Five reasons why you should join your school’s parent council

by DaniGirl on August 30, 2016 · 4 comments

in 5 things, Mothering without a licence, Working and mothering

This will be my seventh year on our elementary school council, and my third year on the intermediate/high school council. I don’t see any reason why I will not continue to be on the high school council right through Lucas’ graduation in 2026, which means that by the time he’s done school I’ll have logged a full SEVENTEEN YEARS on school council. In fact, I’ll have been retired from my day job for two years before I retire from council.

I didn’t join the school council at the boys’ first school, where Tristan attended JK through Grade 3 and Simon attended Kindergarten before we moved to Manotick, mostly because I was shy and a little bit intimidated. I thought you had to be part of the “in crowd” of moms, the ones who all seemed to know each other at the school fence, who made coffee dates and attended zumba class and didn’t generally talk to me. I thought that because I worked downtown during the day, I wouldn’t be able to participate. I thought you had to be one of those hyper-involved moms with boundless energy and community connections, entirely unlike tired, barely-holding-it-together, socially awkward me.

When we moved to Manotick, though, I thought maybe joining school council would help me get to know our new school and our new community, so I put on my brave girl pants and showed up for the first meeting of the year. The first person who befriended me remains a friend of the family to this day (hi Debra!) and all of the myths I’d assumed about council were dispelled. I didn’t need to commit to hours of activities during school hours, but I did need to commit to monthly meetings. Joining the school council has been great for making friends, occasionally exasperating, an excellent way to make community connections, and one of the best things I’ve done to feel connected to the place where the boys spend so much of their formative years.

Here’s five reasons why you should join your kids’ school council.

1. You will know what’s happening at school

The pre-teen’s monosyllabic grunt in response to “what’s new at school?” may be the least informative mode of human expression. This becomes, in my opinion, an even bigger challenge in middle school and high school. Schools try very hard to ensure parents are informed and have many channels of communication, but being on council has been the single most effective way for me to know not only what’s going on with school events and activities, but what challenges the school is facing, what victories they are celebrating, and to get a feel for the culture of the school.

2. You can voice your opinions and contribute to decisions

From fundraising to parking lot conflicts to lunch programs to technology in the classroom, being on council gives parents a meaningful voice in school life. Knowledge is power, and council offers an insightful window on the challenges your school is facing (from funding to enrollment to infrastructure) and what changes are being considered. I can think of a few occasions where the school admin have approached council with a contentious issue, listened carefully to feedback, and implemented a solution based on what they heard instead of what they were originally planning.

3. Builds relationships with staff and community

Through council, I’ve met many great people and made friendships that have extended beyond the school walls. Equally valuable, I’ve had the chance to get to know the school administration and many of the teaching staff. On the very few occasions when something has come up that I’ve needed to talk to the school about a sensitive or troubling matter, it’s been great to be able to rely on an existing relationship to smooth the way. It’s also great to be able to put a face to the names that come up in conversation with the kids, and to feel connected to their school lives.

4. Give back

It’s important to me to be able to give back to my community, and to set an example of community service for the boys. This is a pretty small commitment in the grand scheme of things, and a self-serving one, given the reasons outlined above. Still, it does feel good to be able to volunteer a couple of hours each month to make the boys’ school a better place for them and for their classmates.

5. It’s not as much work as you might think

I think this was my biggest fear about getting involved in council. What kind of purgatory am I signing up for? I’ve found through the years, though, that you can take on as much or as little as you are able. There are indeed some parents who can and do volunteer at the school on a nearly full-time basis, and there are others like me who try to weave it in to the fabric of working and parenting and everything else. If your council has voting positions, you need to commit to attending the monthly meetings so quorum (having enough voting members present to pass motions) can be achieved. Some years, that’s barely all I could achieve. Other years, I’ve been secretary, which requires only showing up and keeping a record of the proceedings and managing the agenda. This past year, in a fit of delusional enthusiasm for Simon’s Grade Six graduation year I was foolish enough to take on the yearbook. I nearly drowned in the 100+ hours it ate through May and June and I learned to sit on my twitchy-to-volunteer hands through forthcoming September meetings. Most councils are open-door, so even if you don’t want to commit to a voting position, you’re still welcome to sit at the council table and listen and contribute to the conversation. This is a great way to find out about other volunteer options, through council sub-groups or school activities like lunch programs and social events.

apple on books

Councils, like schools, each have their unique personalities. I need to mention that we live in a high-privilege community, and the chairs around our council tables are always full, but I have heard that there are schools in Ottawa who struggle to get even a few regular volunteers for council. I imagine this makes things a lot more challenging, as each person has to take on a larger share of the work.

While I’ve found council sometimes frustrating (oh humanity) and occasionally exhausting (when you get up at 5:30 for work, a meeting that runs until 9:30 on a cold February night can feel interminable!) in general my experiences with both the elementary and high school councils have been far more positive than not, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in their kids’ school lives consider signing up or at least attending some of the meetings.

What’s your experience? Have you volunteered for your school’s parent council? How did you find the experience?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shannon September 2, 2016 at 11:49 am

I have been on council for 8 years. I joined when we moved to a small community as a way to get to know the school and never left. We are one of those schools who struggle to get new members. For the most part the existing members have full time jobs and multiple children enrolled in various activities and still manage to devote themselves to making the school a great one for our kids.

I tend to think most people are just too nervous about coming to a meeting. It’s a shame because for the most part I’d say it’s been a rather fun experience for me.

That brings me to my question. What goes on at a highschool parent council meeting? Trying to decide if I want to take on the commitment. It is a 30 minute drive to the school so I’m going to really have to think this through.

2 DaniGirl September 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm

I find the high school council meetings much shorter, more efficient and more straightforward – I’m not sure if that’s an elementary vs high school thing, or the culture of the two schools. There’s also only one main fundraiser for the year at the high school, and the student council takes over all the social events, so they’re a much more limited role for council – more advisory than activity- based.

3 smothermother September 7, 2016 at 7:12 am

I haven’t joined for most of the reasons you listed. I am still very hesitant. I can lip sync in front of 150 fellow staff members, but don’t make me go into a room of 15 people who all know each other and I am the outsider. That is horrifying to me. But maybe I will put in the effort for the next 3 years. I’ll think about it…

4 Andrea Vicechairtasticatron October 17, 2017 at 7:55 pm

Hey Dani, I was googling St. Mark Parent Council Manotick and found your blog. I love what you wrote and wanted to tell you that you aren’t alone! I get intimidated like you and put my big-girl pants on to come to our first meeting too – heck, i brought a friend so i didn’t feel so alone, I’m definitely not part of any ‘in-crowd’ and my community connections are simply from helping out a lot. I am percieved as that high-energy, enthusiastic, hyper-involved mom but I can tell you – that comes from just being stubborn and not wanting things to fail. I’m a square peg trying to force myself into round holes quite often. I regularly take on way more than I should and pay the cost for it quite often but It’s hard finding other people to step-up when their life is already super demanding.

I’m going to take a note about that 9:30 comment and make efforts to stay under it – you’re right, that’s excessive for the early risers.

Thank you for all your years of time and effort and I have to say – you are a fantastic secretary! Our council is super priviledged to have you with us.

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