Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ideas I’d Like My Future Principal to Consider: Starting a Bold Conversation with Parents

So I haven’t written one of these for a while for a few reasons, but one of the major reasons is I now know who my future principal is going to be (Hi Natalie!) and it feels somewhat awkward to write these in the same fashion as it feels like I’m telling her specifically something she should do which is, well, a bit awkward. But I decided to write this anyway because all along I’ve been trying to write these as just ideas to consider, to contribute to the conversation of how to move our school (and schools in general) forward. So I’m hopeful that my new principal will read this within that context (if not, then please stop reading now, Natalie).

Once again, Will Richardson has an article that I think my future principal should read, Getting Bold with Parents:
One of Lisa’s [the superintendent] mantras is that schools have little choice when it comes to thinking differently about education. And she also believes that parents are the key to making that different thinking happen.
“Parents are the piece where we’re not doing enough legwork,” she says. “Marginalizing parents, not letting them be an important voice in the larger conversation is a huge mistake.”
One of the problems I see in schools is that we’re just so darn busy. While we can argue about whether much of what we are doing is necessary or not, the reality is that – at the moment at least – we are doing them, and it doesn’t leave much time for these bigger conversations. (As a side note, I think that was one of the keys to the success of my own staff development efforts I led a few years ago, it gave the teachers involved time to actually have those “big picture” conversations.) But I think if we are actually going to move our schools forward, if we are truly going to meet the needs of our students, then the only way we are going to get there is to have these big conversations, and parents need to be part of that.

In Superintendent Brady’s case, that involved asking parents to read and then discuss Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap.
“When you ask parents what they want their kids to be able to do, none of them ever says ‘pass the test’,” Lisa says. “They start with the types of skills that Wagner talks about, problem solving, agility, initiative. What parent is going to say ‘no’ to that? And that’s the frame that we have to keep coming back to when parents start talking about test scores. We have to keep asking them ‘is that really what’s important to you?’”
So I’d like to suggest to my future principal that we figure out a way to engage our community in a meaningful way in an extended conversation around what we want for our students. Perhaps it could be a book study – Wagner’s book is not a bad place to start, but there are many others – or perhaps it can be a series of articles (perhaps even including Rigor Redefined from Wagner) that would allow us as a community to really take charge of what we want – and are doing - for our students, instead of simply reacting to policies and expectations imposed from afar.

As Will says,
We can’t wait for policy or politics to change. We have to be the impetus for change.
Or, as Seth Godin says,
Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.
Warriors take care of one another. Isn’t it about time that our community collaboratively draws the map for our students, instead of following someone else's map?


  1. Karl,

    Thanks for putting this out there, as I think it's become more valuable than ever to have a increasingly knowledgeable parent and community base behind you as you go forward in changing our schools for the better.

  2. Hello Mr. Fisch,
    This is Angela Smith and I am in EDM 310 at South Alabama, and I really enjoyed this post. It is very important that parents are involved in their child's education. Even though I am not an educator yet, I would want my students' parents firmly behind them. In my opinion, the teacher and the parent are a team in making sure the student is getting the best education. I love the quote from Seth Godin about those being rewarded for drawing a map versus those who follows one. I will definitely keep that in mind!

  3. From a parent point of view here in Ontario (Canada) it would be difficult for a Principal to be an "impetus for change" since here our Principals are completely under the power of a school board where the director of Education (CEO) is NOT an elected official. I brought to my Principal's attention that they were following a 12 year old policy that related to volunteers which allowed them to be "intermittently observed" in the gym, library and hallways all without the volunteer having a criminal check. (OCDSB PR.555.SCO policy) I continued on to find 17 other policies that all relate to child safety that were 11 to 15 years old and had never been REVIEWED during that time. This is the Capital city of Canada surrounded by lawyers and politicians and it seemed no one had stopped to read the procedures/policies of their own child's school board. Here the Principals are responsible for numerous procedures to be followed yet have little LEGAL say in the making of such policies/procedures or in their implementation. Failure to follow the board would likely result in a Principal being moved or subject to reprimands. Since the Principals here are NOT under the teachers' Union they fail to have adequate protection which would allow them to speak out. The school board association of Ontario informed me that the Principal MUST follow the direction of the school board. Your article represents a wonderful ideal which at this time isn't possible in Canada or at least in our Capital.

  4. Karl, when is version 5.0 coming out? The people I speak to on business love your series - for many, it's the most powerful, concise video they have ever seen.

    George Smart
    Strategic Development Inc.
    919 740 8407

  5. Thanks, once again, Karl, for having the courage and commitment to ask those in positions of power to rethink the process. Even those very close to home. Perhaps that's the best place to start, anyway. Creating a new dynamic fostering mutual understanding and trust is likely the only way to step down the path that as Lisa Brady says is going to require a leap of faith.

  6. Karl,
    Thank you for bring this up . At my school parent involvement is little to non generally speaking because most parents are unaware of how they can contribute to their child's learning ! Thanks for the thoughts !