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How to Win With Educators


Q. Every once in a while, a parent gets guts enough to raise a stink about something that needs to be changed. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. But for the most part, they shrink back into the woodwork after one skirmish. Over and over, we see educators getting their way with little or no opposition from parents, taxpayers, voters, anyone. Why does this happen, and what should smart parents and taxpayers be doing to get a better W-L record with schools?


If educators don't have parents and taxpayers on their scopes, you can't blame the educators. State and local educrats in various education-related government agencies almost never have contact with everyday citizens, and superintendents, principals and other ed leaders in the trenches usually only hear from them when there are big problems.


So it's long past time for parents and taxpayers to do a much better job of communicating on a daily basis with educators. Parents need to get unified and get serious about the more than a thousand hours a year that our children are in their care. We need to spend more time in school, and more time with educators. You can't possibly monitor the quality of what's going on in schools by devoting a handful of hours per school year to that cause. Yet most parents would say that any mom or dad who puts more than a handful of hours into school activities is going beyond the call of duty.


School choice would do a world of good, because it would give parents realistic options and alternatives. Right now, there are none, in most locations. Many people can't afford private school or homeschooling. So educators literally have them over a barrel. Any time you have a chance to vote for school choice, do it. It helps children on all levels of the income spectrum, because it forces educators to compete and improve their educational product.


More tips:


1. Listen to your child. Children are usually correct. If your child is unhappy with school, fight for change.


2. Location, location, location. You won't be an effective advocate for your child if you never set foot in the school. Meet the teacher on Day One, and try to send a cheerful or encouraging email or note once per quarter, just to let him or her know you're out there. Ask what you can do to help. Give at least a day's notice, and then sit in on class. Make sure you've had a complete tour of the school. Attend at least one school board meeting per year, and introduce yourself. Be there!


3. Use the 80/20 rule: make at least 80% of your contact with educators positive, and no more than 20% negative. Catch them doing things right, and they'll be encouraged. Make sure you've done your homework before you accuse them of doing anything wrong. Volunteer your time and talent to help the school before you criticize anything.


4. Be a squeaky wheel, and be persistent. Always follow up, and never give up.


5. Work within groups and committees with other parents; you're much more effective than when you try to go it alone.


6. Educators wish parents would stick to fund-raising for extras, so do that for them and demonstrate your support, before you expect them to listen to your criticism or professionally deal with your opposition to something they want to do.


7. Have an agenda for meetings with educators so that you can get what you want and not get off track. Always bring a "second" to those meetings - a spouse, a neighbor, a pastor and yes, even an attorney if necessary.


8. If educators or other parents retaliate against your child - and you might as well expect this to happen, because it often does - document these instances, and try to get them resolved quietly. If things aren't made right, go public with an appearance before the school board or, most districts' biggest fear, a well-written and powerful letter to the editor.


9. Shoot for 100% attendance at school activities, and try to meet three or four new people at each event so that your network and influence will grow.


10. Don't be shy: request a copy of your child's school records. It's your right. It's your duty to make sure what's in there is correct . . . and you may be surprised to see what's in there about YOU.


Homework: Here's a database of articles about parental involvement and human relations in schools:


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 11 2008


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