By Lisa Canova
“Want to Fix Schools? Hold both teachers and parents accountable. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.”
#Want to Fix Schools was trending on Twitter and an array of negative comments were surfacing. The “wasting your time” tweet was just one of the many that reflected the belief that parents and teachers are responsible for “failing schools” and misdirected education for students. As a parent and former educator, I often hear similar comments in daily life and have the same cringing reaction.
For one, I don’t believe finger-pointing at teaching, or parenting serves school accountability measures productively. Our vision needs to broaden and look at the whole big picture of accountability.
This includes acknowledging that schools are part of a larger community. I am a believer that the entire community of stakeholders—parents, community members who don’t have kids, business leaders, and elected officials—play a critical and necessary role in public education and our future. Honoring community also means honoring cultural diversity of families in our communities who can offer valuable resources and understanding in supporting all students.
My Colorado community includes abundant choices in quality school programs for my children, both of whom attend traditional public schools. And it’s easy to get complacent and settle in. But the ESSA-driven process of drafting school-accountability plans is keeping a focus on school quality and improvement, and there are many ways the whole community can stay involved and informed.
This support can help build new programs, aid students in meeting state and national standards, and provide financial resources. So how can community members be encouraged to join the conversation in accountability?
–School superintendents and more school boards are seeking input from the community in setting high educational standards for schools. Our Boulder Valley School District Superintendent put together an “Ideal Day Task Force.” The purpose of the group was to examine length of school day, ensure that district- wide art, music and physical education are kept as 55 minute classes for elementary schools, and listen to recommendations that address the needs and desires of students, parents and community. The group composed parents, classroom teachers, specials teachers, principals and central staff. There was only one person from the community represented. More business, educational and health professionals in the Boulder and extended community could have provided valued information on how shaping the ideal school day influences well-rounded and eventual healthy adults. Our district could have sought out non-district employed individuals to have been an important community voice represented within this task-force group.
–Just Ask! There is a wealth of knowledge found in communities to support classroom lessons and school achievement plans. Guest speakers within the community are often willing to share professional wisdom, provide mentoring students, and necessary skills needed for entering the workforce. As a parent and educator, I was happy to find professionals to come and teach, share knowledge that would support teachers with state standards and curriculum. An example, an 8th grade teacher recently came to me asking if I knew any resources available to help support her teaching of Colorado History. I was able to locate and provide a local business owner, “Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours,” which provided bus tours and fun factual stories about historic landmarks and businesses around the Boulder and Denver area, to come and speak to all her classes for the day. This community service was valuable and meaningful for students and teachers. Many came to listen to his presentation which was engaging and useful!
These partnerships also create bonds that make community organizations place more value and resources within positive school outcomes. Parents can support teachers by offering to be the bridge in creating these relationships.
–I know as a parent that many community members feel their responsibility ends once casting ballots, or paying taxes. Parents can help with educating voters and community members on how their support on school related referendum leads to betterment of societies. There are school accountability groups in districts, why not parent and community accountability groups?
Accountability isn’t just the responsibility of school districts and educators. It’s all of us—parents, students and community—working for the success of our children and the future of our community.
Lisa Canova is a parent and former elementary teacher who has also worked in the fields of special education, gifted and talented education and leadership programming for elementary and middle school children. She has a master’s degree in literacy, and has co-authored academic articles researching the integration of social and emotional wellness teaching through literature. She is author of the book, “Teach Happy, Educating Wellness for Success” available in May. www.teachhappy.com