Having a Process.
I know and understand that it is extremely important for a school to be involved in the work of local charities. The learning that students acquire by giving to others is a key part of any curriculum. The positive feelings and acknowledgement you receive as a school for giving back cannot be measured, but is certainly felt when the school rallies around a great cause.
A lot of organizations have committee members, volunteers and employees that create materials for schools in order to promote their charity. Some of these are classroom activities, materials for the students or events that can be run to show school spirit and bring awareness of the need.
As a school you may have particular causes that are near and dear to your heart because there is a direct connection to a child or family at your school. With a large staff, it is difficult to find someone on staff that has not been impacted by an illness or event in their lives or to their loved ones or family. By their very nature, those in education are very giving people.
For the purpose of this blog I am writing about fundraisers that involve the school where 100% of the donations are passed forward to the organization. There are other school fundraisers where families participate in an event for the school, or purchase food, spirit wear clothing etc where the funds remain with the school or remain with the parent run School Council.
Early in my administration career I moved to a school as the Principal where there was a special event-fundraiser for charity each month. Every month a notice would go home to parents from the school about how funds could be given to a particular organization for that month. Therefore, in total, 10 different organizations were provided access to our community through our school.
Each event and every charity had a story. It might have been a student from the past and the school continued to work with the organization. I came to understand that over time it had grown to the point where every month was designated as a special event/charity month. I was provided with a calendar when I arrived.
As I was doing my entry plan into the school I did hear from parents, and staff about this. It was almost a ‘undiscussable’ as most people were uncomfortable bringing it up and not wanting to look uncaring. They did want me to hear their concerns and had some difficulty finding the right words.
The loudest voices I heard were from the parents. They felt pressure because it was supported and run through the school and they wanted to assist because their children were watching and listening to the attention that was given each month. Many families spoke about how they have their own charitable donation plan as a family. They were good people who wanted to assist, and were in a position where they could, they just really felt uncomfortable with ‘so many from the school’.
I also heard from staff who felt the burden of promotion, collection and discussion each month. Since many of the organizations had activities or events, they felt it was taking away from classroom instruction. They became tired during the year, as one event ended and another was about to begin. Staff that had been at the school the longest were the ones that were looking for change.
The fundraising initiatives were strongest at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year the total dollars collected showed a noticeable drop.
I heard from others that were proud of the school’s reputation of caring so deeply for those that required support. Some felt it was the essence of the school.
So, how do you still participate in such a valuable endeavour? How can you show your community that you understand there is a responsibility to the community and our student’s learning? How do we model to the students that we are here to ‘make a difference’ by giving to others when we are in the position to do so?
And, at the same time (the power of ‘and’) not step over the line when it simply becomes too much.
It was a hard task to pull back on those habits and traditions that had become established. You can probably imagine the investment in some of the events, the connection to some of the organizations and how difficult those conversations became when in the second year we cut the number of school charitable events in half. We shared with families our plan, still encouraged families to participate as a family as they wished, however, using the rationale of classroom time and connection to our school at the current time, we would be moving forward with this new plan for the year.
When I moved on and had the opportunity to open a new school I was not going to have a repeat of this. As I have discussed in previous blogs, it was the use of our school mantra, “Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’ that provided us with the rationale, and purpose behind our decisions.
We were only going to do three. If the School Council wanted to organize an event for charity they were welcomed to do this, as it was their initiative. In my time at the school, our council only did events to supplement the finances of the school. The school itself, however was only going to do three in a year and they were going to connect directly to our mantra.
And the three we were going to do would be done in a spectacular fashion. We involved the entire community, and all classrooms because they were special events done one each term.
The three events were organized as this:
One event that was connected to the mantra section, ‘Work Hard’.
One that was ‘Be Nice’ and a third, ‘Make a Difference’.
It is easy to see how our partners in the charitable organizations could work with these descriptors and as a school it was another way for us to connect with students and families the importance of the wording in our mantra.
For example, the first major event in the year was right near the beginning and was done under the description of ‘Work Hard’. In my time at the school this event has been the Terry Fox Run/Walk for cancer research. Students learned all about Terry’s story through the additional lens of ‘Work Hard’. As an entire school event we were able to incorporate assemblies, classroom lessons and incentives while students new to us learned about the importance of working hard. Senior students were partnered with our youngest students and our entire community was able to witness our students dressed in their red and white to bring awareness to this cause.
We would have another event in the middle of the year targeting a different charity tied to our mantra piece of ‘Be Nice’ and a third and final one at the end of the year to ‘make a difference’.
In my final year at the school:
Work Hard…Terry Fox Run/Walk for Cancer Research,
Be Nice … the Halton Learning Foundation to support students and families in our own community, and
Make a Difference, Jump Rope for Heart for the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation
Each year we would have what is called a School Directions Meeting to review with staff the three events we held and what should/could be done for the following year.
We felt this meeting process was transparent and it was open to all staff. We invited all staff to attend and share their ideas. As the meeting was advertised well in advance staff knew they were coming to participate in a process to select our three events for the following year. Staff were able to participate in a facilitated discussion and the problem solving and selecting that would need to occur in order for us to come down to our final three. This was an opportunity for me to share with staff how to facilitate this kind of discussion where a decision was needed to be made while valuing differing view points. Every year we had changes and over the course of the time the school has been in operation a wide variety of charitable organizations have been supported by staff, students and families.
This process also allowed us to have something in place when an idea or need was brought to us in the middle of the year. Also as new staff members were hired, they brought ideas from previous schools and wanted to get something up and running in their new location. We were able to describe our School Directions Meeting and that a process was in place. Remember, process is your friend!
If a community member suggested a charity event, or donation activity for the school we were able to provide the same explanation and offer them the opportunity to provide us with materials to be shared. Or, they could approach the School Council at a regular meeting to share.
If a cold call came into the office from the hard working people that work with local charities we were able to provide them with an answer right away and the process to provide them hope that the answer of yes may come in the future. Many organizations appreciated our honesty and transparency and congratulated us on having something connected to our school mantra that made sense.
Connecting your school, staff, students and families to charitable organizations by holding school events is a great way to showcase your school and illustrate to students that we live in a time when those that are able should assist those in need. The individual stories of the families in your community are varied. Striking a balance is a difficult task.
Here is another ‘Interesting Idea’ of how you can use your school mantra to assist you with your communication and decision making in this area.