Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The Family Friendly Principal
IDRA recently outlined its principles for family leadership in education that have been basis of our work with families, schools and community. As the lead for parent involvement these principals are very much also mine. A school principal that models and carries out these principles creates a family-friendly school we would want to document, spot-light and promulgate as a laudable and replicable example. These principles are broad statements with multiple ways of carrying them out. The actions and behaviors are measured organically and holistically by the results with children, families, staff and teachers. There is no singular template or a singular management style for achieving a family friendly school. I can nevertheless point to the campus leader who has been critical to fostering that wonderful result.
The principles applied to principals
1. Families can be their children’s strongest advocates.
Our first premise draws on the potential that all families have in speaking for, defending and supporting their children. The concept of parents as advocates has been difficult to capture in the research and literature, especially connecting it to student achievement. It is key to our vision. The principal holding this premise does not have an unreal, romanticized view of the reality of our families. She/he does not ignore that there are dysfunctional families in all classes, races and communities. Nevertheless, her/his view of families is that each must be approached with respect and high expectations.
2. Families of different races, ethnicity, language and class are equally valuable. Each group has assets, traditions and a language that is worthy of respect. The principal’s experience has shown that when this principle is present and evident in the outreach and work done with families, there is a marked increase in the amount and quality of families’ engagement with their children’s schools and education.
3. Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value. The principal is aware that every major survey conducted in the Latino community has placed education as the number one issue of concern or very close to the top. Surveys, interviews and conversations with parents of all races, classes and national origin have reinforced this almost universal concern that families have for their children’s education and the desire to be treated with respect. She/he acts on this knowledge.
4. Within families, many individuals play a role in children’s education. The principal acknowledges, accepts and respects whoever the key caretakers of children beyond the genetic parents. The combination of all who live within a home are important influences on children and the principal attests that they can be a collective force for creating excellent schools.
5. Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children when collective efforts create solutions for the common good. The family friendly principal looks beyond the individualistic, charismatic leader model, agreeing that the lone leader focus it is too narrow and does not sustain communities, families and excellent schools over time. As wonderful as the neighborhood mom in sneakers haranguing the school board about a serious concern is, the principal knows that our neighborhood schools need a network of families, co-supporting and co-creating action that improves schools. She/he realizes that our neighborhoods need a network of families who continue to support their neighborhood schools as each generation of children flows through them. The family friendly principal welcomes collective efforts that are nourished by the rich & deep democratic roots and sustained with peer compassion among families. She/he acknowledges that child rearing is a difficult and isolating responsibility, so she/he facilitates cooperation and revolving spokespersons so that when there is individual burnout, others from the network keep up the good effort.
6. Families, schools and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children.
The family friendly principal accepts that schools must be transformed; that for positive change to be lasting in the school requires internal and external leadership; that when the internal suasion of the principal coupled with the external support and strength of the parents, there is solid foundation for the innovation to be sustained. The principal truly believes and practices the expectation that with her/his leadership from within the school in welcoming collaboration and enthusiastic connection with families and with the broader community from without, all together can achieve the cherished dream – excellent schools for all children.