Hey Bammy! If Anyone Can Reverse the Negative National Narrative, Parents Can!

I whole-heartedly support the concept of the Bammy Awards: “to celebrate all that is good in American education” and “to reverse the negative national narrative that dominates the education field.” The Bammy Awards weave together our collective body of work into one exhilarating story that as individual educators we often struggle to spin. This inability to counter the negativity aimed at our profession, my life’s purpose, puzzled me for years. Experience eventually taught me that the negativity was little more than a community reaction to what was misunderstood. When I was a school principal, I painfully learned that my community’s perception of me and of my school, whether accurate or not, WAS the story. Perception is reality, right? And, because the largest contingency in my school community were my students’ parents, parent perception and what they did not understand about education fueled the story they were telling.

Parents’ perceptions of school are shaped by their own education experiences, past and present. We can’t do anything to address a parent’s past experiences, but we sure can influence their current interactions with school and their relationships with teachers, those relationships that form the foundation for and strong family-school partnership. We can work to make parents raving fans of our schools and of the education field as a whole by empowering parents, by sharing with them the edu-jargon and edu-knowledge we live for, and by including them in decision-making for real issues. We can invite parents to be our true partners in education. As partners, they too will soon become compelled to reverse any negative perception of American education. In a school of 600 students, there are likely more than 1,000 parents ready to engage in the national narrative. That is a small army. If we don’t reach out and offer our knowledge and our partnership, that army may join the ranks of the negative national narrative. However, make each of them a parent leader and school partner, and watch that negative national narrative fall apart!

My school district has embraced dispositional hiring for finding the most effective teachers to lead our classrooms and to build meaningful relationships with parents. We intentionally look for teachers who genuinely want to draw parents into the education process as partners in education. Schools who hire these teachers empower parents by sharing teaching and learning knowledge and by including parents regularly in the school decision-making process.

One of my favorite dispositional interview questions to ask teacher candidates is: “Will the parents of students in your classroom be involved, engaged, or empowered, and what is your role in getting them there?” Of course, there is no “right” answer to this question. However, if the hiring committee listens closely to HOW the candidate responds, they can get a pretty clear picture to what extent the candidate values parent-teacher partnerships. For example, an answer such as, “I will ensure that my parents are involved by providing them opportunities to make photo copies and to help when I need it,” does not likely indicate a disposition for fostering true parent-teacher partnerships. On the other hand, a candidate who responds with, “My students’ parents will be empowered to join my class at any time during the day so that they might learn along with us and share their experiences with us,” is likely a teacher who values school-home partnerships.

A colleague recently lost her mind (we all do from time to time) and, while venting, complained to me, “Parents just don’t want to be engaged in their children’s education.” I could tell by the look on her face she immediately remembered my position on this topic and wished she could take back those words. “Hogwash!” I replied. (For real… I said that. I love that word.) “Of course they want to be engaged. But, we have to provide parents with the opportunities, entrust them with the knowledge, and likely give up a portion of the control to which we have grown accustomed.” We all learned from Schoolhouse Rock that “Knowledge is power!” In schooling, we educators are the keepers of that knowledge. Hiring teachers who will empower parents and who embrace school-home partnerships is essential for all students to find school success. The more we empower parents in the decision-making process, the more engaged parents will become in their children’s learning and in the school community. They will become raving fans of American education and they will take over the national narrative. I believe that.

I suspect that the one-hundred-plus educators nominated for a Bammy Award this year possess the disposition for building effective parent-school partnerships. I also suspect the four (yes, four) parents nominated as of 11:00 pm on 5/7/15 share that disposition, too. I also suspect that if you are reading this blog post, you know of a parent or 1,000 parents who share that disposition. I encourage you to acknowledge those parent voices. Lift them up and honor them with a Bammy nomination so that they are noticed. Join me in celebrating all that is good in American education by nominating a parent leader for a Bammy Award at http://www.bammyawards.org/.

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