to keep families informed of council meetings or events. Distribute tip sheets regarding engagement in children’s learning (watch for next week’s post!) and communication with the school (a previous post).
Seek feedback from families in order to prioritize needs. Develop a survey that allows families to identify areas of interest and need (e.g., how to communicate with school, multiple ways to be involved both in and out of the school building, curricular areas). Listen carefully to what families are saying and not saying when you meet them in the school or in the community.
Make a conscious effort to communicate in as many different ways as possible. Invite your council members to welcome and greet families at special events. Send out a monthly newsletter with upcoming events, invitations, and tips. Make sure that your page on the school website is accessible and available to families.
And families, next time you see your school community council hard at work, offer to pitch in, and remember to say,
What habits can you add?