The role of parents in a Montessori school

I am taking a break from the story of my years at the Montessori school in Lyon, to try to share with you some of my thoughts on associative governance for schools, and the impact on the role of parents.

In the fifteen years since I have been working in the Montessori community in France, and since I have had the opportunity to interact with many educators and school principals, I have seen an evolution in school governance.

Montessori schools in associative management

Fifteen years ago, the vast majority of schools were set up in the form of associations: simplicity of creation, no need for special financial support, and honestly we don’t need to be very large, a small group of people is enough.

Finally, the associative form also corresponded well to the “alternative” aspect of these schools, which did not wish to embody a “commercial” or “institutional” aspect. There were indeed a few schools set up as commercial companies, but this was ultra-minority, as was the total number of schools: at the time, in 2005-2006, less than fifty schools throughout France.

What role for parents in an associative Montessori school?

So obviously the “problem” in the governance of associative schools is of course the parents. This is very paradoxical when we consider that Montessori schools are very keen to welcome families, even to co-educate children with them, and therefore to leave their doors open to parents.

But what are we talking about? What role should parents play? Let them organize parties and other extracurricular activities? On that, no problem of course, everyone is happy. Even more so when organized activities can bring a little (or even a lot) of money to the school.

Risks of parental management

But when we start talking about school management, that is, the “nuclear core” to use an industrial metaphor, then that is something else. Because indeed the risk is very high that they will find themselves judge and party. This is not said in this way, of course (we are talking about education, so it is not very appropriate), but in a school, parents are the beneficiaries of the service provided: in other words, they are the clients. 

And where did we see that it is the customers who decide on the production of the service? The mix of genres is never far away, not to mention the zeal of certain individuals who are always well-intentioned, who imagine they know better than teachers what is good for their child, and secondarily for those of others.

Come on, come on! Besides, it’s not really a profession, since you can go to school at home! (I would like to point out that all this is ironic, in case some people didn’t get it).

And so in associative governance, since the law says employees (including the director) cannot be judge and party, they, and therefore members of the Board of the association, and well it is necessary to find other people: parents are the most “obvious” people in this case, since they attend school and will therefore in theory be sensitive to its future.

Parents closing schools!

Unfortunately, I have seen too many schools close, because of malicious or well-meaning parents who have come into conflict with the principal or even the rest of the team, or playing one part of the team against the other… It usually ends very badly, and the principal does not have the hand to fix the situation. What a waste when you think of all the energy put into keeping a school going!

Since I am not the only one to have made this observation, many schools legally “bias” their governance, and operate “associations” that have no association other than the name, because they are totally locked: either they place trusted outsiders, who will have no interest in the school (but it is a bit like a lottery and not necessarily sustainable), or even relatives.

Some associations are thus run by husbands, brothers or sisters, parents or children.

Keep the spirit of the association alive

For my part, I think it is a way of bypassing the spirit of association to make it an entity in which we do not associate. Either we play the association game, possibly by putting in safeguards but being well aware that there is no such thing as zero risk, or we change the structure. Because other legal forms exist when you have other projects.