Effective Practices : Working with Parents
Working with Parents Section 2
1. Is there a group or person in the school with responsibility for Parent Education? If yes, describe briefly the primary responsibilities and/or activities of this group.
2. Does your school have a standard format or schedule for parent education activities? How are your school’s parent-education activities coordinated, communicated and calendared?
3. What processes does your school use to ensure that a topic or speaker is effective and appropriate?
4. Describe the way in which class parent evenings are handled in your school. Are they centrally coordinated/scheduled? Is there an expectation regarding frequency of meetings? How are they usually conducted?
5. Does your school have one or more Anthroposophic study groups? Are these groups a school sponsored activity, or are they coordinated by the Society or by individuals? How is information about the study groups communicated to parents?
6. Does your school hold any mandatory information events for parents? Describe these events and the information covered.
7. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to Parent Education.
8. What about your school’s Parent Education program is particularly effective?
9. If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s parent education program, what would it be and why?
Is there a group or person in the school with responsibility for Parent Education? If yes, describe briefly the primary responsibilities and/or activities of this group.
Responsibility for Parent Education is handled in various ways in Waldorf schools. Each method has advantages, but the most important fact is that responsibility for Parent Education be consciously and specifically assigned to an individual or group. Clarity as to who is leading this effort is the single most important variable in predicting the effectiveness of a school’s work to educate parents about Waldorf education and child development issues.
In some cases it is the school’s Pedagogical Dean or Pedagogical Chair who is responsible for Parent Education. The position of Pedagogical Dean is a full time position with approximately 3/4 of its time spent in pedagogical administration and oversight. One of the Dean’s responsibilities is to develop and schedule programmatic education for parents. This task is done in partnership with the College and with the Pedagogical Program committee, and with input from the Parent Council. The Dean creates a program, schedules presentations, and coordinates outside presenters. The Dean works with the calendar committee to set the dates for various presentations.
In another school this responsibility lies with a person called the Community Educator. The school reports that this title is a conscious change from the terms “Adult Educator” or “Parent Educator” often used in other schools This position is a 1/2 time job with responsibility for working with teachers, parents, Board members, and interested individuals outside of the immediate school community. (See: Community Educator Job Responsibilities)
In other schools the responsibility for Parent Education is a shared one, with significant activity being held by the kindergarten and parent/tot teachers, the class teachers, the Parent Association, and the Public Relations/Enrollment Support Committee. One school described its efforts at Parent Education in this way:
The school’s Public Relations/Enrollment Support committee has retention as one of its tasks, and Parent Education is viewed as an important activity in support of retention.
Responsibility for Parent Education also lies with the class teachers. In the grades teachers are expected to bring information about the curriculum and child development to parents as a part of their class meetings.
The Parent Education impetus is particularly strong in the kindergarten. The school has four kindergarten classes, and those teachers often work collaboratively to bring information of particular interest to families with young children. The Parent/Tot program is also very helpful in educating parents of very young children about child development and Waldorf education.
The Parent Council also has the freedom to bring any topics that will be of benefit to the parents, and often organizes presentations on topics of interest. One recent example was a presentation and discussion on sports for children outside of school, with conversation touching issues such as the school’s view on outside sports and what’s healthy for the developing child.
Another school noted that the Enrollment Director has a strong effect on parent education as she is often the first person to describe Waldorf education to prospective parents. She coordinates various opportunities for parents to learn about Waldorf education and helps to coordinate an orientation early in the school year for new parents.
One school noted that it holds parent coffees twice a month. While a major component of these coffees is to build the social fabric of the parent community, issues that come up in the circle often have an educational bent, underscoring the importance of having one or two informed representatives of the school present at these sessions so questions raised can be answered in a timely way.
School stores typically stock a variety of books on Waldorf education and child development, making information readily available to parents. Some schools also include a section for parents in the school library, providing additional information on various topics from an anthroposophic perspective.
Several of the schools interviewed mentioned that there was an active teacher training program in their community, and that evening events coordinated by these programs were scheduled at the school whenever possible when topics might be of interest to parents.
Does your school have a standard format or schedule for parent education activities? How are your school’s parent-education activities coordinated, communicated and calendared?
The dates for all of the presentations listed above are established well in advance and are cleared through the person or group responsible for maintaining the all school calendar. Careful attention to the master calendar is important, as schools work diligently to avoid double booking activities for parents. The calendaring task is sometimes assigned to a committee, sometimes to the school administrator, and sometimes to the front desk coordinator.
Events are publicized in the school’s weekly newsletter, posted on the school’s online calendar, and included in a banner on the school’s web site home page. Flyers are made available at the doors to classrooms or mailed home. Often times presentations made by outside speakers are also advertised in the local paper. Schools also use the room parent phone tree and email tree to remind parents about upcoming events.
What processes does your school use to ensure that a topic or speaker is effective and appropriate?
Most schools rely on a shared conversation between interested parties to establish programs that seem to best meet the needs of the parent community. The participants in these shared conversations vary between schools depending on where responsibility for Parent Education lies. In some schools it is the Pedagogical Dean and the Pedagogical Program Committee that engage with each other; in other cases it might be the Community Educator and the Parent Association Council who confer with each other. The important issue here is that the process be a collaborative one so that schools make a good effort to ensure that guest speakers will really address issues of importance and interest in the parent community.
