By Andrea Wilburn, Guest Contributor
So…we’ve made it to the end of the semester and we are armed with theories and concepts, and we have an arsenal of impressive words. However, what bothers me is who wrote the articles and how the ones in the field of education authored few to none of these highfaluting theories and concepts we have learned. Nevertheless, this did not stop me from taking this new knowledge and putting it on display for the educators in my family which have decades of experience as teachers’ and administrators. After the heated conversations about the theoretical practices and if they worked in the real world just not on the pages of peer reviewed journals, I felt more naïve than ever. I ended up with more questions than when I started. What is a transformative leader? Additionally, where does the relationship and trust between family and school begin?
I have to be honest; it took me until the end of the semester to find my own definition of a transformative leader. I believe that a transformative leader practices “mindfulness” to position themselves in the team so that the overall outcome is successful. This leader plays a supportive role to staff and families to ensure that trust starts in the classroom between teacher and student. This leader understands that if the child goes home with stories about a successful day in the classroom filled with enjoyment about their teacher and the school community, it sparks the parents’ curiosity and willingness to participate. This conversation at dinner tables and other places and times at home tends to happen daily between child and parent and starts the path to shared trust. We as future transformative leaders play a bigger role behind the scenes with staff development; we teach and train educators on the importance of a positive teacher and family relationship. For example, we all remember our favorite teacher, the bond that we developed, and the life lessons they taught us. Would it not be smart as leaders to piggyback off that positive relationship of the teachers by having the educators incorporate the overall agenda of school community engagement? By leaders utilizing the relationships that teachers have already formed with the families, we are able to reach more parents daily with our message. However, we must nurture and encourage those relationships for a longer term and monitor success or failure, while always willing to adjust the bottom line whenever required.
‘Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform’ authored by Bryk, A. and Schneider, B., is a short article that focuses on how schools can build on the ideas on developing and maintaining “social trust essential for meaningful school improvement.” A few key points of the article I have chosen highlight how we can utilize classroom teachers and support staff through professional development.
Building (a) relational trust is an imperative first step when establishing a successful partnership between school and parents. I disagree with the idea that engagement starts between the parent and school as many articles suggest. Trust is formed with the student and the initial connection between the teacher and the pupil. If the student has positive and trustful social exchanges with school staff, this forms similar relationships with the parents and encourages engagement. As rational trust is formed, (b) social respect is required which … “comes from the kinds of social discourse that takes place across the school community.” For example, our conversation with parents must be rooted in commonsense language, with the end goal being a successful partnership for student and school.
Consequently, it is easy to over extend ourselves and other members of the team with forced obligations, which eventually fractures trust. As leaders, we want to make engagement a welcomed option and not an ultimatum ensuring the team members (c) personal regards are seen as authentic and reliable. We must take notice of member’s willingness to extend themselves beyond formal requirements recognizing that the members will see these actions as encouraging, strengthening the school- parent relationship even further.
In addition, (d) personal integrity amongst the team is vital when ensuring reliance remains in the relationship long-term making sure that members’ actions are seen as trustworthy. New techniques learned to ensure that daily social exchanges between all parties of the team creates (e) benefits of trust allowing improved communication and support creating a safe place allowing growth and engagement. Also, we must understand that participation is voluntary, leaders must ensure (f) Conditions That Foster Relational Trust members of the team feel appreciated and their opinions welcomed and valued. Most importantly, we must (g) Support Teachers to Reach Out to Parents, which is the foundation of creating trust amongst school and family with the primary player being the initial relationship between teacher and student.
In conclusion, as transformative leaders, we must understand that engagement by families is a welcomed choice and not a requirement. Ultimately, understanding that we might not be able to reach out to every parent individually but we have a building full of teachers and support staff that can assist with (h) Keeping the Connective Tissue Healthy, binding all players together to advance the success of all students.
Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 40-44.
Andrea Wilburn is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.