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Francophone Education

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A global approach to success for kids and communities
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Children’s success in school depends largely on their parents’ attitude and involvement, which is why all school boards should encourage and facilitate parents’ participation. While this is often a challenge, it is even more complicated in minority francophone schools where a significant number of parents, many of whom are in mixed francophone/non-francophone relationships, cannot communicate in French. How a francophone school board (FSB) welcomes and supports these parents reflects the priority it gives to the growing diversity of its target population and to the new generation of Canada’s Francophonie, or the ensemble of the country’s francophone communities.

To help FSBs ensure that as many parents as possible participate in their children’s education, I have developed an approach that is both global (involving all stakeholders) and systemic (integrating the welcome and support offered to parents, whether or not they speak French, into FSBs’ policies and practices). This initiative includes the following components and outcomes:

Foundation

A major project like this must be built on a solid foundation. It is therefore vital to identify the challenges, issues and solutions put forth by all the concerned parties: trustees, administrators, principals, teachers, parents and students.

The first phase of the initiative involves consulting all six categories of stakeholders. This is done through meetings, workshops and the collection of data that, after compilation and analysis, will be presented in a report that can serve as a springboard for further action.

The Foundation component includes the following elements:

1.  Trustees and administrators 

FSB trustees and administrators first identify priorities with respect to the welcome and support offered to French-speaking and non-French-speaking parents, as well as the project timetable and goals. The resulting parameters are then shared with principals, teachers, parents and students. By being proactive, the FSB stresses the importance of the initiative and sends a positive message to all stakeholders. It also demonstrates its desire to work together, which is central to the project’s success.

2.  Principals

Principals play a critical leadership role with respect to the welcome and support offered to all parents, whether or not they speak French. The principal must understand and apply the FSB’s policies and procedures in collaboration with the staff, while at the same time recognizing parents’ need to know what their children are learning and their desire to participate in that education.

Given the importance of this role, I propose a one-day retreat involving all the FSB’s principals, during which they can debate and share experiences, thoughts and best practices. Among other things, they examine language use in oral and written communications.

3.  Teachers

Principals provide leadership when it comes to welcoming and offering support to parents, but it is the teachers who must implement that approach every day. Among these professionals, however, there is a range of attitudes toward the role of parents. The third element thus enables staff members, during workshops offered in each school, to share their perceptions and explore ways they can work with parents. Among other things, participants identify actions they can take to help non-French-speaking parents participate fully in their child’s education.

4.  Parents

The approach I have developed gives parents the opportunity to meet each other and exchange ideas, in French or English, during a bilingual workshop held in each school. This is often a unique occasion for non-French-speaking parents who want to get more involved in their children’s education but feel limited by language. The workshop focuses on the school’s academic, cultural and community mandate, as well as on identity building. In addition, since communications are frequently a major concern for parents (and a considerable challenge for many FSBs), the workshop takes a realistic look at this question.

5.  Students

Who knows better the importance of parents’ involvement than their own children? As part of my initiative, I consult high-school students because their experience has been influenced, positively or negatively, by their parents. A one-hour workshop designed for young people in each school allows them to reflect on ways their parents can help in their education. The results of this workshop are highly relevant; young people’s reflections, often impressively insightful, can provide excellent benchmarks going ahead.

Report

The fruit of these consultations is presented in a report — the result of a public, transparent process that will enable the FSB to develop a long-term strategy based on concerns, needs and solutions identified by the various groups. The report includes data compilation and a synthesis of the results, as well as recommendations for further action. By addressing clearly expressed challenges and issues, the FSB can create an action plan that encourages all stakeholders’ participation.

Support 

While the welcome that parents receive is the responsibility of principals and staff, the support they are offered can be reinforced by forming a team of resource persons whose mandate is to facilitate workshops for parents and address individual needs. Workshops are developed according to results obtained in the Foundation component and needs expressed during the school year. I have trained several such teams over the years.

Resources

Building a foundation through consultation encourages many people, including parents in a variety of situations, to take part in this initiative. It empowers parents and helps them find ways to get involved in their child's education. This approach often leads to an awareness that makes participants want to learn more. They will find a wealth of information in Fusion, the only book of its kind in Canada.

The Resources component of this initiative includes the provision of this book, written in English and intended mainly for mixed couples in which one parent is a francophone rights holder. Among other things, the book helps readers better understand the concept of identity building and the world of French-language education. However, everyone involved in the school, including parent council members (both francophone and non-francophone), can benefit from Fusion. Principals and teachers can also learn much about the diverse realities of non-French-speaking parents by reading this book.

Partnering with an FSB to implement this global and systematic approach allows me to offer attractive discounts on the purchase of Fusion for the benefit of parents and educators.

Outcomes

The outcomes of this approach can be substantial for both individuals and schools. The following text, for instance, comes from a letter written by a non-French-speaking parent to the principal of a school involved in such a project. Personal information was removed from the text to ensure confidentiality. The text in bold comes from the parent.

The new process that your system has piloted, from the presentation and ‘hands-on’ formative connection with us (exogames) by the consultant [Glen Taylor] that you engaged, through this evenings “Meet the Teacher” (complete with a general school introduction for us) was and is exemplary! In short, the undertaking by your school, board and most especially staff and teachers has not only renewed and rekindled my desire to be a part of my child’s school experience but in fact makes me feel like a partner. Your approach to the issue of engagement […] is an impeccable, strength-based approach that should be held as a model for all others to follow.

The approach this FSB adopted, based on consultations and rapidly implemented, had a major impact on that parent. How many other parents were also satisfied but did not take the time to write a letter?

Parents who feel involved — whether or not they speak French — become ambassadors for their school, the FSB and the francophone community. Ultimately, these parents’ involvement is reflected in increased student recruitment and retention.

Conclusion

Parental involvement in school life plays a critical role in students’ success. Parents who do not speak French should not be prevented from participating in their child’s francophone education.

Educators have been speaking of accueil and accompagnement, or the welcome and support offered to parents, for some time now. However, only an approach that is both global (involving all stakeholders) and systemic (integrating the welcome and support that parents receive, whether or not they speak French, into the FSB’s policies and practices), to which human and financial resources are allocated, makes sustainable and measurable progress possible.

What I am proposing is a concrete initiative that any francophone school board could undertake today.

Given the growing proportion of non-French-speaking parents in francophone schools, it is clear that the future of the Canadian Francophonie outside Quebec depends greatly on each FSB’s willingness to act.

 
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