Leadership is a blessing, but it can be difficult. Leading homeschoolers adds to that challenge, because homeschool parents are independent, free-thinking and unafraid to shake things up! What is the best way to go about starting a homeschool group? First, establish a mindset that problems don’t have to be problematic. In fact, they can create amazing opportunities for everyone in your group. Sometimes problems help us learn where we need to strengthen, while other times, they help us know it’s time to change.
Homeschool group leaders frequently contact THSC when they encounter problems in their groups! We want all THSC Partner Groups to continue to be able to carry out their vision and mission without worry; however, conflict is inevitable within groups.
So, how do you set your group up for success in dealing with conflict?
Homeschool Leadership is a Journey
Memories are often made when we least expect them. If you take a trip or vacation with your family, you must plan ahead. If all the clothes are dirty and you haven’t packed for your child who has food sensitivities, you can’t just jump in the car and leave for a day, much less a week. You have to prepare for meals, lodging, and refueling. We seek to share adventures and make memories, but we don’t want to plateau or fall off the cliff. The same thing applies to homeschool leadership.
Beginning the Adventure: Why Start a Group?
There are many reasons, but a few common motivators include:
- There is currently no group in your area
- Groups nearby don’t have room for new families
- Groups near your family do not align with your beliefs or needs for your family.
Running a Homeschool Group (Planning Ahead)
As you consider how to start a homeschool “school,” group, or co-op, the process may seem daunting.
Here is a comprehensive list of steps to get you started:
- Assemble a leadership board
- Elect Officers: The members of the group elect their officers from a list of willing candidates. Those interested in running for a particular position submit their names for consideration, or nominations are taken from the membership. A vote takes place, and the winner takes office for that term.
- Appoint Officers: Under this system, leaders are asked to serve in specific positions. Generally, a board or the existing leadership reviews the membership for qualified individuals. Once a decision is made, the selected individual is asked if he or she would be willing to serve. The membership as a whole does not have a voice in this decision. This is also known as a “self-sustaining board,” since the board selects its own members with either limited or no input from the general membership.
- Volunteer Leadership: Under this system, leaders volunteer themselves for a position.
- Members feel involved in the election process
- Helps avoid leadership fatigue
- Can lead to discovery of hidden talents in leaders.
- A leader’s popularity trumps ability
- Other board members may bear extra responsibility if open roles are left unfilled
- Elections can cause disruption in continuity of leadership
- Members may not feel heard if their vote is shot down
- Could lead to divisiveness.
Advice: Stagger terms to allow those who have already served to work alongside the new members.
- Leaders are chosen for ability rather than popularity
- Maintains leadership continuity
- Less demand from membership and the board can act more quickly.
- May unleash a leader’s inner control freak
- Leaders could put their pride over meeting the needs of the group
- Could lead to burnout and fatigue
- Members may not feel heard by the board
- Could lead to divisiveness.
Advice: Meet with the board members to ensure they are willing to serve another year. If they are burned out, let them step down and participate guilt-free as a general member. We have found these members to be valuable for input in our group as an advisory panel to leaders. They are often willing to let the board know what things look like, good or bad, from the members’ perspectives.
Pro: Leaders tend to be very motivated to do self-assigned jobs.
Con: Lack of continuity, as leaders tend to volunteer and un-volunteer.
Advice: Though many homeschool groups are completely run by volunteers, it is more common to see this style of leadership in smaller groups. If you have a group of 10 families or larger, you should consider electing or appointing leaders and not simply relying on volunteer leadership.
Looking for information on joining or running a group? Check out THSC’s Leader’s Guide on our THSC Partner Group Leader support page.
How to Run a Homeschool Group (Don’t Forget the Map!)
To reach your goals, think about how you plan for travel to a dream destination. You first consult the map. In leadership, you must also outline your focus, purpose and objective for your group. The group’s DNA is integral to ensuring what you do is what you set out to do. Ensure that you develop a:
- Vision statement
- Mission statement
- Purpose statement
- If the statement is too narrow, you risk a loss of interest.
- If it is too broad, you risk exhaustion and burnout.
Create your bylaws with these in mind. Be sure that you follow the same rule of thumb for writing bylaws as for the purpose statement (not too narrow or too broad), but be specific enough to protect your group under scrutiny.
Areas we have seen that leaders struggled due to poorly written bylaws are:
- Religious freedoms
- Approving or denying members
- Removing board members or general members
- Original purpose becomes distorted, which leads to the group focusing on what the leaders never intended.
- This might not be a bad thing, if the leaders and the members are happy with the changes. However, it is problematic if the leadership is being forced to change the group purpose to please a few members and not for the benefit of the whole.
