- What are some successful ways you involve parents?
Even poor parents come to school if their kids are on stage performing or if you have some kind of event that features free food. We had a carnival in the spring and various dances with teachers as DJ’s and myself monitoring the dance floor.
- Do you have successful alternatives to the standard Principal/Parent Coffee at 9 am?
Make home visits. Get out in the hood. Ride a bus and see who is at the bus stops. Give kids rides home who are sick or who miss the bus or who misbehave. Be fair and try to get to a point where the kid tells the parent what he did wrong. That is when you can get the parent working with you. Otherwise you will get an endless version of “why you pickin on my kid.” Remind the parent not to beat the kid. Go out of your way for black and hispanic parents. If you do, the word will get out that you are not a racist. Parents will play the race card so you just have to be better and earn their respect.
- Do you have any ways to counteract the parents' own bad experiences in school?
See 1 and 2.
- What, besides money-related items, is the biggest challenge in working with poor students?
Parents don’t generally have the academic background to help with learning and they aren’t able to take kids places for various kinds of enrichment. (Museums, libraries, or even trips out of the neighborhood.) Homes have TV but little or no reading material. This is why poor kids seem to go backwards during the summer and rich kids don’t.
- How do you welcome or induct a new student - assuming your school has a high turnover or churn rate?
I had about 37% a year. It was vital that I greeted the parents when they registered the kids and started to get to know them. Where you from? What brings you here? What can you tell me about junior. Act happy to see them and don’t act even a little superior. Act interested in what they have to say. Be empathetic. Even poor parents can smell distain a mile away.
- When you first started at a high poverty school, what were some surprises?
Kids came to school with emotional problems that steamed from events at home and in the neighborhood. Mommy’s new boy friend was a big negative as it took attention away from the child and he wasn’t dad. The number one abuser was the boy friend. There were always surprises due to unique and crazy situations that came up. It required a lot of problem solving and an excellent sense of humor.
- Finally, any sage advice that I should know?
Keep your ego out of situations. If a kid or a parent calls you an m f’er, step back, think, and ask what you can do to help. Don’t yell back or show emotion. This will only throw gas on the fire. If a parent comes into your school yelling, let them know they can yell all they want in your office with the door closed. Otherwise they need to leave. You also need to be fearless. Watch some old Clint Eastwood movies and try to walk like he did with the same expression on your face. Don’t dress like a dork. You don’t need to dress in expensive suits. Just pay attention. If apparel isn’t your strong suit, let your wife dress you. I did. After she died from ALS last year I was proud that she knew that I would be able to dress myself. Kids would tell me, “hey Dr. Green, you look cool.” It wasn’t an accident.
It is interesting, but not at all surprising, to see that so much of what both of these gentlemen had to say centered on showing genuine respect.
What have you done to include/engage parents in schools with high levels of poverty? Please leave comments below.
Cross posted at connectedprincipals.com
Image from flickr user Fabio Ikezaki CC
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