Why do you think that schools promote events like Donuts with Dad or Muffins with Mom? Two reasons, one is to get you in the door and two is because everybody feels more comfortable when they are eating or drinking something. Think about it. When you want to get together with friends what do you usually do? Invite them to dinner, out for coffee or to the local bar for happy hour. Food and drinks seem to be the universal sign for “let’s catch up!”
Often times parents have a “hi and bye” type of relationship with their school administrators. Typically you see them in passing in the car rider lane, in the hallway in the morning or out at the bus lane in the afternoon and these are usually not the best times to stop and have in-depth conversations with them. While it may appear that they are just standing there, they really are on duty and are assisting with the flow of traffic and the safety of your children. This is however a great time to ask them if they prefer coffee or tea and offer to bring them a cup one morning after the school day has begun so that you can spend some time getting to know them and their vision for your child’s school.
Why is this important you might ask? Well think about it like this, when a home is being built there are many people that work together to make that happen. Although each player has a role and each role is important, the person who is communicating the vision for the end result (the foreman) is vital to the successful creation of the home. This person’s ability to articulate the vision and then motivate those around him or her to properly implement the right steps to get there determines in large part whether or not a sound home is built. In a school setting the principal is the foreman, the teachers are the contracted constructors and the kids are the homes being built. By taking the time to build a relationship with your child’s principal you become a part of this team. When you are a part of the team you are privy to the vision. This is the same vision that is being communicated to your child’s teacher and thus shapes the classroom environment that your child is a part of.
The principal sets the tone. The climate and culture of the school typically is determined by the principal. When you have questions like, why is there so much emphasis on technology and my child is only in kindergarten? Or, why is there not more of an emphasis placed on homework? Questions like these are usually answered when you take the time to find out what is important to your child’s principal.
So you catch your school leader as he or she is opening your car door one morning to welcome your child to school, what do you say? Greet them with a warm “Good morning!” Let them know that you would love to chat with them briefly and…you’ll bring the coffee! By offering to bring them coffee or tea or a doughnut, you are disarming them. Principals spend the majority of their day dealing with unhappy parents, students and teachers. Using this approach lets them know that you are not upset and will probably make them more inclined to give you the time you are asking for. Do not be surprised if they do not seem as excited as you are at first. They are busy and have a million things to do. If they hesitate, tell them you will send them an email with your availability and ask them to let you know what works for them. Then give them at most a week to respond. If you don’t hear anything again, don’t get upset. Remember positive communication is the key to strong relationships. You do not want to make your principal the enemy. Go ahead and grab that cup of coffee and when they open the door the next morning hand them the coffee and let them know you’re still interested. You may find that you have to call the secretary and make an appointment. You may even have to just show up one morning. Patience and a warm smile is the key here. Don’t let it go past a few weeks, but try to put yourself in their shoes. Consider all the things that are on your work plate and then think about theirs. Be sensitive.
Once you find yourself face to face with your principal remember that your goal is to understand the principal and his or her vision for your child’s school. So do not to spend your time complaining. To help you keep the conversation on a positive note and achieve your goal below are three questions that can help guide the conversation.
1. Why did you become a principal?
Everybody loves to talk about themselves. Especially when they think somebody really cares. This question will put the principal at ease, allow them to open up and feel comfortable and will give you insight into who this person is. You can learn a lot about a person when you listen to them tell their story. You will probably be pleasantly surprised about who is running your child’s school. Use this time to ask other questions about them as the conversation leads. Finding out that your principal has a family or likes sky diving will help give you a positive opinion of them as an individual. Remember, you are setting the stage for your relationship. Believe me, you will be glad you did when you have to interact with them again.
2. What is your vision for this school?
There it is. The meat and potatoes. Jump right in and ask. You have already discussed why they are in the driver’s seat, now you want to know what they plan on doing with the power. As your principal begins to answer do not be afraid to stop them and ask questions. Often times educators speak a different language. If the principal begins to say things that sound foreign ask them to explain. One thing most educators like to do is talk education. So speak up. This is why you are here. You want to know where this person sees this school going. This will help you understand the way the school functions and why.
3. Do you feel like your school is successfully implementing this vision?
The principal has a great deal of responsibility on his or her shoulders and often times they can be sensitive about how they are handling that responsibility, its only human. So by asking if the school is successfully displaying what they want to see you are not putting everything on them but instead allowing for all the players involved to shoulder some responsibility. This gives the principal a chance to freely discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the building. Now they may not be as forth coming about the weaknesses, but if you have guided this conversation successfully, they will probably feel much more comfortable to answer this question as honestly as they possibly can.
Remember: Communication is key! You are making connections that will help your child to be successful!