Homeschool Co-op Legal Status: Bylaws and Policies
When starting a homeschool academy or co-op, why put so much effort into outlining the group up front and not seeing where things go naturally? Surprise—homeschoolers are diverse (as if you don’t already know that)! Let’s a look at some areas and methods that are helpful when structuring homeschool co-op business and bylaws.
What is the Purpose of Your Homeschool Group?
Groups might serve new or veteran homeschoolers or be religious, inclusive or secular.
Religiously-Affiliated Group Characteristics
- Religion is a significant factor in this type of group.
- Is your group tied to a specified religion (Catholic, Protestant, etc.)? Or is your group simply like-minded to several similar sets of beliefs (Christian, biblical worldview, etc.)?
- Group has a statement of faith (here are two options):
- Required: All families sign to become members
- Understood: Members understand that group will follow the statement, but signing the statement of faith is not required to join.
- Religious character is often reflected in discussions and meetings.
Inclusive Group Characteristics
- These groups intentionally include various religions, or possibly include no religion at all.
- Statement of faith is often still included, but not necessarily required by all members to sign, or even agree to
- The group may have a religious name, but the statement of faith is not integral to membership.
- Sometimes leadership, teachers, and possibly coordinators are bound by the statement of faith.
- Tensions can mount quickly with more diversity of membership; code of conduct is helpful.
- Well-written bylaws are essentially important to this group.
Secular Group Characteristics
- Religion is not a motivation or significant factor.
- Families that are not of faith may align with this type of group
- Families that do not seek a religious focus, or may not agree with statement of faith with a nearby religious or inclusive group, might choose this type of group.
- Code of conduct would be very important to this group.
Style of Group
Formal style of learning or less formal—will it be a large or small group homeschooling atmosphere? Consider the learning styles of children when deciding how to build your group.
- What is the classroom style, if classes are offered?
- Hands-on activities for tactile learners:
- Could restrict numbers in group, or at least classes
- May not always work well in certain facilities.
What activities does your group offer?
- Families look for a variety of things, including:
- Social events specifically
- Extracurricular classes with some variety
- Academic classes to compensate for areas they don’t feel equipped to teach
- Refined focus such as:
- Fine arts
- Club-style activity, like 4-H, American Heritage Girls or Trail Life.
Partner With Your Team (Delegate!)
Don’t forget the navigator! Let your policy be the police, not your team. The following tips will make your job easier:
- Spend some time creating bylaws and a handbook
- Create a board binder or continuity folder (these can even be cloud-based for ease of sharing) containing:
- Essential documents for key leaders
- General job description for each member, in order to help each understand the position of their fellow board members.
- How will you communicate?
- Will your group have a website?
- If so, will it be free or cost something?
- Communicate by groups (Yahoo groups or Facebook groups).
Put the Car in Drive and Watch the Speed Limit!
- Serve with balance and love.
- Admit your limitations
- You are not a doormat
- You can’t do it all!
- Leadership equals delegation!
- Delegate but don’t demand
- Partner with your team, but don’t carry your team.
Key Takeaways for Working on a Team
- Never work alone.
- Share what you do well and disciple the leaders you serve alongside.
- Identify key leaders
- Key leaders gain strength and then build more teams
- No glory hogging (serving on a board can feel like a thankless job sometimes!)
- You can’t do it all.
- Leaders tend to have a nose for resources—they don’t necessarily know the answers, but they find out how to get them.
- Identify in your people what your group needs.
- Start with small tasks and incrementally increase as your team members are able to handle them.
Code of Conduct
Your group is running smoothly, but someone just pushed you to the edge of the cliff! Now what?
- Discipline policies or a code of conduct are vital and important to your group.
- Don’t make them up as you go.
- Be general enough to deal with the vastness of human error. For example, our group is a Christian group, and we found no better policies than those already written for us in Scripture.
- “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
- “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
- “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
- Establish some consequences when verbal warnings are not working.
- Have a plan when these consequences don’t work, or when the offense is extreme.
- Sometimes, what is best for the group is difficult because it means a family needs to leave the group. You and your board need to be brave and make those tough decisions.
Now, it’s just personal…
- Angry members sometimes come to leaders with their problems; be careful to avoid getting involved with the issues. When conflicts are between families and they are not really a group issue, you might want to be very careful about your group’s involvement in the issue itself.
- When problems do arise, and you need to mediate:
- Bring two sides together, if needed, to talk this out, but don’t do it alone. Take a board member.
- Some groups have a board that has two key leaders who are willing to mediate, and a few alternates when one of the first two is unable to mediate
- The policy is the police, not you!
- Don’t take sides
- Don’t get drawn into the problem; stick to policies.
- Sometimes you have the same opinion, but your leadership team is vital to helping you keep your feelings and emotions in check, even when they do not agree with you.
