Being Involved at School

As we dive into yet another school year, have you considered what your involvement as a parent might be?

We’re now into our 11th consecutive year at the same local primary school. It’s been a great opportunity to develop long-term relationships with students, parents, teachers and staff. Our school is multi-lingual and multi-cultural with immigrant families, as well as the usual mix of born and bred Australians. It’s also a bastion of secular, inclusive thought. Jesus calls us to be salt and light to those around us (Matt 5:13-15), and for our ministry family, the local school is the only place where we regularly spend time with unbelievers.

Our school is multi-lingual and multi-cultural, a bastion of secular, inclusive thought. Jesus calls us to be salt and light.

There are many ways a parent could be involved, but as with all things, no-one can or should do everything.  Our involvement has varied greatly over the years. We reassess annually and also consider it a ‘joint task’: sometimes my husband has been more involved with a sports team or on the council, which means I do less; other times it’s reversed.

Here’s what we’ve prioritised:

1. Get to know the teachers

We ask about their families, weekend, holidays, so that not every conversation is about our child. It acknowledges their humanity: they aren’t just there to teach our child, they have a life with ups and downs just like we do. To our children, it models respect as well as understanding for those in authority.

I’ve realised this isn’t what all parents do. Each year, teachers have thanked us for being so supportive of them and the class. We just thought we were taking an interest, but apparently, it stands out.

As they progress through the years, this is trickier as I go into the classroom less. But I’ve observed most teachers really appreciate it when you occasionally come into the classroom in the senior years.

2. Get involved in the school community

We’ve been involved in various ways: committees, Governing Council, sports coaching, listening to reading, testing times tables, going on excursions, and hosting events for class parents. When senior management change, I make an effort to meet them. I try to know the office staff by name, and again being a friendly, cheerful face with no agenda appears to be a refreshing change.

In the early years, I committed to more than I could manage and ended up feeling guilty about pulling out of something.  These days I do less and feel guilty for not getting more involved! It’s always a bit of a balancing act. But God gives grace, and we are reminded it’s a privilege to serve the school community, even when it can be time-consuming and challenging.

3. Get to know the children

When I went into the classroom, the main benefit was meeting the children, as well as understanding the class dynamics. In later years, an excursion can help fill in the knowledge gap. Even one day spent with a class gives you an insight into relationships and dynamics.

I pray that my children will be good friends (Prov 17:17, 18:24) and have helpful friendships (Prov 27:17). Observing these interactions can help identify friendships to encourage, both for the sake of my child and for other children.

4. Get to know the parents and families

This is easier in the first few years. When each child began we hosted get-to-know-you events for parents. Having them in our home started many friendships that continue today.  We are called to hospitality (Heb 13:2, 1 Pet 4:9), and the school community is included in that.

In later years, this happened through sporting teams. For a while, we knew all the soccer families, and now it’s the netball families.

I think we should prioritise looking out for people that aren’t already connected. It’s a funny thing, primary school. The parents seem to be in cliques too: cool parents, sporty parents, committee parents, and others. As Christian parents, we want to be welcoming, inclusive and hospitable. This should include migrant families, who in my observation are often not included by Australian parents. Let’s be the friendly ones—some of these parents are very lonely. Secondly, let’s be helpful—there’s a certain culture to any school, which takes everyone time to figure out.  Throw in some ethnic differences and I imagine some are left wondering what’s going on (eg. lunch orders, swimming lessons, how excursions work). One of my friends has just started a part-time job in her children’s school to do exactly these things—help the international parents assimilate.

5. Pray for the school

We certainly pray for the school, students, teachers and families privately and as a family.

For a time, a group of Christians mums from school met once a term to pray and it was very encouraging. While we no longer meet, we’ve seen God answer those prayers in two amazing ways:

  1. Our school now has a Pastoral Care Worker funded 2 days-a-week. She is a cheerful presence amongst the staff and students and is greatly valued by management. We started praying for this when our son started, that prayer was answered when he was in his final year!
  2. A group of Christian families have run an out-of-hours gingerbread house event for three years. We can speak about being Christian and advertise the churches we attend. It is fast becoming a highlight annual event for school families.

We’ve loved being involved in our school community. It certainly takes time and effort, but it’s worth it—for our kids, for us, and hopefully, for the people we meet and support along the way.

How might you consider being involved in your school community?

(Wendy has two children in upper primary. Her eldest is now in the wilds of Year 10 at high school. They’ve chosen to keep their main involvement at primary school, rather than split their efforts between two schools!)

 Photo: Melanie, flickr