Do’s & Don’ts for Parent Advisory Councils

Do’s and Don’ts for Parent Advisory Councils

The most frequently asked questions from parent groups go like this: “How can we be more effective? We are fed up with doing tea and cookies, fund-raising….We want to know how to help kids in school.”

Circumstances, whether it is the parent group itself, or the principal, have cast too many groups into the “tea and cookies” image. There is now, however, a trend showing that more parent groups and principals are wanting to change that image.

If your parent group seeks to be the right-hand partner in the educational function of the school, than the first thing it should do is agree that it wants an advisory or consultative role in the school. Meaning, that the parents should be consulted before decisions are made which affect either the parents or the students.

This consultative/advisory role should be clearly understood and written down (______ Parent Advisory Council). 

 Functions can include:

          suggestions about learning experiences

          suggestions or changes to school policies and procedures

          evaluating innovative programs

          assist parents to get information about school programs and procedures

          be informed about events affecting educational programs

          recommend alterations and renovations

          review curriculum

          recommend on code of student conduct

          help set program priorities

          advise on means to ensure racial and cultural understanding

          help ensure the safest possible environment for the well-being of all

What most parent group models fail to spell out are the pitfalls to avoid,
  1. Don’t defer to the principal. If your voice is to represent parent opinion, don’t ask the principal what he thinks, ask the parents.
  2. Don’t accept someone-else’s agenda. Stick to what the parents want on the agenda, unless there is a legitimate item brought to you for your consultation. (What color the walls should be painted is hardly an item for consultation!)
  3. Don’t think that being busy is any sign of accomplishment. Such involvement can be empty and meaningless to the quality of education at your school. Pick your targets, determine priorities.
  4. Don’t assume the parent view will automatically be listened to. Put it in writing, take minutes and have these circulated among parents and staff.
  5. Don’t hesitate to delegate jobs to sub-committees, or to refer a question for further research and recommendations. Sub-committees can greatly lessen the load and aid in good decision-making. (Sub-committees are a good place for those parents who want to be involved in fund-raising or “auxiliary” activities.)
  6. Don’t (ever) get discouraged because only a small number of parents are involved in your advisory group. Statistics show that only a small number of parents want to be involved at this level, but if this group is wise, it will not only ensure a parent voice at the school, but will also make sure that all parents do have opportunities for meaningful involvement, whatever their level of need or interest.

 Change occurs best when we question policies, behaviors, practices.  Don’t attack persons, personalities.  It’s far better to say, "I don’t think that practice is educationally sound", rather than "That teacher is incompetent."  But DO make sure your concern is passed on to the right authorities so that they can make a judgment and take corrective action if necessary.  DO be persistent in a just cause.

Levels of Parent Involvement

In his report, The Public’s Role in Education (1972), Dr. H.A.Wallin noted:

“…not all persons who seek involvement seek the same level or amount of involvement.”

He clearly discerned 4 levels: a) some just want to focus on the individual youngster in school, b) in addition, the second group is interested in some volunteer work (field trips, assisting in the library, playground, lunchroom) , c) the third group seeks more involvement with educational questions at the school, especially when innovations are concerned, and d) the fourth group feels they “have a right” to influence the kind of education children receive and seek input on goals, curriculum, instructional methods, and teacher training. Wallin said this fourth group believes:

“that it is an irresponsible society which permits, usually by default, education to be left up to the educators. It would be just as irresponsible to leave matters of defense up to the military or the nation’s health to the medical profession.”


WARNING: This next item is reprinted to show how “lightly” the subject of parent advisory groups was taken in the late 70’s. This was included in a principals’ workshop, hopefully to elicit “positive” suggestions. (Maybe, it IS a good teaching tool. What do you think?)





Eight ways to destroy an advisory group:

  1. Stall.  Hold the first meeting in November.  The momentum will be lost by January, and June will soon be there.
  2. Be subtly negative in your communications, always declaring willingness to co-operate.
  3. Offer no leadership.  Try to avoid an agenda for meetings and bring no ideas.  Talk endlessly.
  4. Dominate meetings.  Discourage discussion of sensitive topics.  Hide behind legalistic obstructions.
  5. Involve the group in an elaborate and lengthy report.  Then let it gather dust.
  6. If they mean business, isolate the advisory group’s leaders.  Provoke a quarrel (always in private); effectively end communication. Brand the activists as trouble-makers.
  7. Cultivate a tame group of parents.  Make it obvious that there is a split in the community.
  8. Let your staff know you are standing between them and a bunch of meddlers.  They’ll get the idea.




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