Effective Practices : Working with Parents

The Parent’s Role
Working with Parents Section 4

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1. Does your school have a volunteer coordinator? If so, please describe the scope of responsibility this individual enjoys in the school. If not, please describe how parent volunteer efforts are coordinated and cultivated.
2. What expectations does your school have regarding parent support for the classroom? In which ways are parents encouraged to support the work of their child’s class?
3. In what ways do parents serve the broader school community?
4. Does your school have a written statement regarding the protection and use of parent volunteers? If yes, please attach a copy. How was this statement developed? Which are the key features of this statement?
5. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to the parent’s role in the school.
6. What is particularly effective about the role parents play in the classroom and the school community?
7. If there were something you could change in relation to the role parents play, what would it be and why?

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Does your school have a volunteer coordinator? If so, please describe the scope of responsibility this individual enjoys in the school. If not, please describe how parent volunteer efforts are coordinated and cultivated.
The work of volunteer coordination is handled in a variety of ways in schools. Many schools report that volunteer coordination is a shared responsibility between the Development Director, the school secretary/receptionist, the Parent Association working through the Parent Association Room Representatives, and the Room Parents.

The Parent Association, working through its Class Representatives, coordinates a large part of the volunteer effort in the school. Frequently schools have faculty and administrative reps who serve on the Parent Association Leadership Council, both of whom are active in working with the Parent council when volunteer needs arise, particularly needs for people to serve in leadership capacities. The Board and the Leadership Council of the Parent Association both do reviews of the parent roster each year for possible members of their respective committees, and then reach out to those they wish to invite.

In schools with a Volunteer Manager the primary focus of this position is on filling volunteer needs for longer term assignments such as committee memberships and participation in major projects. The Volunteer Manager also supports the work of the Parent Association in its efforts to recruit volunteers for short term tasks such as festivals and fund raisers. One of the primary benefits of having someone serving as a Volunteer Manager is the ability to view volunteerism in a larger sense that goes beyond filling the immediate need. Oftentimes schools ask that all names being considered for volunteer tasks be sounded with the Volunteer Manager before contacting the individual. This can help ensure that someone being groomed for a major responsibility such as a committee chair position or Board membership is not approached for participation in a smaller role that would provide less benefit to the school and makes less use of a capable person’s talents. A Volunteer Manager also helps to maintain consciousness around appreciation of volunteers, and works to ensure that all volunteers are properly recognized for their contributions. Another benefit of having a Volunteer Manager is that it becomes easier for the school to develop standard materials that can be used over time to support volunteer work. These materials can include notebooks on “How to Coordinate a Pentathlon” or orientation materials for Parent Association Room Representatives.

One school reported that it has a half time Events Coordinator. This position was created several years ago to ensure that all the details of the school’s many all-school events such as the Winter Faire, Halloween Journey, Wreath Sale, and Annual Auction are well planned, organized and managed. The Events Coordinator works closely with the Development Director, Parent Association Room Representatives, and Room Parents to find the necessary volunteers for various activities. The Events Coordinator attends all Parent Association meetings and activities.

Another school described a group called the Leadership Development Committee. This group has responsibility for recruiting and grooming volunteers for leadership positions in the school. There is a branch of this committee that also finds volunteers for more day to day tasks as well. In support of the Leadership Development Committee’s work there is a regular section in the school’s weekly newsletter that lists volunteer opportunities for the coming weeks and any open leadership volunteer positions.

This advertising of open volunteer opportunities raises an interesting question about volunteerism. Several schools reported that they have moved away from allowing anyone that is interested to volunteer for any task, and have moved to a culture where people must be asked by another to serve. These schools stated strongly that being willing to serve is not enough; one needs to be seen as having capacities and must enjoy the trust and support of others. This approach encourages people to take on roles they might not have considered for themselves, and also ensures them the necessary support to get their task accomplished.

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What expectations does your school have regarding parent support for the classroom? In which ways are parents encouraged to support the work of their child’s class?
Most schools in the study invite and encourage parent participation in the classroom. This is done through the class parent evenings and through telephone and email networks in the class. They report that while participation is not mandatory their experience is that participation enriches not just the lives of the students and the classroom, but the lives of the parents and the family as well. One school noted that while it has a general expectation of 40 hours of volunteer service per family per year, this number is not tracked closely as it is difficult to account for accurately and can create social difficulty.

Parents are encouraged to get involved in the classroom in ways that work for them. In the younger grades parents often help with activities such as handwork, painting, and reading groups. In the upper grades the work is more often in the area of field trips, class fundraisers, and special events. Parents in all grades help the teacher prepare the class at the beginning of the year and to pack things up at year end. There is also work to be done organizing and hosting parent pot lucks and the taking up of collections for classroom gifts. Parents who are musicians often sit with the various ensemble groups, while other parents read to the students during handwork classes.

