I'm trying to change my children's public school's recess policy. The reason: the students are sometimes punished for academic problems (such as failing to turn in assignments) by having to walk laps during recess time.
I feel that the social time and stress reduction at recess are crucial parts of the learning process, and that there should be some other way to hold students accountable.
I need advice as to what works when talking with teachers and administration. Has anyone successfully changed a policy? What's the best way to get results?
As parent who has been communicating with public school teachers and administrators for years, I've got some advice. I haven't changed any policies, but perhaps this will get you started.
My general strategy is to find out as much information as I can about a school situation before I speak to anyone at the school. You want to have all your ducks in a row so you can speak with confidence, and address the person who can make a difference.
- Is this a district-wide or school-specific policy?
- Is this is a formal policy enforced by the school's administration, or is it an informal practice among teachers?
- Can you speak to parents of kids who have had their recess taken away? Find out, in a neutral way, what happened. Avoid finger-pointing and outrage if you can — you're just gathering information.
- Who, at the school, is the person who could effect such change? This is the decision-maker you want to reach.
Take notes, including dates, names, and contact details.
Once you have a good sense of the situation, email the decision-maker to ask for a brief appointment. Your tone should be pleasant, non-combative, and direct. I find people are MUCH more willing to talk when I tell them when I have "questions" rather than "concerns" or "issues."
At the appointment, be causal but to-the-point, ask your questions, then listen to the response. Really open your mind to the perspective of the person talking. Express appreciation for the difficulty of the job and the limits on staff time and resources. You might hear something you weren't expecting.
Once you've taken in this person's perspective, begin a conversation. Not an "Okay, but…" negation of what they've said, but an "I see what you're trying to do. I wonder if there's another way to accomplish it. Here's my thought." Make absolutely clear you're there to help and problem-solve, not to accuse. See where it goes.
If you find yourself getting nowhere, thank the person, let them know that you care about this deeply and that you're going to give the situation more thought and attention. That way, when you attempt to make inroads with other school staff, you won't be doing an end run around this person.
That's where I would begin. No guarantees in terms of results, but at least that should give you a framework for beginning the conversation.
Parenthackers, what's your school policy change advice for Sarah?
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