Effective Practices : Working with Parents
Working with Parents Section 3
1. Does your school have a Room Rep for each class? What are the primary responsibilities of the Room Rep? Attach a copy of the Room Rep position description if available.
2. How are Room Reps selected? What are the skills and abilities that your school generally looks for in a room representative?
3. Are Room Reps only responsible for coordinating activities within a particular class, or do they also have official responsibilities within the parent association?
4. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to Room Reps.
5. What about your school’s Room Reps is particularly effective?
6. If there were something you could change with regard to your school’s Room Reps what would it be and why?
Does your school have a Room Rep for each class? What are the primary responsibilities of the room rep? Attach a copy of the Room Rep position description if available.
It is the usual practice in Waldorf schools for each class to have both a Room Parent and a Parent Association Representative.
The Room Parent provides teacher support by facilitating communication between parents and the teacher via email and telephone lists, and handling volunteer recruitment for class activities such as finding drivers for a field trip or helping to organize a class party. Room Parents also coordinate the class’s contribution to all-school festivals, and coordinate fund raisers for the class. A Room Parent also coordinates volunteers to aid the teacher in setting up the classroom at the beginning of the school year, and in moving items to the new classroom at year end.
In some schools a Room Parent is named to support the special subject teachers. The special subject Room Parent supports the subject teachers by arranging volunteers to help set up for various events such as concerts held by the music department or a Dias de los Muertos observance held by the Spanish department.
The Parent Association Representative is a member of the leadership team of the Parent Association. This leadership team is often known as the Parent Council. The Council has responsibility for communication relative to whole school activities, and may take the lead in conversations around certain concerns such as the timing of school activities or parking protocol. The Parent Council also coordinates the staffing of volunteers to manage various aspects of all school events. Typically the Parent Association holds several all-school fundraisers. These fundraisers are coordinated by the Parent Council, and then the Council will determine where the funds can best support the activities of the school. The Parent Association Representative communicates with the Room Parent about school wide events such as festivals, special speakers, and all-school meetings.
How are Room Reps selected? What are the skills and abilities that your school generally looks for in a room representative?
The Room Parent is typically chosen by the teacher without input from the parents in the class. It is not unusual for someone to serve in this capacity for several years. However, this practice of Room Parent retention is a double edged sword - the constancy provides comfort to the teacher and the extra benefit of having an experienced person in the role, but it sometimes is an excuse for other parents to feel less of a need to be involved in classroom activities.
The ideal Room Parent is someone with a good amount of sensitivity and discretion, and who can handle sensitive issues. A Room Parent should be someone who is organized and follows through, and someone who can commit the time needed for this job. The Room Parent must have an unconditional love for the school, someone who sees the warts but loves the school and will work to support it in good times and difficult ones. The Room Parent must be well respected by other parents in the class.
The process for selecting a Parent Association Representative is different. While a teacher may provide suggestions as to who might make a good candidate for this position, it is the Parent Association Council that usually makes the selection of new representatives. One school described its selection method this way:
“Each teacher provides a list of possible candidates from his or her class to serve as a Parent Council representative. The two co-chairs of the Parent Council select members from this list and ask if they would be willing to serve. Once someone has joined as an official rep they can re-up in the spring and serve another term if desired.”
The skills required for this position are somewhat different than those required of the Class Parent. Parent Association Representatives must be able to listen, discern, and make decisions on behalf of the whole school. It is helpful if the Parent Association rep is active in other areas of the school, as this gives the representative a larger perspective of the workings of the school.
Are room reps only responsible for coordinating activities within a particular class, or do they also have official responsibilities within the parent association?
As described above, most schools divide the room rep responsibilities and have two separate positions, a Room Parent and a Parent Association Representative.
The class rep helps to set up the class physically and creates phone and email lists for the class. She organizes volunteers for a variety of things such as flowers for the classroom each week, help on painting day, class field trips, special events such as the Pentathlon and over night trips, and the 8th grade fundraising activities.
The class rep attends a monthly Parent Association meeting. During these meetings there is discussion of upcoming events and how volunteer needs will be handled for these school wide events. There may be a discussion of other issues that are coming up in the school, and opportunities for the reps to provide the perspective of the parents in their class. Following the meeting the class rep is responsible for sharing the information from the meeting with the parents in the class.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to Room Reps. (Editor’s Note: The following comments are quotes from schools about their individual school’s philosophy.)
The Room Parent acts as a liaison between busy teachers and busy parents. The class parent serves as a second layer in the network of relationships, dealing with the detail that flows from class activities.
The Parent Association Representative serves as a liaison between the whole school and the individual classes, and deals with the details of various whole school activities.
The Parent Association Rep is regarded as the communication link to the wider parent body.
The Room Parent is the main tool for providing volunteer support when needed.
The Room Parent is intended to be one in which the individual works in close partnership with the class teacher. The Parent Association Reps are often involved in the classroom activity, but are much more focused on keeping the class informed and aligned with the larger school.
The splitting of the room rep position into two positions has been very effective. The Room Parent and the Parent Association Representative don’t seem to get in each other’s way, and a great deal is able to be accomplished for the school.
Effective Room Parents and Parent Association reps are committed Waldorf parents who have been at the school for a while, who have some clarity about the curriculum, and who are willing to hold the school in a deeper way.