One school noted the importance of its expectation that parent support for the classroom means that all parents will be in support of the teacher. This expectation means there is an accompanying need to ensure that there are clear steps for processing concerns. The school’s philosophy is that parents demonstrate support both by participation and by their willingness to positively uphold school practices regarding communication.

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In what ways do parents serve the broader school community?
Parents are active volunteers in Waldorf school communities, serving in a wide variety of ways. Active membership in the Parent Association and service as a Parent Association Room Representative are simple ways for parents to serve the wider school community. Parents serve as members and leaders of various committees in the school - property, finance, marketing and outreach, development, and the annual campaign to name a few. Schools’ Boards of Trustees include current and former parents.

School stores are frequently managed and operated by parent volunteers, making Waldorf related toys, decorations, crafts and reading materials readily available to families in the community. These school stores often make a large contribution to the school from their sale proceeds.

Schools also have a number of people who volunteer for other tasks that serve the broader community. These include helping to fold and distribute the weekly bulletin, serving as carpool helpers, and joining a member of the administrative staff to greet children as they come in each morning. During registration week the school office is often staffed heavily with volunteers who make sure all the paperwork is complete and accurate. Parents are also involved in staging the school festivals, and help plan and participate in fundraising events such as the annual Jog-A-Thon, annual giving, and the craft fair.

Parents have an important role in the recruitment of new students for the school. Schools recognize that “Word of mouth is the best recruitment tool,” and make an effort to thank a family whenever a new student joins the community based on a personal recommendation. Parents also provide hospitality at many outreach events, providing cake and coffee for the monthly Walks Through the Grades, and serving as tour guides at these events as well.

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Does your school have a written statement regarding the protection and use of parent volunteers? If yes, please attach a copy. How was this statement developed? Which are the key features of this statement?
The schools interviewed for this study did not have written statements regarding the protection and use of volunteers in the community. However, school handbooks frequently point to the fact that parents are invited and encouraged to participate in the life of the school community, and that the key to the child’s educational well being lies in the close cooperation of teachers and parents. These statements often note the direct correlation between parents’ positive involvement in the ideals and activities of the school and the child’s positive experience in the class. One school has created a beautiful brochure that describes in some detail “PARENT INVOLVEMENT: The Key to a Child’s School Success”. (See: Parent Involvement Brochure)

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Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to the parent’s role in the school. (Editor’s Note: The following comments are quotes from schools about their individual school’s philosophy.)
The Board and the faculty carried the school for a long time, and parents were not always included. Now the parents are recognized as the third leg of the stool, and we work actively to encourage their participation.

With the creation of the Parent Association there is far more consciousness about including the parents, and finding ways to use their gifts and talents. A school cannot survive past the pioneer stage without finding effective ways to bring parents into the school work.

We work to regularly articulate the vision and mission of the school, keeping it high in the consciousness of every adult in the community.

Our adult education efforts are focused on helping parents understand that being a Waldorf parent is about more than dropping one’s child off in the morning and buying an education; it is about creating and supporting an environment that allows many children to be educated.

The parents really are the will force at the school. It is important to value this gift that parents bring, to continue to invite this will force into the school, and to work at nourishing and sustaining it.

The picture of servant leadership is also an important way of looking at the whole non-hierarchical approach to leadership in a Waldorf school. This theme is brought regularly to the Community Education work in the school.

Parents are offered an exceptional opportunity to become active in support of the school community where the education of their children is taking place.

Parent participation brings a vitalizing element into the life of the school. Waldorf schools are created and sustained through the partnership of parents and teachers.

When parents take advantage of the opportunity to get involved in the school community it supports the development of strong parenting, a strong community, has benefits for their own child, and for all students in the school.

When parent participation opportunities are done well, parents leave with the feeling that they have received far more than they have been able to give. They recognize that participation allows them to learn and grow as adults, and that a cooperative and active parent community models healthy community life for the children.

Parent involvement starts through classroom participation, which serves to build the classroom culture. Participation then extends out through the all-school festivals and events to build the community as a whole. In this process the entire school community becomes a learning culture.

It is inadequate to think of parent participation as a means of building fund raising capacity or free labor through volunteerism. Participation builds stakeholders, and schools with active and committed stakeholders are far healthier. The volunteer culture is an entré to stakeholder culture.

Key leadership roles are not filled by simple volunteerism. Candidates are identified by the group, and then vetted for a position. This encourages more people to participate than might otherwise have occurred, and has also helped to protect the school against willing but unqualified candidates.

People are not asked to take up leadership roles until they have been in the school at least one year.

Sometimes the people who support the school the most are the ones who are the least visible. Support can occur in many ways such as moving the conversations among parents in positive directions, and this kind of support is just as important as driving on a field trip or other activities.