Describe the way in which class parent evenings are handled in your school. Are they centrally coordinated/scheduled? Is there an expectation regarding frequency of meetings? How are they usually conducted?
Most schools reported an expectation that teachers hold four or five class parent meetings each year. The dates for these meetings are scheduled through the all school calendar process.
There are typically four components in a well planned parent meeting:
- A presentation by the teacher about the age appropriate curriculum and the way in which the students are engaging in the material as a class,
- An opportunity for discussion with the parents about the teacher’s presentation,
- Artistic activity, and
- A time for coordinating the various practical aspects of classroom activity or all school business.
The portion of the meeting set aside for coordinating practical work may include discussions by the room parent of upcoming field trips and other class activities, Board member presentations about annual giving or the annual all-school survey, and presentations by the class’s Parent Council representative where information on all school events is shared or parent input solicited on issues facing the school.
Practically speaking it is recommended that the agenda for a meeting be prepared in advance so that parents can see it. Many schools mentioned that with new teachers it is common practice to have one or two other faculty members present at the class meeting to support the teacher and ensure that the evening is a productive one for all parents.
One school mentioned that it is a common practice for a teacher to do a book study each year in addition to their class meetings. These study sessions are optional, and typically occur about half an hour before the class meeting begins.
Notes are always taken at class meetings. Most teachers have a buddy system for absentees. The buddies are set at the beginning of the year, with the expectation being that if one’s buddy is unable to make a class meeting there will be a designated contact person to share information and answer questions so everyone is kept up to date.
Several schools noted that the teachers who are most appreciated by parents are those who talk about what is going to happen with the children’s development in the coming year. This anticipatory guidance builds confidence in the teacher, and allows parents to be prepared for the developmental changes that their children will undergo.
Another school mentioned that in the open ended discussion portion of the meeting it is helpful to give parents a fair amount of leeway in the topics they choose to discuss, even if they aren’t directly classroom related. Examples of topics that can be helpful for parents are conversations about bedtime and allowance.
In one school all class meetings are held on the same night twice a year. Parents gather at six and enjoy appetizers and conversation for half an hour. The parents then have an hour together as a whole school, and then break off into individual class meetings.
Does your school have one or more Anthroposophic study groups? Are these groups a school sponsored activity, or are they coordinated by the Society or by individuals? How is information about the study groups communicated to parents?
Many of the schools in the study indicated that there is an active branch of the Anthroposophical Society in the local community. In these cases the schools often rely on the Society to provide opportunities for Anthroposophic study. One school expected its Community Educator to lead a study group each semester on an Anthroposophic issue, while other schools mentioned that parent led book groups were a frequent occurrence. Schools were happy to include information about the Society and other study groups and book clubs in their school’s weekly bulletin.
Does your school hold any mandatory information events for parents? Describe these events and the information covered.
While schools often hold mandatory information evenings as part of the process to apply to the school, none of them are currently holding any meetings that are described as mandatory. Many schools said that the they have a strong expectation of attendance at their school’s all school meetings, with at least one parent from each family expected to attend. Each of the schools interviewed said their language about attendance at these events was becoming stronger, and several of them indicated that they are considering making their new parent orientation events mandatory.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to Parent Education. (Editor’s Note: The following comments are quotes from schools about their individual school’s philosophy.)
The strategic plan notes that well informed parents are a vital part of the school’s health and are necessary to a healthy school culture and the school’s advancement. Parents are invited and encouraged to attend events that support their understanding at each level of education that the school offers.
The school is a learning community. Parents are encouraged to be a part of that learning experience by being a part of the adult education events.
Parent education is seen as absolutely central to the health of the school.
The school has now built responsibility for Parent Education into the job of the Pedagogical Dean so someone is charged with keeping this priority high.
Parent education events are intended to be a support to parents, enriching their lives and building a stronger school community for their children in the process.
Building the Anthroposophic basis is very important. The emphasis is on continually building a picture of the human being, and then showing how threefold social working grows out of this picture of the threefold human being.
A good Community Education program helps the school by making it possible for parents to deepen their own understanding of the school and to strengthen their own inner work.
A culture of giving is made possible when parents have the largest possible picture of Waldorf education and the work of the school. We can’t educate people too much, and see tremendous benefits coming back to the school through a parent body informed about Waldorf education.
Parent education is an ongoing process that begins before the children enroll, and even continues after the students graduate.
Parent education must be responsive to questions that parents are asking. You can’t answer a question that parents aren’t asking.
There is a baseline of information that is more parent information rather than parent education. This informative material is in the parent handbook, and there is an expectation that parents will read the handbook and be in compliance with it.
Overall the school believes that we must meet people where they are. At the same time we cannot be afraid of saying who we are. The ability to speak strongly and clearly about who we are is gained with experience as the school matures.
