Beyond the bake sale chapter 7 Supporting Advocacy
How can “Problem parents” become partners you can work with? Realistically … this is tough territory! • How do you diffuse angry parents who are probably carrying a load of emotional baggage that dates back to their own days in school? • How can you handle high-powered professional parents who insist on having their way? Both of these types of parents want to protect, help, or get a better deal for their children. They are trying to be advocates, but don’t know how to act constructively. Page 151
No Easy solutions! • Parents like these take up a lot of staff time and energy • Beyond The Bake Sale doesn’t pretend to have easy answers to this problem, but the approach the book recommends has two parts. Page 152
Part one • First, recognize that parents have the right to influence what happens to their children in school. • Be very clear that their requests will be treated with respect, as long as they are made in a civil manner. Page 152
Part two • Second, set up a proactive process for collaborating with families to monitor student progress, address their difficulties, and plan for their future. • Explain the process clearly and apply it fairly. The goal is to avoid a situation in which families have (or seem to have) a lot of inside influence, while others have (or feel they have) little or none. Page 152
Some problems can be prevented Remember… • Develop trusting relationships that welcome and honor families – from Chapter 4 • Address differences of culture, race, and class and discuss these differences openly – from Chapter 6 Page 152
Advocacy confronts every teacher, but needs to be resolved with school-wide strategies 4 Practices that your action team can promote to encourage and support parents to be constructive advocates for their children • 1. Work with families, teachers, and other staff so they can understand what it means to be an advocate, develop and use their advocacy skills, and learn how to resolve a problem. • 2. Collaborate with families to monitor their children’s progress, give them a voice in their children’s placement or program, and figure out how to assist their children when they’re struggling. Page 152
3. Give families and students the information and support they need to make smooth transitions to kindergarten, middle school, and high school, and from there to postsecondary education and a career. • 4. Help families be actively involved in setting goals for their children’s future, steering them toward higher-level programs, and planning for postsecondary education. Pages 152-153
Help families understand what an advocate does… Advocates: • Set high expectations and follow their children’s progress – monitoring attendance, homework, grades, and test scores • Help the student set goals and plan for the future • Steer the student through the system, selecting courses and programs that match his or her goals • Intervene if the student is under pressure, has a problem, or is being treated unfairly • Get assistance when needed, such as tutoring, medical attention, or counseling Page 153
Monitor the student’s out-of-school time and make sure it is spent in constructive activities • Line up other educational activities, such as sports, recreation, drama, music lessons. As a school, we can work to make sure families have this type of information to become effective advocates for their child. A few ways to communicate these messages: (newsletters, family workshops, school messengers, parent-teacher conferences) Page 153
Power is positive • The more parents feel that they have the power to influence their children’s future positively, the better their children tend to do in school. This is called “efficacy” – the power to have an effect. • For us as educators, it is all about giving good information to parents to help them be effective advocates. We need to help parents know how to “press for success.” Page 154
Examples of advocacy What’s good advocacy? What’s over the line? • Requesting a certain teacher, with the particular needs of their child in mind. • Questioning discipline policy or methods and requesting a hearing with an impartial advocate. • Applying political pressure to get “the best teachers” for their own child. • Refusing to accept a teacher’s word or criticizing classroom discipline in front of their child. Page 155
Helping families understand and use advocacy to resolve problems • Parents have to understand how the school works 5 ideas for introducing families to the school • Hold an orientation at the start of the school year and introduce the entire staff. Give families a chance to meet them personally. • Put a diagram or chart of the school’s organization in the school handbook. Explain how and when parents can contact the principal, teachers, counselors, and other staff. Let them know, step by step, how to resolve an issue or concern. Page 156
Helping families understand and use advocacy to resolve problems • Parents have to understand how the school works 5 ideas for introducing families to the school • Run a regular “who’s who” column in the school newsletter. • Publish a catalog of all the programs in the school. Describe how to apply and who is eligible. Include Title I, special education, AIG, and others that your school may want to include. Page 156
Helping families understand and use advocacy to resolve problems • Parents have to understand how the school works 5 ideas for introducing families to the school 5. Post information on the school website about school staff, with information in points 2, 3, & 4. Add a section on the school district – the superintendent, school board (identify your area’s representative), and key district staff, plus a link to the district website. Include a list of district-level and school-level committees that parents can join. Page 156
Helping families understand and use advocacy to resolve problems • Parents have to understand how the school works Families also need information about the curriculum and the state’s standards: • What should their child know and be able to do at each grade level. • How are the student’s report card grades connected to standards? • What does the state test measure and how are the results used? • What is a portfolio and how is it used to assess students? What is a rubric? (Curriculum nights, family event nights, student work displays, parent-teacher conferences – all help to share information with parents regarding the items listed above) Page 157
Parents must understand changes in school methods When parents attended school Today • Students often sat in rows • Students often read textbooks • Students completed drill sheets • Students may repeat what the textbook says • Students may sit at tables • Students work in groups on projects • Students learn through manipulatives and hands-on activities • Students must do more critical thinking Parents want to know how the school teaches reading and math and to understand these changes. Pages 157-158
