• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2009

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.IDRA’s principles for family leadership in education have been the basis of our work with families, schools and communities. A public school principal who models and carries out these principles creates a family-friendly school. The principles (applied by the principal) can be carried out in multiple ways, but the actions and behaviors are measured by the results with children, families, staff and teachers. No single template or management style achieves a family-friendly school. One can nevertheless point to the campus leader who has been critical to fostering that wonderful result: a family-friendly school with happy, academically successful students.

The principles applied to principals are as follows.

1. Families can be their children’s strongest advocates.
Our first premise draws on the potential that all families have in speaking for, defending and supporting their children. The concept of parents as advocates has been difficult to capture in the research and literature, especially connecting it to student achievement, yet it is key to our vision. The principal holding this premise does not have an unreal, romanticized view of the reality of our families. He or she does not ignore that there are dysfunctional families in all classes, races and communities. Nevertheless, his or her view of families is that each must be approached with respect and high expectations.

2. Families of different races, ethnicities, languages and classes are equally valuable.
Each group has assets, traditions and a language that are worthy of respect. The principal’s experience demonstrates that when this principle is evident in the outreach and work done with families, there is a marked increase in the amount and quality of families’ engagement with their children’s schools and education.

3. Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value.
The principal is aware that every major survey conducted in the Latino community has placed education as the number one issue of concern or very close to the top. He or she understands that parents of all races, classes and national origins have reinforced this almost universal concern families have for their children’s education. He or she acts on this knowledge.

4. Within families, many individuals play a role in children’s education.
The principal acknowledges, accepts and respects whoever the key caretakers are of children beyond the genetic parents. The combination of all who live within a home are important influences on children, and the principal attests that they can be a collective force for creating excellent schools.

5. Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children when collective efforts create solutions for the common good.
The family-friendly principal looks beyond the individualistic, charismatic leader model, agreeing that a lone leader focus is too narrow and does not sustain communities, families and excellent schools over time. As wonderful as the neighborhood mom in sneakers haranguing the school board about a serious concern is, the principal knows that our neighborhood schools need a network of families, co-supporting and co-creating action that improves schools. He or she realizes that our neighborhoods need a network of families who continue to support their neighborhood schools as each generation of children flows through them. The family-friendly principal welcomes collective efforts that are nourished by rich and deep democratic roots and sustained with peer compassion among families. He or she acknowledges that child rearing is a difficult and isolating responsibility, so he or she facilitates cooperation and rotating leadership so that when there is individual burnout, others from the network keep up the good effort.

6. Families, schools and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children.
The family-friendly principal accepts that schools must be transformed; that positive change that lasts in the school requires internal and external leadership; and that when the internal suasion of the principal couples with the external support and strength of the parents, there is a solid foundation for the innovation to be sustained. The principal truly believes and practices the expectation that – with his or her leadership from within the school in welcoming collaboration and enthusiastic connection with families from without in the broader community – all together can achieve the cherished dream of excellent schools for all children.

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed, is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. He also serves on the national board of PTA. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at  feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]