Parent Involvment on Steroids?

Parent Involvement on Steroids?

Call it what you will — “parents on steroids” or an “extreme takeover” — but a group of parents has taken a school headmistress and several teachers hostage in the town of Berre l’Etang in the south of France. The parents want one of the teachers fired. And those of us in school communication in North America think WE have dealt with just about everything in school community relations!

“We are very worried that the pupils are falling behind in school. We think our children are in danger. That’s why we have decided to hold the headmistress and a couple of teachers hostage. We want things to change,” said Christophe Planes, one of the parents, the daily Le Figaro reports.

The 15 adults occupying the school and holding several people hostage said they want the teacher in charge of their 9-year-old children to be fired. The headmistress said relations with the teacher, who is in his first year of teaching, have been difficult. The parents said they are aware that they risk legal action but insist their children have been “held hostage for several months.”

Local education authorities have agreed to transfer the teacher to another school. The parents, however, said they want a written document promising his transfer. Sounds like an ongoing credibility and trust problem to me.

Parent Trigger Laws

Of course, nothing so drastic could happen here in our own backyards — or so we think. California has opted for “parent trigger laws” where a majority of parents can demand a school shut down, or can change its staff, or can become a charter school when their schools perform poorly and damage the future of their kids. Mixed results have been reported on implementation of that California experience.

In the communication audits NSPRA conducts in the U.S. and Canada, we normally ask the parents, staff, and community leaders about the process of giving input before decisions are made, whether the input is actually listened to, and what type of feedback they received on their input. In other words, is anybody listening to and acknowledging their input in an authentic and helpful way? Is the communication loop closed?  

We Can Do Much Better

First, I am pleased to report that pockets of great two-way communication do exist in some systems. But in many places, two-way communication is not offered and its absence leads to growing levels of stress and frustration. No genuine input opportunities exist, or if they do, people describe them as “lip service” or even a sham. The second half of the communication process is rarely completed.

The result: Frustration skyrockets, savvy parents “shop” for other schools, staff spirit and morale turn negative, budget support wanes, and the feeling that “our schools” transform into “their schools” as parents and staff no longer feel connected to their community school.

We know a better way exists as it is being practiced in many NSPRA districts throughout North America. Building a culture of two-way communication is one of the best things you can do for today’s schools.

 Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director  


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