Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.
We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.
Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.
When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!
Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).
Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”
We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.
Discussing the takeaways on the ride home
As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we learned from the experience:
1. Face to face contact with caring teachers
2. First impressions are made everyday
3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues
4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend
5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too
6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community
7. Have designated places to recognize students
Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.
Knapp Elementary School Twitter
Parent Teacher Chat on Twitter
You do a lot of learning from other educators and schools. Do your own staff members ever feel uneasy about this? Might they ever feel like, “Why do we keep hearing about these other schools? What’s wrong with how we do things?” Maybe all of your people are in a constant learning mindset. Just curious about your staff’s perceptions.
As always I appreciate your comments. I thought a lot about your questions because I really value you as a mentor! I feel that maybe I didn’t include a few important details within this post. I will try to do so here…
As a focus school in the state of NJ we were required to do an extensive self assessment, and then follow up with a climate survey of our parents perceptions of our school. Looking at the data, the parents had concerns about our welcoming environment and communication. When I presented the data to the faculty, they were disappointed because they really try to make the school feel welcoming. I agreed, and said we should look at these results as a barometer of where we were, and to work to improve but we were never going to make everyone satisfied.
I reached out to Joe Mazza, who is a good friend, and someone who is steeped in a dissertation about family and community engagement. And as a system’s thinker, I am always looking for continuous improvement, and examples to learn from. In the post, I also left out the important role the Principal plays in this whole equation. Joe quoted a great deal of research that points to the Principal as the person who is most responsible for creating a welcoming, family centered school. So if anything, the trip to Knapp was mostly about my improvement. I probably didn’t make that clear enough in the post.
I would hope that the faculty did not view this, or any of the other visits to schools as anything other than a learning opportunity. In fact, many of the staff has used social media as a tool to explore what other schools are doing to improve their instruction, yours included. I will certainly bring it up to explore this further because I don’t think anything is “wrong” with how we do things.
In conclusion, the team walked (drove) away from the Knapp visit feeling validated that we are doing a lot of great things with family and community engagement that they are doing.
Thanks again, Curt!
Thanks for the reply. I didn’t know your school was a Focus School. I’ve only known your school through your eyes and posts, but it looks like you all certainly have many welcoming procedures and practices in place. I absolutely love the red carpet idea. I may have to steal that one for my school next fall.
Take care sir,