- If resolution can be reached within set policies, no others need be involved, and the offended parties can often move beyond problem
- If resolution cannot be reached, then the board must be involved.
- A hearing might need to take place if resolution is still not reached, and the good of the group is always a key factor in this situation.
- Sometimes resolution cannot be reached. This is hard on a leader but it does happen.
- Be realistic. This situation hurts when:
- Angry member(s) leave and join another group
- Angry member(s) start another group.
- Gather your team around you and don’t get drawn into problem
- Pray for the offended member and for your group
- Realize that no single group can meet every need.
- Maybe the group truly was not a good fit for the family
- Maybe the family learned through the experience and isn’t functioning in that group as they did in ours
- Sometimes families will leave but will still be connected with our group or members of the group. This connection can be uncomfortable, but time has a way of making it easier.
What About Discipline?
People! Running a group would be great if it weren’t for people, right? But all jokes aside, planning can make group leadership so much easier.
- Avoid getting drawn into problems and taking things out of context
- Compromises are fine, but don’t compromise the rules.
- Bending the rules for one family tends to get noticed, and before you know it, you no longer have the rule.
- Always have some type of exit plan, or possibly a zero tolerance policy in the event of a situation you did not expect
- Keep records: It takes a little time and effort, but when things get busy, you will forget that you’ve pulled the student out of class for the fourth time this semester and not gone to talk to his parent.
- A binder or log, kept in a safe location, will help you keep track of problems that seem to recur. Include a brief description of the incident and the parent or teacher who was present at the time of the incident.
- This will also help you strategize with parents to help their children succeed.
Let’s take a look at a discipline policy that needed revamping (our example group name has been changed for privacy reasons).
Before you decide whether there is an issue or not, remember that each group is different. Let’s find out about our example group.
ABC Homeschool Group has a support group and a parent-led co-op. The policy for co-op classes does not permit students to be dropped off.
- Co-op does allow parents to leave campus temporarily; this is allowed during an hour when parents are not assigned to class.
- In the event of a schedule conflict, they may send their child with another member family. This is not permitted on a recurring basis.
Group Disciplinary Policy:
“In the event that a student is disruptive in class or does not abide by the Policies of ABC Homeschool Group, the following steps will be taken:
First offense will require parents and older student signature on misconduct form.
Second offense will require a parent-teacher conference.
Third offense will require a meeting of parents, teacher, and leadership team with the possibility of expulsion.”
This is a real policy from a homeschool group and is copied exactly as it was shown in the group handbook for years. In recent years, the group faced challenges with this policy.
What is wrong with this disciplinary policy?
So did you think there were any problems with this group’s discipline policy? This group was struggling because sometimes problems occurred in the hallway, and sometimes parents were off-campus (having sent their children with a friend which was usually another group member).
Additionally, there were no real consequences for misconduct. Simply signing a paper often meant that there was never any attempt to help the student and parent remedy the behavior.
Unfortunately, this meant the student was at risk for expulsion when they felt they had never really been in that much trouble. Because the group operated with parents typically on campus, but allowed parents to leave campus briefly or send the child with another family at times, they came up with some solutions that fit how their group operated.
What did ABC Homeschool Group do?
Some discipline issues occurred outside of class. The group removed the mention of the discipline issue in class and the parent-teacher conference.
The group added consequences that would affect the family involved (more than simply signing a disciplinary statement), which were:
- The parent is not permitted to leave child on campus for designated number of weeks and child must remain with parent when not in class
- Parent accompanies child to classes for designated number of weeks
- Temporary suspension from classes (the child must remain with parent on campus); risks expulsion
- Automatic expulsion. The group added a policy for managing problems that need to bypass steps 1-4. These are zero tolerance offenses.
Resolving problems can take a lot of energy, but don’t lose focus of why you joined a homeschool group. Work together with your teams to plan events and activities well.
- You will get lots of great ideas, but not every great idea is great for your group
- Some great ideas need more people to manage them. The group leaders cannot do it all. Delegate, or help the person with the great idea understand that you will keep this idea in mind when the group has the ability to incorporate it.
- Sometimes great ideas look good, but the time isn’t right.
Almost There: Recruiting Tips
Now, you’ve got things going—how will families find you? Put your pin on the map! You might have to push things along, or people might find you easily. Need some help?
- Share information at local community libraries
- Put up flyers or posters at local venues (like libraries)
- Attend resource fairs and distribute flyers
- Ask to share with local events
- Connect with local churches
- Texas Home School Coalition also has some great options that will really equip you to reach families:
Starting a Homeschooling Group in Texas?
THSC believes that parents should be empowered to raise the next generation of leaders. Help us continue Keeping Texas Families Free! Join THSC today!