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Schools Need Engagement of the 99%

By Ryan M. Tracy Th.M

Parent MeetingSchools need the engagement of the 99%, those who seemingly are on the periphery, to move our children to success. We need to think about training and offering dialogue to large groups of parents to get engaged in what is happening in their child’s success. 

I have heard folks say parents aren’t “engaged” because they don’t care.  But something we found out from our Stand UP pioneer in Memphis was that parents on the periphery, the 99%, those whom many of us would say, don’t attend all the meetings and gatherings at the school, are telling us that they want a piece of the action, but just don’t know how or don’t know what to do. 

A parent came up to the Principal and me after one of our Stand UP meetings and said, “Until the school offered these dialogues about Parent Engagement and we started to talk about my involvement I did not know what I could do. Now, I have aligned my home with specific goals to academic achievement and I now check my child’s school work and reading every night. I feel part of the process now and not like an outsider.” This parent was saying something key to us that night.  This mother was saying, hey, I can help out and I can do more, I just need direction and the opportunity. 

I recently heard a wonderful presentation delivered here in Memphis by John Kania and then followed up on his blog post, Channeling Change:  Making Collective Impact Work which describes 5 conditions of collective success.                      

The collective impact reminded me that we have to work with all of our parents, even the ones who are not engaged yet, and come up with a collective agenda followed by continuous conversations and data collecting to see our schools truly change.  When we engage our Parents in the process, they become the child and schools biggest asset. Something we noticed this past semester in our Stand Up program was the more parents became aware of the child’s needs and academic realities of the school, the more they talked about and took action towards what they could do at home and school to change their engagement.  What we also learned was that parents taught us that they have knowledge about their children that many of the school teachers and principals need to know in order to help the child succeed. 

So practically, what does this mean for us? 

  1. It means that we have to put down our stereotypes about our parents.  We have to get past our racial and economic stereotypes and believe that every parent has a lot to offer. 

  2. It means we need to build authentic and transparent relationships with our Parents.  Engaging and organizing parents has to be done on a very human level, a personal one, and it is about visiting with, inviting, and encouraging. As we say in Memphis, it’s time for us to “go to their porch” and sit, listen, and dialogue and see where and what parents might help us accomplish. 

  3. It means we “put ourselves in their shoes” and think about meetings, interactions, and dialogues that will be conducive to everyone’s schedule, everyone’s knowledge of schools, and everyone’s level of availability.

  4. It means we have to ask parents to join us in educating their child.  We need parents to help us tap into their child’s success.  Parents are smart when it comes to their child; and when asked, parents can get us where we want to take their child. 

  5. It means we create a space where parents can talk and discuss actions they can take at home to partner with our schools.  Stand for Children, the organization I work with, is creating discussion groups in our public schools in Memphis, Phoenix, and Chicago, educating and helping parents be part of the discussion as it relates to home, school and student success.  In so doing, in Memphis, this has led our parents to dialogue with teachers and the principal to find out not only what they can do at home, but also how they can help at the school.

We need to go to every extreme necessary to get parents engaged in the conversation and actions they can take.  We must see and believe that all parents have something to contribute and step outside of our comfort zone so that the 100% will work together to change our schools.

Posted on July 15, 2012 by Ryan M. Tracy Th.M

Ryan is the Tennessee Family Engagement Manager for Stand for Children, a grassroots national advocacy organization. He designs and implements family engagement programs and is currently a leader in the organization's 10-week Stand UP (University for Parents) which focuses on curriculum of the home and school. Follow Ryan on Twitter.


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Tags: *School-Family Partnership

Posted July 17, 2012 by Ryan tracy
Mary, I love your ideas and hope to move schools in the direction you are discussing. The school should be the community hub where parents and teachers can wrestle with the difficult and rewarding issues of educating our children. It truly is a collaboration that has it's place at the school. 

Posted July 15, 2012 by Mary Johnson
The school need to be a Hub for parent and providing space.Provide a space for parent organizations to share ideas and strategies
Provide advanced training to engage parents in advocacy
Conduct independent analysis of policies affecting children
Provide forum for groups to express their concerns/issues.
Check out 21stparent.com for more ideas to embrace parent engagement.


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