As I walked into the school, it was impossible to miss the ceiling covered in soft pink paper lanterns, each carefully hung from hand-picked tree branches. The colour of the lanterns was in contrast to the bright red paper flowers hanging off the branches that surrounded the numerous small globes. As you looked down the hallway of this urban elementary school, there was a sea of pink and red. The principal greeted me in her dazzling embroidered red silk jacket. It is Chinese New Year and the school is awash in colour and symbolism. As I remarked on the look of the school, she told me how her parent community had transformed the school for this cultural celebration. She urged me to look closely at the red flowers hanging from the branches. Each flower she told me was hand folded by her parents. Organized by the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), this was an amazing show of the connection that parents had to their local school. It oozed pride and connection. After all, these parents did this for the children. Their children. They did it for the school. For their school.
I traveled to another school close by. The same story emerged. A story of parents contributing above and beyond to make sure that the culture of Chinese New Year was felt, honoured and acknowledged. A celebration of the school and community. In this school, the parents organized volunteers to cook the children dumplings. How many dumplings? Four thousand. I asked again about the number, certainly that was incorrect. No, it was quite correct. Dozens of parent volunteers took it upon themselves to organize, manage and cook thousands of dumplings to serve students, teachers and the parent community.
Parents make a difference. Often I have heard it asserted that it is parent involvement in the governance/management of a school that is the greatest impact but research actually doesn’t support that view. John Hattie’s massive research on the variables that impact student achievement points out that “the home effects are more related to the levels of expectation and encouragement, and certainly not a function of the involvement of the parents or caregivers in the management of schools” (Hattie, 2003). However, that being said, parents can and do have an enormous impact on the feeling, culture, and climate of a school. In my experience, they do this in numerous ways very similar to our recent Chinese New Year celebrations.
Parents who are connected to a school through volunteering and support including promoting and supporting effective communications, show that they care. Parents are part of our educational programs. Principals and teachers who encourage and welcome parental involvement in the school show that the school is an open, welcoming and supportive place that is connected to its surrounding community. The walls of the school don’t end in the hallway, the walls of a school reach out and around the community to embrace the cultural and community connections that exist. Parents should feel welcomed, valued, and honoured and in my experience that is the case.
Every day in Surrey, over 70,000 students enter our school doors and parents hope and expect that they are well cared for. As a district, this is an enormous responsibility. Parents entrust us with what is the most valuable thing in their lives – the well-being and future of their children. The responsibility that our teachers, support staff and administrators are entrusted with is enormous.
Parents want to be involved. They want to feel connected and they do this in so many ways. What I saw this past week in my short tour was an exceptional demonstration of how parents show up to make a difference. That difference wasn’t selling hot dogs or fundraising for playgrounds all of which I know they do and they go to enormous lengths to support our schools financially as well and that makes a huge difference. But parents often show up with their hours, their time, and their commitment to make sure our schools are welcoming and inviting for all, and our schools are better for it.