Monday, October 26, 2009

Relating to My School Board Members

I recently received a comment on my blog from Fred Deutsch who is a school board member in South Dakota. I was so excited because I had never imagined that a school board member would even read my blog, much less comment on it! I was totally flabbergasted and immediately went to his blog, School-of-Thought, to read what he had to say on issues. Of course, I also added it to my Google Reader so I don’t miss any updates and would highly recommend that you check it out. .

I also realized that even though I encourage people to read blogs about education and follow many of them, most of them are written by other teachers or even reporters. I read one blog, Principal’s Page – The Blog, written by Michael Smith who is a Superintendent which I thoroughly enjoy sharing with my husband. It is interesting to see the school system from an administrator’s point of view. Yet, I don’t know of any school board members who blog, until now.

After reading Fred Deutsch’s post, Education Week takes a Slap at School Boards,
I began to think about the relationship between teachers and school board members. He states,
“There are good and bad folks in every line of work, including those that serve on school boards. The truth is it burns my butt when I see school board member that aren’t doing what they were elected to do. Our work is just too damn important! But those board members are few and far between in my experience. When I go to state or national meetings, I talk with school board members that are concerned, energized and passionate about education. It’s rare that I meet a school board member that isn’t.
The most significant challenge for national and state school board associations, in my opinion, is to do a better job in getting the word out about the “job requirements” of a school board member, and the important relationship between what we do in the board room, and academic achievement in the classroom. We have to do a better job in getting the word out that serving on a school board is richly rewarding.”

When I was a teacher, I thought of the school board as “them” and teachers as “us.” I never had any contact with my school board members and didn’t even think about them much unless we were given policies that we hated. I hate to admit that I did not attend many school board meetings in my whole career and wasn’t really encouraged to do so by my administrators. I couldn’t even tell you who the school board members were or who represented my district!

Even though Mr. Deutsch feels that the school board should inform the public better about what their job descriptions are, I feel it is important for teachers to be responsible in seeking out this information rather than waiting for it to be handed to them. If I could go back in time, I would definitely take a more active role in staying involved with the school board. Having a relationship with the school board would be a great way to share your beliefs as well as helping them make informed, positive decisions that impact the classroom.

Here are some suggestions that I thought would be helpful for teachers and school board members. Developing a relationship with the school board member could be so beneficial towards helping our students become successful in the classroom.
1. Teachers should know the person who represents the district they live in. Share this information with your students so they see you as a role model. Help them see who their school board member is.
2. Teachers should know the names of all of the school board members and have their contact information.
3. Teachers should attend a school board meeting as much as possible. They might be making decisions that impact your classroom and you should know what is going on.
4. Teachers should know and understand the issues that are coming before the school board.
5. Teachers should invite school board members to their classrooms, especially if you have a special lesson going on. They might not be able to attend but I’m sure they would appreciate the invitation.
6. If there is a special issue that you feel strongly about, call or email your school board member and tell them about it. They may not have any one who is giving them input from your point of view.
7. Contact your school board member and give them your contact information in case they have a question or if they want to know how you feel about a specific issue.

If you know of any other ways to help build a relationship with the school, please share. I really feel that developing a relationship with the school board is important and wish someone would have encouraged me when I started teaching.

Original image: 'final exam' by: John


Jim Vining said...

Nice observation. The Board/Teacher relationship is an interesting one - one that is not encouraged by administrators because sometimes there is an attempt to short circuit the operations process (go straight to board instead of through administration). I am a board member and read your comments (have linked to them as well on my blog:

Fred Deutsch said...

Great list of suggestions, Pat. I understand your idea of “us versus them.” When I first ran for school board, I invited leaders of our local teacher union out to lunch to discuss educational issues. In addition to speaking about the issues, they said a few things that surprised me. First, they said no school board member (or school board candidate) had ever sought their opinion before; and second, they described their concept of a school board member as someone “sitting in an ivory castle,” removed from the realities of the classroom.

I invited them to lunch because I genuinely wanted their opinions. To my way of thinking, who else knows the nitty-gritty of front-lines down-in-the-ditch education better than teachers? If I’m going to assume a leadership role to develop policy and participate in establishing a vision for the future of the school district, it seems to me that it’s prudent to solicit input from local teachers.

The “ivory tower” concept annoyed me as much back then as it does now. I don’t think that’s a beneficial concept for education, and I’ve worked hard to dispel that notion by just being a normal guy as a school board member -- welcoming, honest and transparent. No one is education should occupy an ivory tower, in my opinion. School board members, administrators, and teachers all play different but vital roles. It seems to me the more teachers can be empowered, the more they can be encouraged to take leadership roles, the better it is for the entire system – which to me means the better it is for all our children.

Concerning your suggestion about inviting board members into your classroom, I’ve never received an invitation, but I would love to receive one! I have to tell you, I periodically visit classrooms, and one of my personal goals is to visit every classroom in the school district sometime during my three year elected term. I believe it’s important for me to simply observe what’s going on. I look at interactions between teacher and student, and between students. I look at the classroom – is it warm and inviting, conducive to learning? I walk the hallways. Is the school safe and clean? I always let the teacher know ahead of time that I’ll be coming, and I always let them know that my visit has nothing to do with evaluating – I’m not qualifies to do that. The entire purpose is to get a sense of how things are going – are children learning? The visit also sends a message to the teacher, I think, that we care.

An invitation, perhaps to observe something special, would be like icing on the cake.

Thanks again for your great list of suggestions.

Teacher Mom said...

Great post! I have always thought that it could be landmine for teachers to get involved with the school board. So much politics between the administration vs school board..and it seems like teachers could get caught in the cross hairs. However, I love the notion that this models citizenship to the students.