Creating the time and space for authentic parent engagement in the design process
Teachers and school leaders are busy people. I know this firsthand because I am one. And in the crux of the school year, I know how easy it is to go about tackling problems through the lens of students and teachers: two stakeholders that are critical in student learning. In reflecting on some of my biggest lessons learned through my work at TrueSchool, there is one question I can’t seem to let go: what is the ideal model for parent involvement in the school design process?
As a teacher in New Orleans, I rarely have the time to open my classroom doors and invite parents in for open-brainstorming sessions and the “how might we” exercises we do with our kids. Parents are working, I tell myself. Or parents are seemingly satisfied if they aren’t complaining, right? Not quite.
I remember one story, in particular, a few years ago from my project-based seminar. My seniors were pitching local policy proposals to our city council members, and one of my student’s mother was in the audience watching. After the presentations, she asked me what kind of mobilization and voter registration we were doing to ensure these ideas could live beyond our presentations. A light bulb went off – why was I treating this presentation as the ‘end point’ for their ideas?
This one comment sparked a two-year obsession to empower my students to push for real change in our community. A few legislative bills and one successful state law later, my students are leaving their mark every year in our community through advocacy and research. As a teacher, I needed the time, space and process to meaningfully engage my student’s parents in a way that wasn’t just “checking the box” for parent engagement.
At TrueSchool Studio, we put teachers in the driver’s seat to create innovative solutions for students. Too many of our school models are outdated and broken, and we have to work on pushing research to innovate from within our schools. Our model replaces the notion that outside professional development providers are the agents of change; in fact, we believe that teachers and leaders are the real R+D departments at schools all across the country. We innovate not for the sake of innovation, but for equity – because when one school discovers a new learning model, we all benefit. But what role do parents play in this R+D? What role should they play?
Over the past few years, TrueSchool has worked with hundreds of teachers, school leaders, parents, and community members in designing new learning models and solutions on the ground level, across traditional public, charter, magnet and independent schools. Whether it is at the beginning stages of the design process or generating implementation feedback, there’s been incredible growth among schools in creating the space and process for engaging parents in a meaningful way. One school in particular, the Immaculate Conception School in downtown Los Angeles, designed a workshop series to address communication gaps between parents and educators, all generated from community focus groups and stakeholder surveys.
Creating the space for parent voices is the first step, but TrueSchool also builds the know-how for educators like myself to discover and incorporate our parent’s ideas into better solutions for our schools, leading to better outcomes for all. We couldn’t be more excited by the potential and power of parents on our design teams, and above all else, creating time, space and the processes to solve our school’s most pressing challenges.
About Jim Kline
Jim Kline is a teacher leader at Sci Academy, one of the top performing charter schools in New Orleans. He teaches a project-based seminar in design thinking as well as leads the school’s college readiness initiative. He is passionate about project-based learning and the limitless potential of our teenagers. In the past few years, Jim’s students have changed a state law, advocated state representatives to reform education, and pressed city council members for meaningful oversight into our city’s criminal justice system. Jim’s education experience began in St. John Parish, Louisiana, as a high school civics teacher with Teach For America. Jim has also served as a Curriculum Specialist and Instructor for both Teach For America and The New Teacher Project (TNTP), and has won numerous teaching awards, including the St. John Parish District Teacher of theYear Award, and the New Schools for New Orleans Excellence in Teaching Award. He holds a B.A in Public Policy from Rutgers University, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.