Monday, April 18, 2016

Parent Engagement Is A Dance

Hopefully we can each remember the first dance we went to; how interested we were, scared, awkward, unsure, and hopeful.  Parent engagement with schools is very similar.

Each one reluctant to make the first move. Each one afraid making the first move will place them forever in the leader position. Each one wanting certain others to do the asking, but they never do.  Finally, with some encouragement, someone extends an invitation, and the other one says, "Okay" and they're off and dancing.

A first dance partner is a learning ground. You may not win the contests, but you can have fun, learn something (each of you), and end up sweaty, smiling, and glad. Then there is another dance partner and your barriers to getting out there on the dance floor are lower.  Your ability to give them their own sweaty smiling gladness is stronger than it was.  And  you keep getting better at the whole thing, and more comfortable, too.  Next thing you know, you are one of the better dancers, and the other better dancers want to join you on the hardwood.

Sometimes it’s the teacher or principal who needs to reach out and ask.  Other times it will be an assertive parent who dares to ask.  Whoever is first, the other person needs to be ready to say yes.

Then, the opportunity to work together happens and... they dance.

Part of dancing is the interaction, the "getting acquainted".  The involvement provides the opportunity for mutual influence and acceptance, respect, and willingness.  These tenets need to be part of what every parent engagement moment delivers.  Awkwardness, stumbling, tripping, and even falling down can be part of the process as well. Dancing means being partners, working it out, stumbling and righting things - together.

Parents don't know these circles as well as teachers, and yet, teachers don't know the child as well as the parent does.  But, then the parents don't know much about the comparative analyses that a teacher does which can identify things in the child that the parents don't see or know about.  It's a dance.

Administrators know the district, the budgets, the policies, and the state laws. Parents know what is going on outside the school environment, how companies are hiring, how job requirements are changing, and how these trends will affect future job prospects.  Administrators control the programs that expose students to career thinking. Parents have new ideas for district innovation, business practices, and societal concerns.   Administrators want to improve.  The exchange of thinking, the mutual learning, the willingness to sweat and smile is vital to what schools can become.

It's a dance.