Parents need to know how to resolve problems that their children are having in school • Your problem solving process should answer these questions: • What is the chain of command – whom should parents contact if there is a problem? • Where do they go next if the problem isn’t settled at that level? • How can they work with teachers to define and solve problems and ensure that students’ rights, opinions, and needs are respected? Be proactive. Identify groups of students who may need extra help and reach out to those families. For example, if the scores of African American and Latino girls are lagging in science, develop a special 4-week program on family science activities to show families how to help raise their academic achievement. Page 159
Families need opportunities to identify and help solve problems that affect many or all students • Leadership training programs can help families of all backgrounds learn and practice the skills they need to be advocates and problem solvers. They can also improve student achievement, increase parent involvement, and have a lasting impact. Training Resources • Action Alliance for Children describes nine such programs in its useful guide, Pathways to Parent Leadership. • The Right Question Project (RQP) – more details in Chapter 10. • The Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL) - more details in Chapter 10. Pages 162-163
If funding is unavailable for nationally recognized programs for advocacy… • Events can still be offered to help parents partner closely with the school. • REMEMBER: “If parents don’t feel they may approach teachers or question decisions made by school staff, how can they be effective advocates for their children?” • To be heard when they speak out, parents need someone who is listening. Give parents a voice in their child’s placement or program and regular updates on their progress, and work with them to resolve problems. Pages 165-166
Building Advocacy • Short of adopting a whole new advocacy program, Beyond the Bake Sale suggest three examples of ways to help build advocacy: • The Parent Review: Teachers ask parents for information about their children: What are their hobbies, interests, and special skills? Is there any specific history or situations the teacher should be aware of? How should parent and teacher stay in touch about how the child is doing? (For a sample parent review, see chapter 11)
Building advocacy • The Personal Learning Plan: This is the same as SCS Personal Education Plan (PEP) for students. According to our book study, in some schools, only students who are at risk of failing have such plans; in others, all students do. • Advocacy Workshops for Parents: In elementary school, parent advocacy should focus on making sure that students are learning at a proficient level. Parents should be trained what questions to ask teachers and teachers should be trained how to respond to the questions parents ask. The key is training and knowing that cultivating a two-way relationship with parents will help improve student behavior and performance.
Give families and students information and support to make smooth transitions • When students feel comfortable at school, they are more likely to attend regularly and earn higher grades and test scores. Their comfort level drops when they move from one school to the next. Explaining what’s expected, and giving students and their families a firsthand look at what’s next, can help them get ready for the next level of education.
A well designed transition plan should have these goals: • Students and families will be familiar with the new school staff and facilities. • School staff and families will know each other and develop relationships. • Students will feel safe and connected to the school – they will know other students, be able to find their way around the building, meet the teachers, and understand the program they’ll be taking. • Families will feel welcome, know their way around, and know who to contact to discuss how their children are doing.
Transition Examples • Visit to feeder schools – teachers, administrators, and students visit the feeder schools ( or preschool programs) to meet with families and young students and answer their questions. • Tours of the “new” school – Students and families take a look at the building, often with student tour guides, and attend social events and information sessions about the school and its programs. Some middle and high schools have web sites that offer virtual tours, a map of the building, and a section to answer frequently asked questions.
Transition examples • A “buddy system” – Incoming students are assigned an older student “buddy” who takes them under their wing for a day or two. Some schools have a “spring sampler” program, where students spend a day at the next school, in the company of a buddy. • Home Visits – Over the summer, some schools make home visits to families with children about to enter kindergarten, and to families who will be new to the school. The purpose of the visit is to welcome the families to the school community, make a personal connection, and leave behind some information about the school and its programs.
Transition examples • Letters and Phone Calls – Teachers send out letters or phone calls introducing themselves and welcoming new students to their class. They include reading lists, useful school supplies, information about summer programs, and a summary of what students will be learning the first month in school. After school starts, sending a quick note home saying, “Your child had a great day,” or relating something nice the child did that first week, goes a long way toward building relationships.
Help families be actively involved in setting goals for their child’s future • Kindergarten is not too early to start thinking about (and planning for) what a student will do after high school. • Help families be aware of programs that the school offers such as AIG, the EC referral process, etc. • When students enter 6th grade, parents need to understand three things: • Courses that are required for college admission • What students should take each year to complete the requirements by the end of their senior year • How to navigate the process of applying for college or other postsecondary education programs – and how to pay for it.
Goal setting for middle and high school • The last portion of the chapter deals with middle and high school programs to help transition students such as the following: • An Advisory System • Study Skills Program • Student Support Teams • Individual Graduation Plans • Family Conferences • Mother-Daughter Programs • Moving Beyond Tracking
Family support at all levels of education for students is key to helping our students!
Homework • Complete the checklist on “How Well Does Your School Support Parents as Advocates?” • Omit questions 16 & 17 • Using the checklist, discuss the areas in which your school is doing well and areas of concern. Reflect on your school’s next steps to better support parents as advocates. • Return checklist to email@example.com