“What we haven’t done is to figure out how to not just engage but to empower the people whose children are being impacted by the work we do.” -Dr. Howard Fuller
Parents, regardless of their financial situation or social status, want the best for their children, particularly when it comes to education. They also want to help their children at home with homework and projects. I know personally that, as a parent, these actions are part of a bigger picture that means navigating a parent’s work schedule, family life, and social life.
Educators, administrators, and district leaders need to meet parents where they are, in order to invite the partnership and assistance of parents and families. The74 recently published an article on ways to engage parents. That list has merit but leaves out some key points. Built on my past experiences with advocating for children and the relationships with other parents, here are five ways to make a school’s relationship with parents smoother, and more empowering:
- Joint Ventures: Parents have some very astute and practical ideas that can be further developed with the right partnership bringing families and schools together. Many of these ideas would foster a greater relationship within the circle of education and would strengthen the idea of working for our children from school to home and back. Joint ventures between educators and parents build trust.
- In-School Activities: Setting aside a dedicated time within school hours, where the partner relationship of parent and teacher is reinforced to the students for their progressive development, is not only a great idea but should be mandatory. Our children live in a fast-paced society where human interaction is almost incidental. Sure I can text you, email you, and call you, but it won’t be as effective as a face to face meeting. Imagine a period of time during school where parents are welcomed to engage and communicate about what we want to accomplish with our children, thus modeling the kind of interactions we hope to see in the real world. Texting, emailing and calls at times have to be translated. In person, I can look someone in their eyes and experience their emotions.
- Direct Support: The saying, “Put your money where your mouth is”, isn’t just a saying.. There are many groups of parents who are organized and organizing, but need financial support to realize their big ideas and act on them. There is no better way to engage families than to leverage the genuine and authentic help of another family. I’m not talking about selecting a few parents to be on a panel or a board. Schools should provide real resources so that a group of dedicated parents can go out and rally other parents, not just in quantity, but quality. Parents inspire other parents and a little financial help to organize wouldn’t hurt along the way.
- ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’: I have been through two parent training cohorts and sat on numerous panels. I have taken flights to engage with other parents, and I continue to engage citizens of my community about educational outcomes in my city. I believe I am qualified to train other parents to do this work. Many nonprofits that run parent leadership training in my city have not followed through on their commitments to those parents. If you want to successfully engage parents, support capable parents with the tools they need to train other parents, making that engagement far less cumbersome. Because parents believe in other parents and trust they will train them right, stay engaged, and then institute healthy relationships with education officials.
- Accessibility: This last point comes from a fellow parent and devoted colleague in the journey to attain a great education for all of our kids. Benita Cochran is a parent first, and she offers her advice for true family engagement, “Ease of access to information. Incorporating different methods to allow parent feedback at meetings when they are unable to attend, like video /Skype/ Facebook live. Doing a Saturday board meeting so parents can attend. I know if these things were considered as options more parents would be involved. I think many can’t because they are working.”
What I am describing is feet on the ground, roll up your sleeves work. If you want to know what parents need, make the effort, and come to the source! This can be accomplished and is within reach. Let’s come together, engage, empower and then move forward. The future of our children literally depends upon our ability, as adults, to do this.