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Essential Reads

 Woman reading Essential Reads

» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

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Connecting with Parents Collaboratively

By Dr. Joni Samples

Taking on Family Engagement seems like a bit of a daunting project if you haven’t done it before. Sometimes we want to know if anyone else is actually doing this work before we’re willing to take a leap of faith.  Who are these parents and if I let them in will they want to run the school? Well, if you don’t let them in the may leave the school and opt for home study or charter, or worse yet, the unfortunate experience in Southern California where a group has pulled the “parent trigger” and the school is being in taken over by a parent group.

I’m reading a book I’d like to share with you. It’s entitled Words Can Change Your Brain, by Andrew Newberg, MD and Mark Waldman. What caught my eye for you today was this pull out section: “Power Plays Don’t Work. According to the United Nations, cooperation, not power, is the key to conflict resolution. When one party tries to impose its belief systems and values on another, conflicts escalate. If a dispute is settled through coercion, both parties feel less satisfied with the outcome.”

Wrap team

Parents at Greece Centraal School District Embrace Family Engagement

There are other ways to engage parents in school-cooperative, collaborative ways that work. Greece Central School District in Greece, New York and Metro Nashville, in Nashville, Tennessee have both just implemented programs in some of their schools for more Family Engagement activities. Both see that working with parents is a lot easier than either not dealing with families or the not fun scenario of having to deal with unhappy parents.

So why now for Greece and Nashville? The research has been out there for years. Why did Nashville Metro and Greece Central decide this was the right time to implement a family engagement program? I can’t answer directly for the districts, but I’ve heard comments from other schools that have made similar decisions. They’ve tried just about everything else. They changed the curriculum, revised instruction, aligned the standards, and they’ve made some progress, but not enough. They are still struggling with finding the key to really making a difference. Eventually they decide to try engaging parents.

Children model what their parents do. If a parent hated school or runs the school down regularly, you can be assured that the child will have a similar attitude. Whatever we do in school is going to be negated by the attitude of a negative parent. If, on the other hand, the parent finds the school to be supportive and helpful not only for his or her child, but also for their own needs, then we’ve got a fan, usually a cooperative, collaborative fan. Then we’ve got a parent who will advocate for the school, for learning, and for his or her child to succeed.

I believe Greece, Nashville, and all schools and families can support children’s learning. We’ll help. You can see what we do at www.familyfriendlyschools.com. There are others, a number of others, doing this work. Please find the group or team that can help you, but please do it. Engaging families does work. If you’ve tried everything else and you’re still not quite where you want to be, cooperatively and collaboratively engage your families and see what happens.

Posted on October 26, 2012 by Dr. Joni Samples

Dr. Joni Samples is the Chief Academic Officer for Family Friendly Schools, hosts the monthly National Conversation on Family Engagement, and is the author of six books on Parent Involvement including the Parent Playbook series featuring learning activities for parents to do with their children. The activities are both fun and matched to the Common Core Standards. A lifelong educator and Mom of four, Dr. Joni knows firsthand how parent involvement in children’s lives means success for both the child and the parent. She can be reached at or www.familyfriendlyschools.

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