School Bureaucracy III: Practical Suggestions for Effective Actions

Several of you, both parents and teachers, have expressed interest in some practical ideas for impacting the school bureaucracy. I think we all know that big issues need big solutions – school reform will require a change in how we fund and manage public education – but local, grassroots actions can push the bigger process along. And there are children in our homes and our classrooms who need our best efforts right now. What can we do locally in 2016/17?

First, we can put ourselves in a position to have our voices heard. If you are a teacher, volunteer for the superintendent’s council, the school improvement team, the intervention team, or any other school and system-level groups that interest you. If you are a parent, volunteer for the system’s parent advisory council, the parent/teacher organization, the school improvement team, the calendar committee, or any other groups that help advise and govern the school system. Attend the meetings, do your homework, participate, listen and be heard. Always conduct yourself in a rational, patient, calm manner. Be aware of your nonverbal communication – your body language and facial expressions. Sit up straight, lean forward, look at people, and show interest in what others have to say. If you are a parent, do not attend school meetings in a tank top and shorts – you have significantly decreased your impact if you aren’t dressed appropriately.

In many district and school committee meetings, the agenda is already designed, participation is tightly controlled, and the group is led to a pre-determined plan of action. In other words, the group is there to rubber stamp something that’s already been decided. In these instances, all you can do is:

  • ask if the group can have the agenda ahead of time, so members can prepare
  • ask questions about the purpose of the group
  • make suggestions to the group as a whole
  • ask what the end product is supposed to be

If the rest of the group just wants to get it over with and sees you as an irritating distraction, there isn’t much you can do. If you choose to talk with the group leader about the problem, do so in private – confronting people in front of others does not win friends and influence people!

Next time we’ll look at other ways in which parents and teachers can be a positive voice for change in a school system. Stay tuned!

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