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PrinciPALS, Your Partners in Education
Monique Booth is a cohort member of the Bush Institute's School Leadership Initiative.
Each school year, parents send their most prized possessions to school to learn and become productive members of society. They trust the principal is creating a safe and supportive learning environment for their children to thrive. But parents often overlook a critical step in ensuring a successful school year—nurturing connections with the principal and engaging as partners in their child’s education.
The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is not only true among families around the world, but also in schools. The principal is an essential member of that village alongside the parents. In fact, research says 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement is attributed to the principal. Parents should never hesitate to reach out to their child’s principal at any time during the school year to strengthen that partnership.
Here are a few things parents can do to get to know the principal:
Build a relationship
Take advantage of back to school night, open houses, and the beginning of the school year to introduce yourself to the principal. Don’t let your first interaction occur when there is an issue.
You want the principal to make a positive connection between you and your child. This will send a message that you are present and invested in your child’s education. Continue to take advantage of other opportunities throughout the school year to informally connect with the principal—parent teacher conferences and other after school events are a great place to continue building a relationship.
Be a Champion for your child
You know your child best. Parents have important information about their child that will enrich their learning and overall school experience.
For example, if there are any changes in the home— birth of a new baby; a divorce; death of a loved one— parents should notify the principal. Such changes can alter a child’s behavior and ultimately impact learning during the school day. Additionally, the principal may be aware of resources to support your family and your child during this time.
You should also call the principal to celebrate your child’s success in and outside of school, share your appreciation for your child’s teacher, or share something positive you noticed while enjoying lunch in the cafeteria. Principals like to hear good news, too!
Although principals are the leaders of their schools, they cannot do it alone. Principals want feedback from parents on a wide variety of issues—the good and bad. Good principals seek out honest feedback in an effort to improve their schools and their leadership practice. Principals need and welcome your ideas, thoughts, concerns, and dreams on how to make your child’s school experience one that is positive and produces desired outcomes.
Every school should have a plan for improvement with clear and focused goals to achieve success. Start by knowing these goals and talk to the principal about how you can support them. For example, if reading is one of the school’s areas of focus, you could volunteer to come in and help out during literacy stations.
Who are you going to call?
For most parents, the principal is not the first point of contact when concerns arise with their child. Parents will often reach out to the teacher—this is a good rule of thumb. However, in the event you are not satisfied with the teacher’s response, don’t be afraid to contact the principal. The principal serves as a liaison between parents and teachers and acts in the best interest of the child. Should you have a concern about safety, the school’s policies and procedures, or the school’s vision, contact the principal first.
In the end, parents and principals have the same priorities— the safety and education of all children in the school. When parents and principals work together to establish a thriving community, the impact is profound. Your child is depending on you to advocate for his/her future. I challenge all parents to forge a relationship and engage with their school’s principal throughout the year.
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