“Family Engagement” is hitting me from three separate but related angles today. Again, a little link heavy this time. And a sorta long read. Sorry.
One Voice has a PTANewsRoom blog post; they reference a recent PTA article highlighting a new bill introduced that emphasizes Family Engagement (Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 (S.941/H.R.1821)). A lot to read (and I need to go over it again), but these points stuck out to me:
- “The bill would provide incentives to districts and schools to implement best practices, such as parent leadership academies, place family engagement coordinators in schools, and provide professional development for educators on how to partner with families.”
- “The Family Engagement in Education Act would also strengthen the sole federal program dedicated to parent engagement, the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), to scale-up research-based strategies for engaging families.”
I would want to read the Bill at some point (I hate reading long-winded treatises written in the Legalese language), but right off the bat I wonder how those incentives would play out. I mean, it certainly sounds like a great idea. Right? But let’s take a look at PIRCs – have those been successful in enticing and encouraging parent’s to “join hands” with the school districts? What about schools that already have strong parental support? Is there a way to focus on schools (especially communities) that would benefit from providing incentives?
I am a big huge proponent of family involvement, and I have already put my support in action in various ways. My whole family is involved at Carrie Busey, and we constantly try to reach out to other parents. Last month, we sent out an invitation to meet with families that were not able to attend PTA meetings in an effort to provide an opportunity for them to voice their thoughts and opinions in a safe place of their choosing, at a time more convenient to them. Only one person responded. You cannot force people to get more involved. However, despite my own experience, I think it is crucial and imperative to not give up.
The online NG put out two Jodi Heckel articles articles today (1,2) talking about the superintendent search. The first one focuses more on the company the school district intends to hire (narrowing it down to two candidates), the second more about how the school district is seeking input from the community. In my opinion, Sue Grey is being much more vocal about seeking community input than the previous BOE president, and I dearly hope this translates into a BOE that is seen as being more receptive and responsive. In fact, Sue Grey comes right out in what will probably be one of the most quoted phrases for quite some time, “We really feel like we need to — for lack of better terms — shut up and listen.” I view this as a good thing. And I am glad she is the one who said it, because a number of folks (myself included) feel this way. And have a hard saying it in such a way that it does not automatically put the BOE on the defensive.
Last, but definitely not least by any means, Laura Bleill posted a thoughtful article that encapsulates the unique opportunities open to us. The school chief search is but the tip of the iceberg, and what better time to set a high precedent? I’ll quote one of Laura’s statements:
Champaign Unit 4 has an image problem, pure and simple. And the school assignment process is not the only reason for that — but it is a big part of it.
But instead of quoting the whole thing left and right, you really ought to read it yourself.
So let me add two more sections, my own reactions to these three stimuli. I will talk about the “Why?” and the “How?”
Why is Family Engagement so important? Why is it popping up, why are members of the legislature introducing a Bill on it? It goes way beyond getting better grades (which inevitably helps everyone feel good, but that is besides the point). I believe, as touted by those quoted in the PTA articles, that when parent’s help plug in with their kids, the kids become better people. Better kids lead to better communities. Over the past several years, I have read several articles and seen research that supports this, so I am making a note to myself to collect these references and post them here. Because I hate it when people make broad statements and follow it up with “research shows” and yet they do not show research. A quick search on google will show an astounding number of papers and bibliographies, but I am not quickly finding the ones I have read. If I have not read them, I cannot exactly tell you what I think of them.
So anyway…. I firmly believe that when the community as a whole comes together (to work together), they implicitly and explicitly benefit the whole. When we all work towards improving our children, we also sow the seeds for long-term community health. This sounds Utopian, some sort of pipe dream – who wouldn’t want that? It is not so much that we do not want improved communities, but rather that our American culture has so permeated our livelihoods that we unconsciously seek the “American Dream” in all aspects of our lives. So much so that we have placed Independence (financial, emotional, etc) on a pedestal and “I want what is best for my child” is our mantra.
I have to confess, I do not have an answer for this. In fact, I do not think there is an answer that would fit in a small book, let a lone a humble blog post. I have traded emails with Elizabeth Perrachione (one of the professionals who helped to give birth to Great Schools, Together) about engaging the community; we have a diverse community, and the challenge with reaching out to such a community is that one must be aware of how each wants to be reached out to. And they differ quite a bit. I am in touch with the blogging and online crowd. But there are lots of other groups, classes, cultures and interests out there.
Part of it, I think, is working against the negative aspects of the pervasive “American Dream”. To engage a community, I believe we have to acknowledge our brokenness, to be willing to show how we are weak and need help. Actually, this not merely counter to the American Dream, but human nature. Period. The other side of it is acknowledging the worth that each person has, and making sure that the message of worth is communicated by listening (really listening, not just the “uh huh” every 43 seconds). Which is why I am so thrilled that Sue Grey was so blunt in her quote. I look forward to the community being able to say that to each other as well.
In conclusion, I will say that I have met with a small team (VERY small), and we are hoping to fire up some community forums in the very near future. Real community forums, where you all get to talk. One of my goals is that we get to model what we have been hoping Unit 4 would do. Ironically, if what Sue Grey and Laura Bleill are saying comes to fruition in the very near future, perhaps the community forums will start to happen at the behest of the BOE. That would actually be a very good thing.
Your homework assignment tonight (??) is to list the various groups in our community (along whatever lines you like) and how to engage them.