In order for schools to respect all families, they must be informed, trained and intentional about engaging all families and the communities they serve. Engagement can’t be centered solely on federal requirements and money. Education leaders have to go beyond photo opportunities and policy and parental involvement checklists to truly connect with families.
In an effort to positively change school environment and culture, school districts can lend themselves to acts that are condescending and/or disrespectful to parents and families. I sat down with parent advocate Pam McNall, founder and CEO of Respectful Ways, a curriculum designed to teach educators respect, perseverance, responsibility and compassion—and she gave some advice on how school districts can do better.
Why is diversity in school leadership important?
One word: Relatable. With children being inundated with images and videos from media and social media, they know what’s out there and they know who they relate to. It’s healthy to have a familiar face they can depend on, but the goal here is to introduce children to other cultures, other perspectives, other people, so they can then say, “Hmmm, that person isn’t all that different from me. I wonder who else I can relate to?” It opens their ‘trust circle’ and in life; don’t we all need a trust circle to feel comfortable in?
What are your views on the stereotypes and stigma of low income families and communities?
The stigma attached to low-income areas is heart-breaking. It’s one of the reasons I started Respectful Ways. To claim, “All here in this community are ‘this-n’-that’”is just plain ignorant. The children in these communities do not need to wear these stigmas like a scarlet letter. It’s not fair, and they should not have to own something that has nothing to do with them as individuals.
The more connected we are with the world wide web, the more people are realizing just how small and connected the world is. Programs like Respectful Ways give kids a chance to learn about their feelings, to understand other people’s feelings, and to tap into their own emotions so they can move on from pain, such as a stigma or a stereotype.
This reminds me of one of our Guides, “Be The Best *YOU* You Can Be!” My advice to students is, focus on you and prove the ignorance wrong.
How do you think economics effects student performance?
Funny you should ask this because I’ve been studying statistics about which states spend the most and least amount of money per pupil in their public schools. You’d be surprised. Some states spend a lot more than others but grades aren’t that different. In my opinion, it’s not the money, it’s the burdens of standardized testing and bureaucracy that’s been affecting student performance and teacher performance.
Educators and students alike have been loaded down and hand-tied with systems and procedures, which doesn’t make for creative learning and play. Yes, play. You want to affect student performance? Let them play, discover, explore, journal, act, sing, rap, dance, share. Get this good energy out of their system and then bombard them with science, math and ELA. You can throw money at any system but if not designed well, money is not an automatic fix.
In what ways do you think economics effects family and community engagement in schools?
The key word here is engagement. Generally speaking, the make-up of our public schools has changed. Visit any city suburb in America, and the elementary schools now have more English as a second language (ESL) students than ever. Back in my day, there were “international schools” where ESL students learned together. This mixing of cultures is a blessing and a curse. Children learn cultural diversity and new perspectives, but it can hold back gifted students. Due to language limitations, families of ESL students may not even know about parent/teacher night, or be too intimidated to go.
Talk about effective engagement! It’s a vicious cycle, and too often we’re blaming low-income as the excuse, when money may not have anything to do with it. In my opinion, everyone needs to step up. Businesses and parents, no matter race, color, creed, or age need to engage. Engage in your PTA or parent group, engage in your local school. Engagement is key and must be intentional by education leaders because our children’s future depends on it.