Following is an article that appeared in the educational journal Administravia. This article was written by the editor of the journal, Laurence Boggess. He was an administrator of RFS, also a teacher and father. He therefore understands the complexity involved in working with children from the aspect of parent, teacher, and administrator.
Independent schools are blessed with parents who are invested in the success of their children. Quite literally, independent schools could not offer the quality of education, service, and sense of community they do if not for parental involvement as volunteers, committee members, and supporters. Parents are essential resources in a school, providing the Home that integrates with the School in order to educate the Whole Child.
Many parents enrolling in independent schools… do so as newcomers to private education, and, as such, may be unsure about their roles in the school community. They may wonder, “What do I get for my tuition dollars?” or “How can I best work with the teachers and administration so that my child gets the most out of school?”
The following guidelines are straight-talk, offered as support for the parent as well as administrators and teachers.
Parents can best work for the benefit of their children if they:
1.Understand that enrollment means more than a service for a fee. Membership in a school community means forming a long-term relationship with the school. In essence, schools say to you, “Yes, we will educate your child through thick and thin. We will serve him or her over the coming years.” That’s quite a commitment schools do not take lightly. While enrollment is renewed yearly on a business-like basis, schools see membership in the community as an idealistic blend of contract and covenant, a delicate web of trust that holds parents, child, teachers, and administration together. The Home and School relationship exists with only one proviso: that the school’s educational service and the child’s educational needs remain a good fit.
2.Recognize that enrollment means entrusting your child to the professional expertise and devoted care of the school’s personnel. Independent school administrators and teachers know what they are doing. They are not perfect, and they do not claim to be. But they are experienced and well intentioned; they genuinely care about your child. They do their jobs not for the money but because they love kids and believe in the ideals of education. While teachers and administrators should be expected to explain methods, discuss philosophy, include constituencies in decision-making, and be open to honest discussion, they do not have to justify their existence or defend every action, decision, or policy.
3.Understand and accept the values upon which a school operates. You should explore a school’s values with admissions people and other administrators and teachers, asking questions like:
“How does the school balance individuality with group harmony?”
“What values are central to your discipline policy?”
How will the school’s core values remain unchanged as my child develops and passes through the divisions of the school?”
“What values are behind the grading system and practice of testing?”
“What does the school believe about competition in the classroom and on the playing field?”
“What kind of events does the school sponsor for fundraising, and what are the values inherent in those activities?”
“How are curricular, disciplinary, policy, and financial decisions made, and what values do those processes reflect?”
Parents cannot pressure schools to change their values nor do schools govern by public opinion. If you and the school honestly seek together what’s best for your child, then you and your child’s teachers and administrators shall not stray far from the school’s core values. The harmony of the values prevents a clash of beliefs that often spells tragedy for the child, the family, and the school. When disappointments or disagreements place you and the school on opposite sides of an issue, your child is always left in the middle.
4. Use channels of communication appropriately. It is the job of administrators to make those channels understood, clear, and open. It is also their job to help you understand that access to information is limited. Everybody can’t know everything in a school, otherwise the school would suffer from an implosion of individual opinion. If you have a question or a problem, be it logistic (Can Sara leave school five minutes early on Tuesdays for her piano lesson?) or philosophic (why can’t the third grade play interscholastic football?), you ought to know where to go for a response. Angry or fearful parents who break the channels, going directly to the head or a board member, tend to tear apart the web of relationship and ultimately do a disservice to their child, who inevitably absorbs their frustration and attitudes. While you may get rumor or second-hand information about school issues from the pick up line or in the parking lot, you will get the best information if you seek it out through proper channels.
5. Accept the timing of the school’s bureaucratic clock. Schools often take a long time to make a decision, fix a solution, or reach a compromise. This is because independent schools tend to be conservative institutions. Also, school time can seem slow to impatient parents because many school personnel are involved in the decision-making process, and those people spend most of their day educating children. Sometimes you may feel worried or frustrated or entitled to faster service; adults in the 90s are not used to waiting, particularly when the welfare of their children is at stake. Schools need time and your patience if they are to truly honor your child and do what is in her or his best interest.
6. Understand a teacher's job and its scope of responsibility. Teachers are not surrogate parents or drill sergeants or licensed therapists. A modern teacher is a guide and coach with expertise in an area of subject matter and a deep devotion to children. Independent schools take great care to hire the very best faculty they can; they look for qualifications such as rapport with children, knowledge of subject area, appropriate training, communication skills, and positive energy. Teachers are usually given a lot of say about what and how they teacher within guidelines set by the division and/or department. This autonomy, combines with smaller classes, supportive parents, and stimulating colleagues, is the independent school recipe for excellent and inspired classroom instruction.
7. Understand the duties and scope of authority of an administrator's job. The head carries ultimate responsibility for the educational quality tone, and personnel of the school. The head delegates responsibility for particular areas of the school to other administrators such as division heads, development and admissions directors, department heads, and assistant heads. Administrators help govern the daily operation of the school. Most of their work is behind the scenes. They attend many meetings throughout the day and week and confer with students, teachers, and parents. They articulate the school's mission and values both on campus and in the community, and they help write and enforce policy. Administrators also handle emergencies, resolve problems, manage the flow of information, and answer questions. The Board, another part of the leadership of the school, oversees administration and is ultimately responsible for the present and future well-being of the school. The Board usually hires the head and entrusts to her or him, the daily operation of the school.
8. Understand the role of the parent. You are indispensable to the school. You provide money in the form of tuition and gifts, you provide energy and time on fund-raising projects and teacher support, and you make your expertise available. You are responsible for supporting your child's education at home by complementing the methods and values and philosophy the school espouses. You are given a voice in many decision-making processes through a parent council or school committee. Depending on your school, the Board may engage you as a member.
9. Know and believe the mission of the school and its promises to children. Most schools promise the following:
-to educate your child.
-to provide a safe environment in which he or she can develop appropriate social and academic skills.
-to emphasize values like scholastic excellence, civic involvement, personal responsibility, respect of self and others, emotional well-being, and creative expression.
Upon this common ground, every school builds a unique mission, and it's the school's job to articulate the mission clearly. Parents who misunderstand the mission or seek to change it or who challenge its values almost always create unhappiness and interfere with the learning of their child. When choosing a school, you should do so for reasons of philosophic and academic fit. The wrong reasons for enrolling a child in a school all center on parents and include
*to improve your family's reputation
*to guarantee your child's acceptance in the next school of choice
*to mold your child in your own image
*to live vicariously through your child
*to increase your self-esteem
*to buy your child good grades and success
Schools promise none of these outcomes. The consequences of mis-enrollment usually surface sooner rather than later: unhappiness with the school, poor student performance, a clash of values, rumor-spreading that leads to taking sides, and nameless accusations that lead to war.
10. Honestly examine your expectations for the school. Independent schools create wonderful educational communities. They encourage a sense of belonging and even a feeling of family, but schools are not families. They are not too big, their resources are too limited, and their purpose is too narrow to be a true family. The 1980's and 90's have already seen schools stretch the definition of what compromises an education. While schools may provide breakfast and lunch, childcare, counseling, and friendship to students, in addition to their educational program, they cannot take the place of over-busy, distracted, and absent parents. Schools cannot make learning disabilities disappear or heal broken or dysfunctional families or teach children to be moral. Enrollment in an independent school is an educational decision. Independent schools can't and shouldn't pretend to do it all; but what they do, they do well. You play a vital role in your child's development by maintaining reasonable expectations for what your school can do and by providing a home in which your child can learn the crucial life lessons not found in the school's curriculum.