One of the four goals of Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario is enhancing public confidence. Cultivating pride and inspiring collective confidence in the work of our children, families, and schools is a journey of multiple steps and multiple pathways. The more we engage as family and school communities, the more confidence we gain in who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. What’s more, the greater confidence we display on a day-to-day basis, the more likely it is that collective confidence will grow. School communities cannot do this work on their own; families must also work to inspire confidence through the things they say, the practices they share, and the ways they interact with schools.
A Note to School
When I put my child on the school bus each day, I am entrusting his day of learning to you. But I know that this is not where my job ends. I make every effort to support the school. I ask questions, and I ensure that our talk about school is positive. We approach school initiatives enthusiastically, always balanced by our family practices. I am truly appreciative that we are working together to make it all about the success and well-being of children. This enhances my confidence in teachers, community, and society.
An increasingly confident parent
Enhancing public confidence is not always easy, particularly when there have been years of possible negative experience, lack of success, or trust that is often a tenuous balance (see One More Marble in the Jar: What does Trust Have to Do With It?). Achieving excellence, ensuring equity, and promoting well-being all work toward enhancing public confidence; together these form the foundation of the renewed vision for education in Ontario. When our students feel successful, valued, and confident, it is likely that families and school communities will feel the same, ultimately enhancing public confidence in the education system as a whole. We sometimes forget that it is the simplest of initiatives that inspire confidence, particularly when they come from the heart.
Remember that we cannot have collective confidence without individual confidence, and this takes time, energy, and balance, all of which are grounded in a firm sense of reality. It’s best to focus on the basics, keep it manageable and authentic, and just enjoy doing the simple things successfully and well:
Inspire confidence from the ground up and the inside out. Confident families and school communities inspire confidence in others: their children, their families, and their friends. Talk positively, take inventory of your strengths, and look at what you’ve already done and share the good news of your families and schools in multiple venues. Inspire with a quote on your school sign, announce team standings, display posters of successful alumni, post a student/family testimonial on your school website, showcase what you do in local media, have a good news board for families in the school. The more individual confidence we build, the greater the collective confidence. Confidence in education is built on more than good test scores… it’s built on relationship and respect among students, families, school communities, and communities at large.
Build the knowledge you need to succeed. Don’t assume that all families know what to do, when to do, how to do, or even why to do. All families will tell you that they want what is best for their child (often better than what they feel they had), but they don’t always know how to get there. Meeting them where they are will help them to feel valued and enhance confidence that their needs as a family will be met within the context of their child’s schooling.
Check your key messages. What are families and schools really saying in the use of language surrounding learning at home, traditional homework, or inspired family practice? Are you telling or inviting? Whatever it is you do (as either family or school) needs to foster a context of learning that challenges children and youth to be the best that they can be. Enhancing public confidence is not simply the responsibility of schools – it is the responsibility of families as well. Confidence begins with children – when they feel successful and comfortable, public confidence is enhanced.
Believe you can. Just like the little engine that could, we must not underestimate the power of positive thinking. Adopting a mindset of, “We think we can,” goes a lot further than “We think we can’t.” Families and schools need to be willing to share what they need and why. Many learned that asking for help is a sign of weakness; we need to model and demonstrate that asking for help is a sign of strength. Willingness to be vulnerable is a sign of confidence in education whether we are talking about children taking a risk, families asking questions, or school communities trying something new. Set small goals that are easily achieved: get in the habit of setting them, achieving them, and celebrating small successes.
Say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow through. Barbara Coloroso’s words have stuck with me for a lifetime it seems. Enhancing public confidence is very much about consistency – consistency of communication, relationship, and focus on student success and well-being. Families and schools need to be honest, clear, and willing to act – not necessarily in big ways, but in the ways that matter most. Keep yourself grounded in the reality of your families and your schools; confidence is built through the achievement of many small goals… big goals may seem like an event. Keep it sustainable.
Keep the windows to learning open. Classroom blogs, newsletters, slide shows, etc. (with images, student work, and information) offer families a glimpse into what is going on in the classroom. These two publicly available blogs serve as examples: Sample 1; Sample 2. Increasingly, school communities are using password protected blogs that allow for more flexible use of images as records of learning. I’d share my grandson’s but I don’t have permission to publicly distribute! The use of strong images and student work samples allows all families, regardless of linguistic diversity, a means of understanding different content areas and pedagogical approaches in the school. Knowing what is happening and seeing their child at work in school increases families’ comfort and confidence, ultimately leading to greater confidence. Schools might choose to augment pictures and text (often in multiple languages) with a text reader that allows for text to be heard as well as read (see Readspeaker as one example – click the LISTEN button on this page) thus reaching a greater number of families.
No matter what we do in terms of family-school engagement, we must be prepared, set manageable and attainable goals, and follow through.
What goal did you set this week?