Parent education is particularly important in the early childhood area. Parents often enroll their children thinking only that the school is a beautiful safe place for their young children, but there is a need to begin telling these young parents about how we educate in the grades and our philosophic basis so that they can make an informed choice when the time comes to choose a grade school education for their child.
The educational program can’t be dogmatic or hard line. We want parents to understand the spirit of Steiner’s thinking, and not speak about the “law” or the rules of Waldorf education. Our school wants to communicate that this is a living education and that there is a lot of experience and depth behind what we do. We want parents to understand the basis for our practices and not feel that we are rigidly enforcing lifeless laws. We approach our parents with openness, and try to be transparent. We want parents to trust us, but want to provide opportunities for people to learn more and feel that their trust is well placed.
What about your school’s Parent Education program is particularly effective? (Editor’s note: The following comments are quotes from schools on what has been particularly effective for them in their individual schools.)
Incorporating this responsibility into the Pedagogical Dean’s position is making a difference in the quality and consistency of the parent education program.
The school has a well established Parent Council so there is natural dialoging around these events. There is two-way communication that takes in what parents are looking for and what would be helpful in future events.
The school holds a Community Café each day at drop off time. This provides a natural place for parents to stay for conversation and education. The Waldorf education study groups typically take place at this time.
There has been a shift in the “parking lot talk” now that parents have a greater understanding of Waldorf education and are committed to the school in a deeper way through study. This brings a “big picture” element to the conversations between parents that is healthier than in the past. This positive change has occurred fairly quickly.
Parents are coming back for additional sessions of adult study. The study group is done like a class with discussion.
Newsletter articles are also very effective at addressing various issues of interest and concern in the community.
The school has a good parent handbook. It’s very readable, and doesn’t feel like a bunch of rules and regulations. It is about 20 pages long, and includes information on Waldorf education and the founding of the school, as well as more practical details.
The school has a very successful First Fridays program. Parents are invited to come for coffee and refreshments, followed by a brief presentation (45 minutes) by a teacher on a topic that is living in the school community. Previous topics have ranged from an opportunity to meet alumni parents whose children have already gone on to high school to conversations about upcoming administrative organizational changes, to head lice. The topics are picked about 60 days in advance so they can be responsive to the needs and interests of the parent community. There is a similar program in the kindergarten called Monday Muffins. These sessions also occur at drop off time, and often involve a handcraft and conversation. A typical session might offer an opportunity to make a fleece angel while sharing conversation about holiday traditions. These events are slanted toward the parents of young children, although anyone can attend. These events work well because they occur regularly at the same time and in the same place, and have timely topics.
The school does a good job with its class parent meetings.
The admissions director sends a letter in October to all new parents. The letter welcomes parents to the school, notes that they’ll never be new again, and then invites them to drop by the admissions office to share feedback on the admissions process and perspectives on how things are going so far. While not everyone takes advantage of this opportunity, it is an effective way to get valuable feedback to the school and to find out what information parents are missing that will help them and their children have a successful experience at the school.
If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s parent education program, what would it be and why? (Editor’s Note: The following comments are quotes from schools about what they would change in their own school.)
The school is in the process of identifying what kinds of educational opportunities should be happening in what venue. There is interest in developing a more targeted program, and in developing a clear calendar of events that spells out which events are offered each year for which subgroups of parents.
The school is also exploring other means of expanding the work of parent education beyond that done by the class teachers. These efforts may include reprints of short articles, and other activities.
The school’s distribution of Renewal magazine to parents ends today after third grade. It would be a good investment to extend this to higher grades, at least through 8th grade.
The school continues to look for another term rather than Parent Education, but hasn’t found one that suits its purpose. The concern here is to strike a tone that is inviting, rather than one that implies that parents are uninformed or in need of education.
We would like to build attendance at the series of talks to parents; at present only about a third of parents attend these lectures.
We continue to live with the question about how to help parents understand the great importance of an effective partnership between parents and teachers, and how to build a larger percentage of the parents who are directly and actively involved in the life of the school.
We would benefit from having more speakers from the outside.
We could benefit from having more people from outside the school community involved in the study groups.
Parent meetings are well done. However, we might be able to do more to help teachers run their parent meetings. Teachers are already given a general format for the meeting, and the mentor for new teachers typically attends all of the meetings in the teacher’s first year. However, teachers might be helped by suggestions on how to handle things when a topic gets particularly heated, or how to manage a parent that wants to speak at length about her own child (or worse yet, complain about someone else’s child!)
There is a development in the way in which parents meet the school as their child grows up. We would be well served to be more conscious of this developmental process, and to respond to it in the way we structure our meetings.
Although we have lots of activity aimed at parent education it doesn’t always feel as though we have a parent education program. We would like to have a parent education program coordinator to help bring all the various pieces of the educational program together into a more seamless piece.
The school would like to offer a four session Waldorf 101 course. We have spoken with others schools which have offered this program, and found class teachers enthusiastic about the positive impact this educational program has had on the quality of the parent teacher conferences and class meetings.
We also dream of having a web based calendar that includes the events offered at all of the Waldorf schools in the general area, as well as those events offered by the Anthroposophical Society and the local adult education institute.