A recent 2018 survey from the Learning Policy Institute (https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/nassp-understanding-addressing-principal-turnover-review-research-report) found that the fifth highest factor that would help principal retention (behind pay, increased PD, time, and school budget) is having more positive parental support. As a previous principal, I understand the stress that comes with unsatisfied parents. The principal position is so complex and all-consuming that parent engagement and satisfaction can fall to the wayside, leading to unanticipated stress when parent related issues start stacking up.  An effective parent organization can help.

I found that having more regular positive and neutral interactions with parents on a regular basis through our parent organization helped create trust proactively and build relationships with them. That way, when there was an iMother & Daughterssue on campus, parents knew my character and competence and trusted me to handle it. Building a parent organization was not an easy task and took at least 1-2 hours of my time each week, with some weeks up to 5-10 hours, but led to increasing parent engagement by 22% in one school year and greater joy on campus. 

Here are the steps I took to create a thriving parent organization in one school year:

    1. Get to know your parents: Building relationships with parents is just as important as building relationships with teachers and students. One great way to begin building relationships is to find out if there is a parent who is very socially connected and has parents who follow his/her lead. If so, schedule a time (preferably over the summer but any time of the year works) to meet with him/her or a small group of involved parents and hear their concerns and desires. The summer or a school break has a more relaxed atmosphere, so that’s a great time to get to know parents on a more personal note. Come with questions prepared to the meeting, but keep it informal and intimate. Questions you could start out asking:
      • How is everything going with your student? What are they up to outside of school?
      • What did you enjoy about last year?
      • What were the biggest frustrations from parents last year?
      • What would you like to see more/less of?
      • How do parents want to be involved more?
      • What role would you want to take if we formed a parent group together?
    2. Send out a survey to gauge interest and availability: You can find out what time/day works best for parents through a survey. Possip’s survey platform is a perfect way to do this by personalizing the first survey of the school year to ask an additional question. Also, leave a hard copy of the survey at the front desk/reception area so parents can quickly fill it out while they’re at school. Once you know that date, advertise and spread the word!
    3. Make a year-long parent engagement “scope and sequence”: Create and send home a parent organization “scope and sequence” or “year at a glance” for the parent group meeting topics and big school events. This helps parents know what is to come for the year and plan their schedules around it. Also, ask for feedback on the document and make reasonable changes based on parent availability and desire for additional events. Not only does this help you stay organized and know what is to come, but it helps parents feel secure and trust in your abilities to lead the parent group. (See my sample “scope and sequence” below for ideas)
    4. Get help!: Find someone on staff who can help you! If you have a staff member who is hired to help with parent engagement, get them on board and send them calendar invites for all the event dates on your “scope and sequence.” If not, split up tasks between your leadership team or any reliable staff members who want to help. The role of a principal is extremely hectic on a day to day basis, so it’s necessary to have some help. Make sure to assign someone to pick up coffee and snacks to appreciate parents for coming to the meetings and make it a more joyful time together. 
    5. Empower parents: Parents want to feel they belong and have a say in the parent group and overall school community. Allow parents to start their own social media page and empower a parent leader to post communications and remind parents about meetings. Parents can also take the lead on planning events like school dances or festivals. Having parents feel empowered to be leaders and have responsibility is key to creating a successful parent group. 
    6. Stay the course: Although things happen in the life of a principal that are unexpected, make sure to stay the course and follow through on your parent “scope and sequence” dates. This builds trust with parents to see you putting importance on their engagement and satisfaction. If there is an emergency, obviously tend to it and always have a leadership team member “on deck” to take over the meeting, but at all costs keep the scope and sequence times sacred for parents. 
    7. Adjust when necessary: If parents are telling you “it’s not working” or “we don’t want to do XYZ event,” listen. Ask “What do you want to do instead?” and if it is reasonable, adjust for them. This increases trust, feelings of care, and empowerment for parents.  
    8. Appreciate: Parents need appreciation, too. This is especially true for the parents who are your “go-to” parent group members. Giving out some school swag, a letter or email of appreciation, their favorite drink/snack, or planning a “parent appreciation event” will go a long way. Building strong relationships with parents is a big part of running a successful parent group, and showing you appreciate and respect them is important. 

 

 

 

If you are interested in Possip, have questions about building a parent organization, or want to brainstorm about any parent related topics, please e-mail amanda@possipit.com!

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