A NEW Parental Engagement in Schools
By Cathy Rowe
Frontier School Corporation
Indiana State University
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
As educational leaders, we are oftentimes looked upon for leadership in the worst of times and in the best of times -- for guidance and reassurance that all will be well, even when it will not. Such vast responsibility is not without burden for the K-12 school leader, at times begging the question, “Will I make the right decision?” or “Is this the best I can offer?”
Sounds a bit familiar, like what many of us experience at home.
In a sense, leadership is like parenting – a NEW type of parental engagement in schools. Each day, it presents itself, as we take every opportunity to nurture, guide, and watch over our programmatic “children” in the best of times and the worst of times. It’s not just a family of five, it’s a family of five hundred and five, figured conservatively.
One great challenge inherent in programmatic parenting is the fact that if children are not thriving, we believe it is our fault. With myriad societal variables in play, we truly embrace this very fact of our leadership, whether fair or not as we self-reflect. Do you?
Taking personal responsibility for not only the educational attainment of students, but also their emotional, physical and social needs, is what we as effective leaders do every day. As teachers, principals and superintendents, our students and staff look to us to make the right decisions. They look to us, as do children to parents, in order to get their needs met. And then they look again the very next day.
This never-ending stewardship of others’ needs is pivotal to understanding that leadership involves an ongoing and never-ending commitment to others above self -- relationships over tasks. Thankfully, with responsibility comes reward. Wrapping services around students, as well as adults when they are in need pays multiple dividends in establishing a community of mutual respect, a collaborative work setting, and a family environment in which everyone works together. This is especially helpful in that K-12 education is being asked to compete on an arduous playing field, necessitating a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We engender such a team through our parenting. Consider a military analogy:
Just as our best Marine leaders eat last (Sinek, 2014), those who are privileged to serve in leadership understand that leading must come at the expense of self-interest. We don’t necessary contend as do others, that there is no “I” in team, yet we would say that one does better with “we.” Putting employees’ needs above any selfish motives is at the heart of effective leadership, as it is with parenting.
And what goes around comes around.
Leaders are not always gifted with friendly terrain. Such is the case in K-12 education today, where danger evoking flight or fight can affect performance. We know that in any hierarchy of needs, the most foundational include one’s safety and security. Leaders have an influence here as well, as parents would with their own families. How do? By creating Circles of Safety (Sinek, 2014).
Creating Circles of Safety (Sinek, 2014) provides a bit of protection in situations fraught with risk -- those very same circumstances that can potentially reap the most dividend for our efforts on behalf of teaching and learning – as they are less traveled.
Circles of Safety develop strong bonds of trust in employees as they are protected from the outside forces that threaten to do harm to the organization, and thus, to them. As parents of the organization, leaders work to ensure that the employees are sheltered as they are developing, exposed to only as much as they can handle. Consider also the fact that as children mature, they can then run a bit of interference for their parents from time to time, as employees themselves can provide Circles to leaders, when their safety is, at times, threatened from the outside.
Leaders cannot, and we believe “would not” escape parenting, even the feelings that parenting engenders.
How many times do we as leaders have outside obligations that take us away from our schools such as professional development trainings and/or conferences, only to begin to feel the isolation and distance from those to whom we are responsible, much as parents would their own children? As parents find themselves bringing back to their children travel mementos or trinkets to help offset the separation that they have experienced, leaders act similarly, reaching out to reconnect on personals level when returning to buildings in an effort to re-establish the critical social connections so important in their day-to-day lives.
We know that being parentally engaged with people – socially, emotionally, or otherwise – is at the root of successful relationships. This holds true in personal relationships with our own children or with those we lead in our organizations. Recognizing the importance of parenting and cultivating Circles of Safety are of paramount importance as we hope to raise our next generation, ensuring positive caretaking and development of generations beyond.
Sinek, Simon (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York, NY: Penguin Books
Cathy Rowe and Ryan Donlan recognize that at the heart of effective leadership is a foundational belief in one’s responsibility to care for others dependent upon us. It is with this in mind that they hope to continue their conversation, any time you wish, if you would be willing to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.