Room Parents and Parent Association reps can really be the glue in building the fabric of the classroom culture and the school community. These people can play an extraordinarily important social role, building the class and the school as well.
The Room Parents and the Parent Association Representatives are as fundamental to the school’s operation as the receptionist. We can’t imagine having a school without them. They are an integral part of the school’s operation.
The people who step up to being Room Parents and Parent Association Reps are liquid gold. They give all of their resources to the school over the years - not just their work, but also their wealth and their wisdom. Often these individuals become committee members and committee chairs, and are often future members of the school’s Board of Trustees.
What about your school’s Room Reps 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.)
The separation of positions between the Parent Association rep and the Room Parent has been effective. While it is possible that someone could do both jobs, it is not a requirement that an individual take up responsibility for both whole-school and classroom activities. This separation provides more opportunities for people to get involved in the life of the school, and allows people to find positions that are the best match for their talents and interests.
The splitting of the two roles between Parent Association Representative and Room Parent is effective. In this way we avoid burdening someone with too much, and encourage more people to be involved with the school. Often times these two jobs attract different people with different skill sets.
The split of the position allows a teacher to get focused support, without the Room Parent being pulled away from the classroom into all-school business.
There are books that have been developed for various festivals and events such as the fifth grade pentathlon, the Santa Lucia festivities and the faculty luncheon. They contain information on who coordinated each event, allowing the class parent or event coordinator to easily contact the people who have done the job in the recent past for information and support. The book also provides some helpful detail on various events such as where to order the laurels for the pentathlon.
When new children join the class during the school year, the Room Parent is often the first family that new parents meet. The class parent can provide an important support to new families and helps to fold the child and his or her family into the fabric of the class.
At times the teacher will select two people who work together to do the job of Room Parent. This approach can be helpful, especially in large classes where there is more to do.
The work to coordinate the festivals of the school has been tremendously effective. The faculty has been able to give up much of the need to hold the details of these events. The detailed planning of field trips and other class activities such as the third grade building project can also be effectively delegated. This delegation allows teachers to be free to focus on teaching and the work directly with the children.
Room Parents and PA reps are also generally good about surfacing issues and routing them to proper channels - when this works well it is extremely helpful to the school.
Often times a Room Parent from one year mentors the Room Parent for the following year. This helps to build continuity and minimizes the need to reinvent the wheel for many activities.
The use of Room Parents and Parent Association Reps is a great way to identify and build leaders in the school community. Because Board, faculty and administrative representatives attend all the Parent Association meetings future leaders are readily identified.
With people’s busy lifestyles the Parent Association Rep position is sometimes shared, ensuring that there is always a representative from the class present at meetings. It also allows someone to take on this job if they are concerned about their ability to commit the time required.
The volunteer recruitment activity is supported by the Room Parent/Parent Association Rep structure, and is a key to the school’s ability to carry out some major tasks.
The Room Parent/Parent Association Rep system is an integral piece of the school’s fabric. There is a clear understanding of what is expected, what works well, and how it can be most effective.
The new reps are recruited at the end of the school year. There is an orientation for incoming reps during the last week of school that provides both a social opportunity for the new circle of reps and offers an overview of the main areas in which a rep is asked to participate. Another orientation session may be offered in the fall if necessary.
The school provides Room Parents with a clear breakdown of activities that are associated with particular grades, and a handbook is being developed for activities that occur every year (how to do a Pentathlon, etc.)
For the last few years a thank you luncheon has been held for the outgoing class reps. Food is provided by the Parent Association Steering Committee, and there is a thank you gift such as chocolates or flowers. The luncheon is an opportunity to socialize, to close the year, and to let the reps feel appreciated for the work they’ve carried during the year.
If there were something you could change with regard to your school’s Room Reps 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.)
We don’t have a school wide way of thanking people for the work of being a Room Parent. We have held an end of the year party that thanks the people who have taken leadership roles during the year, but we have failed to mention the Room Parents here. We have assumed that the teachers are doing this, but we can do a much better job of acknowledging their contribution. Room Parents who do their work well make things look easy, and it can be hard to see the very large contribution they make toward the health of the class.
The school’s use of Room Parents and PA reps is working well. Probably the most important skill for people in these positions is the ability to support the chain of communication in the school, so we work constantly at trying to strengthen this capacity.
We can always do more education about what the real responsibility is for a Room Parent and a PA rep. They are often perceived as representatives of the school in a way that is different from other parents, and it would be helpful to do an orientation or create a handbook to help support the people who have agreed to take up these responsibilities.
One of the challenges has to do with helping new Room Parents learn the best way to interface with the school. Questions come up around when the classrooms will be ready for set up in the fall, where to find a broom, and so on, and it would be great to build a more intentional relationship between the class reps, the Building Manager, and other members of the administrative staff.
The school may be approaching the time where it needs to have a part time volunteer coordinator. A person in that role could help smooth over some of these interfaces, and help hold the consciousness of the school/parent partnership. A volunteer coordinator could develop and formalize materials that would be used year after year to plan events and ongoing activities, and would help find the right balance in these materials so adequate detail is provided without the material being overwhelming.
We can never express enough gratitude for the people who have done so much for our school. We continue to look for ways to say thank you to our parent volunteers, and to see that the thanks come from all areas of the school (teachers, the Board, parents and the administrative staff) rather than just from the Parent Association steering committee.