How to Build a Collaborative Culture Between Parents and Schools

I have spent almost six years working with and guiding many parents through the public education system. The biggest role I have played is in building relationships with families and providing parent communities the tools and resources they need to advocate for their children both on campus and out in their local community. I’ve written many pieces on parent voice and power, I’ve written about how school districts and schools should be held accountable in how they engage with families and whether or not they are giving them a seat at the decision making table. 

Although all of the above is deeply embedded in what I truly believe will lead to a stronger foundation at school for children across the country, I feel the need to also share my perspective working with parents and guardians who have not been collaborative or may have used their voice and power to cause division and conflict instead of using it to build a strong community on campus. In this blog, I want to remind people who do not work in education that running a school or a classroom is not an easy task. This piece may be a bit controversial, especially given my scope of work and the blogs I have written in the past, but I think this conversation is necessary.

First: There is no such thing as a perfect school, perfect principal, perfect teacher or perfect parent. I have seen and met many who come close, but we are all human and remembering this is important. The list of dislikes and complaints I have heard directly from families is extremely long. Maybe your child’s school has a great academic program, but you’re not crazy about the extracurricular opportunities after school. Or you love the principal coffee meetings every quarter but really wish they could host it monthly. There are many issues that could be resolved. Ensuring that conversations remain respectful and productive can go a long way in these cases. 

Second: Teachers and principals will never be able to make every single person happy at any given time. This is something I personally have seen principals and teachers struggle with because who doesn’t want to please everyone? Conflict on campus between parents is the last thing anyone wants. Maybe your child’s teacher chose a theme for a project that you may not be happy about, but 98% of other parents are absolutely thrilled. Or the principal decided that the 8th grade end of year trip will be in Santa Cruz but you would have preferred San Francisco instead. Most times, decisions made by principals and teachers have a great deal of reason and thought behind them. 

Finally: Not even I can fathom how difficult it is to be a principal. Being responsible for an entire school, coaching teachers to be the best teachers they can be, ensuring every child is learning and is receiving what they need to be successful, while still managing to keep most parents happy is hard work.  

Don’t get me started on teachers. They are literally with 20-30 students at a time every single weekday for nine out of 12 months in the year. They are responsible for ensuring that every single child is getting the education they deserve, making sure that they are safe and manage to deal with 20-30 different personalities, emotions and lives!

At the end of the day, I want to encourage parents and guardians to be mindful and understanding when an issue comes up and something is not going right or is not meeting your expectations. I hope that throughout the school year’s growing pains there are still values that are being upheld by all stakeholders such as compassion, respect, collaboration, etc. Asking clarifying questions directly of school staff can change how you feel about certain things or can lead to more conversations of understanding rather than promote divisive relationships with your child’s teacher or principal or even other parents.

What do you think?
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Melissa Salgado

Melissa Salgado

Melissa Salgado, raised in East Los Angeles by her single mother and older siblings. She graduated from James A. Garfield High School and received her Bachelor's degree in Chicana/o Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013. She currently works at KIPP Bay Area Schools as the Community Engagement Manager and provides families with the resources and tools they need to advocate for their children’s education and other important local initiatives. Through her work she hopes to activate power within each parent and/or guardian. Her ultimate dream is that all children will have access to high quality education no matter what zip code they live in.

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