In the school’s tuition agreement there is a statement that the school reserves the right to dismiss any student whose parents are not acting in the best interests of the school.

It is critical that a school know how to say, “Thank you”, and recognize participation.

The parent is regarded as extremely important and very much a part of what a Waldorf school is designed for.

The specific ways in which parents are involved changes as the school grows and develops.

Keep gratitude flowing. Let people know that their input and their work are highly valued.

The healthy social life verse is a reflection of how we work. It is everyone’s job to hold the true meaning of what we are doing, and to ensure that the way in which we work is a proper reflection of the spirit behind our education.

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What is particularly effective about the role parents play in the classroom and the school community? (Editor’s note: The following comments are quotes from schools on what has been particularly effective for them in their individual schools.)
The festivals are opened up to the wider community. For example, Halloween had over 500 people in attendance, many from outside the school community. Parents play a very large role in coordinating these festivals and supporting them through hours of volunteer labor.

Parents have fundraised very large amounts in a small community that is not particularly wealthy.

Now that the Parent Association has formed and has a better sense of its mandate it has become a real source of strength in the school community.

Recruitment of new parents is reasonably effective. Their participation usually begins by supporting classroom activities, and then grows to include activities in the school as a whole.

There is a partnership between the Board, the College, the administration, and the Parent Council. The goal is to create a seamless fabric with an inclusive culture.

Parents find that their participation in the school community over many years provides not only for their child’s development, but is a learning community for them as well, with opportunities for education and self-development.

The school provides opportunities for parents to experience the school community as village culture to which they belong, a place where they are joined with others through shared values, and where they experience a community of peers and friends who are also guiding their children toward adulthood.

We have great parents. What is most effective is the spirit that lives in the parent community, one where they always ask, “How can I help?” This is a legacy that has been created by many years of fine parent participation at the school, and is supported by a culture of acknowledgment and appreciation.

Parents are encouraged to get involved in ways that work for them. Some only volunteer for one project, others help out in various ways throughout the year. There are many avenues for participation, and parents are encouraged to find ones that work for them and their busy lives.

The number of hours that parents put into the daily operations and the leadership roles in the school is incredible.

Some of the volunteer positions are almost full time positions. It is amazing how generous some people are with their time.

There is an open and welcoming spirit in our community. It is expressed from parent to parent and from staff to parent. This is what breeds an effective volunteer culture.

There is good communication on volunteer opportunities. The weekly bulletin includes a Parent Involvement Corner.

Parents have created many exciting programs for our school. One parent had a vision of creating a library for the students. There is now a library, and many volunteers who are active in supporting this work. Another initiative that a parent created is Community Partnerships, a program of outreach and service giving. The school also has a civic action group that looks for grants from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which has participated in the urban redesign of streets in the neighborhood, and supports local business networking. The school would not have a library or a curriculum connection to community service learning if it were not for the initiative of parent volunteers. Parents also coach the after school sports program.

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If there were something you could change in relation to the role parents play, 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 would like to be more inclusive in all aspects of school life. We are in the very early stages of bringing a social inclusion program to the school. This program will start with a focus on children on the playground, but there is hope that the program will overflow and have a positive affect on parent participation as well.

We would benefit by reinstituting the buddy program. This was a good way of supporting new parents at the school, but it would need to be supported with greater form than it had in the early days of the school.

We continue to work at building more understanding and agreement around the use of media and computer technology by children. When parents can be in support of each other on this front we feel real benefits.

We work continually to build a deeper understanding among parents of the developing child and the way in which our unique Waldorf curriculum supports this development.

The school continues to discuss the level at which parent leadership should also constitute Board leadership. We aren’t sure whether the Parent Council chair should receive a seat on the Board. We want to avoid a constituency relationship but wonder whether a seat on the Board would make clear in a more formal way the relationship between the parents and Board.

Scope and scale of work expectation is an area of continued focus. We don’t want people to be overloaded, and want to keep the volunteer workload sustainable. We continue to ask, “Where should we scale things back,” and “Do we have a proper balance that supports a good quality of life?” We are asking if the school needs a designated group to keep focus on this question about the sustainability and best use of volunteer resources. It is important to the school that we focus our time and energy on the essentials, and avoid asking parents to participate in activities that aren’t essential to our school’s culture.

When there is a difficulty with a teacher parents often feel a sense of being left out of the personnel process. The strictures around protecting an employee’s rights sometimes make parents feel that they are being shut out of a process that has a direct bearing on their child’s education, and this can be awkward. We continue to work to find ways to minimize this feeling of isolation.

There are some areas in the school where parents are volunteering that perhaps should be done by paid staff. A volunteer coordinator might provide more clarity about our needs and more form to our work, constancy in saying thank you, etc.

It would be helpful to spend more time being sure that all the right people are included in the conversations at the early stages of a planning effort. Sometimes we jump into action without including all the key players.

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