Beginning of the year onslaught of parent complaints regarding teacher assignment.
At the beginning of every school year, families attended a brief “meet and greet,” during which they visited their child’s classroom and met the teachers. Afterward, as the director, I would receive an overwhelming number of phone calls from parents complaining about their child’s teacher not being warm and welcoming. Teachers also felt uneasy connecting with families, feeling like parents didn’t like them or trust their authority.
I reflected on the number of objections and complaints, knowing that transitions and change can be stressful for people of all ages. Starting a new year with a new teacher tends to make parents uncomfortable, and as a result, skeptical.
To address this skepticism, I created “Story Gathering Day.” This event gave each family a half hour of uninterrupted alone time with their child’s new teacher. This program:
- Built trust between parents and teachers
- Set up for success both the school year and the parent/teacher relationship
The Program Allowed Teachers to:
- Understand each parents’ hopes and dreams for their child
- Hear some of the family stories
- Get to know the child through the parents’ eyes
- Tell parents some of their own stories
This was not a time to explore the curriculum, classroom routines or the daily schedule. This was a time to begin building a year-long relationship.
Beginning of the year parent complaints regarding teacher assignment went from an onslaught to virtually nonexistent. Once parents and teachers were given the opportunity to get to know each other, their perspectives shifted, and they saw each other as human beings in need of connection. Over the years, the impact of Story Gathering Day was amplified by positive secondary effects. This meeting helped teachers connect with families regarding emergency communications, parent involvement in the classroom and more.
Pre-K graduation had become all about the parents, rather than the children.
Six months after I became school director, it was time for the pre-kindergarten graduation ceremony. Parents met for weeks prior to decide on decorations, refreshments, ads for the yearbook etc. The planning resulted in parents arguing with each other over their conflicting visions for the event. Teachers rushed to teach the children ten new songs and lectured them about how to walk down the aisle and how to stand on the bleachers. I wondered, “What about the children? Wasn’t this a celebration of them and for them?”
We decided to examine our traditional graduation. Our school was devoted to developmentally appropriate practices, and we decided that graduation should not be an exception. Wearing a cap and gown, walking down an aisle and receiving a diploma were meaningless—and stressful for the children. We were determined to make the experience impactful for them. We invited the parents to meet with teachers and administrators to brainstorm a way to transition the graduation from a children’s performance to a community celebration. One of the guiding questions was, instead of having children entertain us, how can we, adults, honor them and their years at our school? We also involved the children in the process, asking them how they wanted to celebrate their journey.
We renamed our graduation “Siyum,” the Hebrew word for conclusion, and nothing about it was ordinary. Every element of the event was intentional. The children had the idea to put on a play entitled “Do You Remember?” It was about what it would be like to reunite with their classmates when they were grown-ups. The play featured some of their favorite moments at school, like Shabbat, birthday celebrations and more. Another project they took on with their parents. It was called, “Who Am I?” and it encouraged the children to investigate their identity. Each child had a designated exhibit space to feature special items that represented them and told their story. At the Siyum event, I approached my role differently. Instead of addressing the parents in my speech, I directly addressed each graduating student individually. By making the children the focus of every aspect of graduation, they were motivated and engaged on their special day. The feeling at the event was spiritual and the parents, too, were touched by the joy and meaning of the event. From then on, every year the Siyum was filled with meaning and told a unique story about that particular group of children.
Teachers weren’t complying with the staff handbook.
As at any school, we had a staff handbook comprised of standard policies and procedures. However, staff members didn’t comply with the standards in this book. Many did as they pleased and procedures varied from classroom to classroom. As the director, I viewed this situation as staff breaking the rules, while the teachers ran their classrooms based on what was convenient or common sense.
When I tried to understand the problem, I wondered if the teachers didn’t follow the rules because they didn’t know the handbook well enough. Perhaps our onboarding process wasn’t thorough enough. Or maybe our policies and procedures were obsolete, impractical, too complicated or inconvenient. Are they preventing teachers from focusing on their first priority, which are the children? I needed to understand the source of the problem. I asked the teachers to participate in a voluntary task force that would review our staff handbook and write a new one. Many teachers responded, and we engaged in a several-months-long project. Reviewing the handbook gave us the chance to engage in important conversations. During the process, we deleted some policies and procedures, revised others and wrote new ones. At the end of the process, we decided to give the handbook a new title that reflected its purpose: Keeping Our Children safe; Keeping Our Standards High.
Pleasing the director was no longer a reason to comply with the handbook. Teachers felt compelled to comply with the rules in order to keep their students safe and their work standards high. Needless to say, having numerous staff members involved in the process of rewriting the handbook converted them into advocates and influencers.