Communal Tensions

Monday, January 24th, 2011

As a follow up to my last post here is the paper I was wanting to share. Again it is a reflection piece about tensions between schools and communities taking into consideration the community school approach. Make sure to leave your thoughts after you’ve finished reading. Enjoy.
I believe there are two tensions in our education system that are embedded as deeply as the founding educational philosophies that help to shape the evolving nature of education itself; family (parent verse school perception) and community engagement. Neither issues is of more or less importance as each play a distinct role in education and the school setting. Parents and community members have social constructs that guide their assumptions of a school setting and in some cases their perceptions of how a school decision is made is contrary to what they believe should be taking place.
The reality of a parent verse school mentality became evident during my first year as a teacher. The first year of teaching I participated in the lost communication practice of the fifteen-minute one on one student-parent-teacher conference. During these encounters parents are granted an open forum in which to share their educational concerns and most often backing their concern is a story of a past teacher and how their concerns went unattended. Any breakdown in communication between school and parent can have disastrous effects on the working relationship between parent, teacher and school. Anytime a parent gets the feeling that their child’s teacher or school is not serving the best interest of their child, that parent will follow though in various ways. A parent will most often start with the teacher, as the teacher is the immediate connection between parent and school, however; many parents don’t understand the limited ability of classroom teachers to affect a school climate or institutional perspective change. This act carrying an assumed inaction can work to further the divide between parent and teacher as the parent expects the teacher to act and affect change. The parent, if not satisfied with the actions or perceived inaction of the teacher, may continue conversations with school administration or school board members depending on how well they can navigate the educational political landscape. I am of the opinion community schools are designed with the ability to engage this type of parent based concern at an earlier point. Community school parents are allowed a voice during decision-making processes and several positive outcomes may emerge from this collaboration. The first step is to address parent and family needs within the community setting. Parents need to feel connected to the school setting and through the acknowledgement of parent concerns school administration can reduce the quantity of negative reaction based concerns. The second step is to support parents by way of partnership programs offered at the school. Programs such as; tutoring, nutrition, health care, dental, and parent education classes can gain parent support for the school. As schools foster a greater investment from parents the school and the community will develop a shared perspective created through the support. Most often collaboration helps parents to feel more connected and valued by the school and therefore can reduce the amount of parent verse school conversations.
If its not broke why fix it? Someone ought to say something. Engaging people to take action is difficult when those whom we wish to inspire into action may not see a motivating factor from which to rationalize their action. The field of education is in constant growth, we are life long learners and to change an educational approach or philosophy can be nearly impossible. Educational decisions can be quite difficult to make, as they require a multitude of perspectives to be considered before a decision is made. To get community involvement during decision-making is one of two aspects to consider while planning on a decision-making timeline. For the most part if a school is performing at an appropriate level in relation to community standards parents and other members of the community may have no desire to revamp or initiate new programs at the school level. Nevertheless schools can always perform better through the adjustment in perception of the needs of the students. The issue is how does a school attain greater community involvement? The process of engagement through perspective aggregation involves community members in the problem solving and decision making process. Using the gathered information from the community to make clearly defined decisions that will impact those members living in the community requires for projects to be clearly articulated as well as the engagement goals set and allocate resources confirmed. Engagement is more than meetings and consultations with the public, as it should work to illicit an emotional reaction that can translate into direct action from the community. Common barriers to community participation are visibility of the organizational leaders and time. An ongoing engagement process with community members will improve transparency and increase participation through ownership and accountability. If the education system wants action from community members it needs to engage motivating factors within the individual in order to gain access to the masses. Educational leaders should work to extinguish the excuses and justifications spouted by community members about their lack of involvement. As time is the most prevalent concern shared school leaders need to acknowledge all people have personal wants, needs and draws in their lives that act to remove the communal focus and replace it with the extrinsic concept of individualism. The projection of the each to their own attitude as echoed in “If I can just take care of my own children then my family will be okay” does not fit with community school philosophies and initiatives. The community school approach to education is a holistic perspective looking at what is best for the greater community. Community support mechanism need to be established in order for community members to see benefits. Essential services like health and educational support programs for both students and parents need to be addressed first before focus can be placed on abstract concepts covered in classrooms. The bulk of the community must be invested in the community school concept if it is going to survive. Participants also must commit to long-term service as the benefits of community schools are not easily measured nor are they immediate in observance. Community involvement in respect to time is a difficult balance. Teacher workdays, if properly planned and implemented as a community outreach day may offer an opportunity for community engagement as well as data gathering opportunities. Schools can also set up social media discussion forums on various issues and by doing so engage the busy 21st century parent.
The educational tensions discussed here are only two of many concerns in education today. I believe the tensions are a natural part of the relationship that exists between school and community. Parents want only the best for their child and schools want to serve their students with the best possible pedagogy. Communication and a positive working relationship between school and community members can reduce the impact of philosophical differences and ensure a more positive and engaging working relationship between parent, school and community members.

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