CH Teachers Union embarks on listening initiative

Most people probably think that teachers are better at giving information than receiving it. Over the summer, the leadership of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union had discussions about what we don’t know, including what the parents of our students want from teachers and the schools. We have always worked closely with parents through PTAs and in other ways, but we figured it could be interesting to dig a little deeper and have conversations to see what common interests we have with parents of varying backgrounds.

We came up with a way to find out more through small listening sessions with parents at as many schools as possible. Teams formed and trained to meet with parents and ask four questions:

  • What do you like about your child’s school?
  • What changes do you believe would help your child be even more successful in school?
  • What other services would be helpful to the community that might be offered though the school?
  • How can we, as local teachers, assist in advocating for your children?

Listening teams were instructed to listen without comment—just to listen and record what they heard (which was probably the hardest part).

So far, we’ve conducted sessions in eight different schools involving about 65 parents from PTAs and other groups, as well as other parents. Although the groups were small and in no way a perfect sampling of the incredibly diverse families that use the district’s schools, these sessions identified some interesting commonalities.

Many parents were surprised that our union is interested in [learning] what they think is important. Parents and teachers are natural allies, but don’t always realize that working together will be mutually advantageous. Like parents, teachers want the best for our students—and many of us are parents. In fact, part of our union’s vision statement speaks to creating and maintaining supportive environments conducive to learning and teaching. 

Many of the additional services that would be helpful to our parents fit nicely under the “wrap-around services” umbrella that I wrote about in the December 2015 Heights Observer: fitness and enrichment classes, parenting classes, open gym, affordable after-school care, English Language Learners classes, and more.  Parents have great ideas for what could happen at school.

Some of the ideas were about helping orient parents to the school and finding more time to meet with teachers. The thoughtfulness of parents who were able to participate in these conversations was gratifying. Some teams have taken the summaries from their schools to building leadership, to discuss if there are issues that can be addressed right away. I have shared every summary with Superintendent Dixon, to make her aware of what parents are saying so that administration might act on some items as well. 

When we started this project, we did not know where it would lead. Every team that I have spoken with felt that its conversations have all been resoundingly positive, even though some team members were reluctant to ask these questions of parents, concerned that there would be unpleasant reactions.

I think most people are happy when someone listens to what they have to say, without being defensive or judgmental in response. I know our teams of teachers might have had things they wanted to say, but that was not our mission. We still have to discuss this within our own organization, but there are probably good reasons to try to refine this process and repeat it in the future. There are always things that teachers can learn.

Ari Klein

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.

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Volume 9, Issue 3, Posted 11:41 AM, 03.01.2016