In revisiting our mission statement this week, as we move into a new era, I read something new that had never occurred to me before. In the past I had emphasized the terms, “child-directed”, “social emotional development”, and “conflict resolution”, and that has served me well in recreating the mission on the ground in our classrooms each day. But this time, as I read, there was a different part that stood out, as if in bold print, for the first time.
Right near the end, there’s a part that says, …”that depends on, and supports, active parent participation in our school…”. I had always taken that part for granted. Yeah, we are a co-op. For much of my time at Cottage, I showed up for my work shifts, sold and bought out my apples, did my pod jobs, and the number of parent eds and fix it days that I was supposed to do. I had a new baby, my brain was scrambled, and I kind of figured that that was it.
When I heard “parent participation” before, I understood it to mean the tangible work we do to make the school run. I saw clear evidence of that work this week, as parents who were asked by their fellow parents, begged even, to be on the Board, because we know them and trust them, suddenly had been tasked with enormous responsibilities. Many parents not on the Board have approached me this week to tell me that they are glad to help, they want to help. There is a bunch of logistical stuff to get in order, and there are opportunities for people who want to be a part of stabilizing the school to be impactful. But there’s more to do than just the nuts and bolts stuff.
Looking back on that time when I had a preschooler and a baby, one of the most important things I did for my life at that time was meeting other moms out front to walk the neighborhood, some of us with our babies. We were all parents of young children who needed exercise and adult conversation to keep from going insane, and at first, that was good enough. We had a weekly date to do this, and I found myself looking forward to it more and more, as I was treading water in the depths of parenthood.
As I grew my relationships with those fellow mothers, they provided hand me downs from their older children, which I did in turn. We told each other things, messy things, about our parenting fails and the stress on our marriages. We set up play dates. We did babysitting trades. After a while, we became really good friends, and our children became really good friends. And it reminded me of how a bunch of the people who my parents invited to my wedding were friends they had made when I was in preschool. Almost forty years later, my parents are still close friends with those families with whom they bonded when us kids were little.
Creating community for myself and my family was central to why I chose Cottage for my children. But, as I learned at a talk by Louise Derman-Sparks (who literally wrote the book on anti-bias education) a couple of years ago, a school can’t rest on its reputation when it comes to fulfilling on its mission statement. If we want this stuff, if we want “an intimate community of families and teachers”, that does all the good stuff we say we are going to do, we need to do that work to create and enact it. We need to do it every day. It’s not something that can be accomplished by a few individuals who agreed to take on leadership roles. It has to be taken on by each of us in a way that works for us.
So when you feel ready, host a play date. Invite a family you just met to meet you at the park. Offer your hand me downs. Invite the other lady in yoga pants to walk with you. Get brunch with someone while you count down to music time. Show up to the potlucks. Be brave. Be bold. Be friendly. You chose us, and we chose you. We have so much in common. Let’s do this.