Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to School Goals

School starts this week, and I'm looking forward to Back to School Night. At the beginning of the event, the principal will step up to the podium and present her goals for the year. She'll share the goals she is setting for the school, and her plan to hold the staff accountable. She'll then go a step further and ask the parent community to hold both her and her staff accountable for these goals as well.

The first time this happened, 3 years ago, I was floored. Principals have goals? Beyond test scores? In fact, yes.

I'm not sure why this was such a shock to me. Maybe it's because up to this point, I had viewed the educators in our school system as authorities. Teachers teach and evaluate students learning. Parents support, but mostly defer to the teacher. In the event of a problem, we'd call in the principal to discuss what needed to be done. It never occurred to me that I could be holding the school or teachers accountable to something more than teaching. They were the ones holding people accountable – namely my kids and me!

What a refreshing change to have a series of goals to review. Now, as a "customer" of the educational system, I have better insight. I know what the principal is trying to accomplish, and I have a better sense of why they need help. For example, when they ask for more parents to help with Yard Duty, it's not just to give teachers a lunch break (as certain cynics might have thought), it's because the school is committed to intervening before bullying can start. That requires more eyes on kids during recess, and help from the community.

Also, as an informed customer, I have a better way to interact with the teachers and staff. If I know what they are trying to accomplish, I can assess how my kids' experience fits with the goals. Parent teacher conferences are about more than just the report card. They can include questions about the school lunch program, the anti-bullying initiative, or the new technology focus. If something isn't working, I'm more comfortable asking for a change. Conversations with teachers changes to a dialog around how to get to the outcomes we both want to have.

Many people view the start of a school year as a time to set new goals. What do you want your kids to accomplish this year? Do you know how your goals for your children align with your school's goals? Shouldn't you? Maybe it's time to ask for some additional conversations with teachers at Back to School night. This year, go beyond the review of the syllabus and the homework policy. Ask them how they are held accountable, and how you can help them be successful. You may be surprised to gain a new insight into your school's systems.

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