From the Outside Looking In

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"From the outside looking in you can't understand it, and from the inside looking out you can't explain it"

For the first time in eighteen years, I have found myself in a completely different situation and am fascinated by what I am learning as an outsider about the world in which I previously lived.  As an educator, I have spent my entire career working within the public education system working and pushing for changes I believe are not only good for kids but essential to their learning experiences.  I have had the honor of being a part of major initiatives including developing blended learning environments with Sal Khan of Khan Academy, using design thinking to create a different trajectory for a school district and most recently creating a comprehensive STEM program beginning in kindergarten.  My work is and has always been fueled by a passion, an unwavering commitment to public education and a belief that change is possible for all students.

And then I was hit with an unexpected personal change that came in the form of an incredible new opportunity for our family to relocate to Southern California.  I resigned from my position as the Director of Strategic Initiative & Community Partnerships with the Los Altos School District in November and relocated to the west side of Los Angeles, where I am now a parent of a first grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) trying to understand the world of education from a different perspective. While I am no longer affiliated with a public school district, I continue to work with school leaders on reframing their leadership both as an independent consultant and through my work with The Wiseman Group.  

Despite what I had read in the news, I chose to see being a parent of an LAUSD student as an opportunity and promptly reached out to my local school leaders - school board members, district supervisors and local school principal. No response. I reached out again, doing my best to share my background and offer my expertise asking for opportunities to get involved.  No response.  Shocking or expected? For all the rhetoric about parents and schools being partners I was simultaneously disgusted and not at all surprised.  For the time being, I have given up on reaching out to either school board members or district leadership and instead have chosen to focus on my local neighborhood school.  After a brief conversation at a school event, the principal politely invited me to consider joining School Site Council while also making it clear that I would have to be elected to the committee should a position be available.  Is this actually code for we “have a few carefully crafted opportunities for parental involvement and aren’t really interested in what parents have to offer?”  Regardless, the conversation has left me wondering about the ways in which we tap into parents expertise, talent and intelligence.  Sure I want to volunteer in my son’s classroom during art time but I have a whole lot more to offer and I am guessing that is true of many parents that find themselves volunteering at schools.  It has also left me wondering about the ease of navigating the educational system as a parent.  If I am struggling to navigate a world where I spent the past eighteen years, what about the non-educator parents?

  • What might happen if we were able to tap into this expertise?    Are we breeding complacency by making it so complicated for any real change to take place?
  • Are school leaders so bogged down with the logistics of running a school that they don’t have the time or capacity to engage in meaningful conversations about change?
  • What could parents and community members do to make it easier for school leaders to tap into their experience and expertise?

At the moment I have more questions than answers but this experience is certainly helping me to better formulate ways to support school leaders who are ready to make meaningful changes in their school community.