Friday, November 17, 2017

The Soil of Parent Engagement

Most school districts are coming up with dozens of parent engagement programs.  No shortage of effort and sincere desire to make things work.  Then why do parents remain on the periphery, almost staying at-arms-length from what’s needed?  How can we move from the frustration of many failed efforts to the warm satisfaction of success? 

Most success stories include a laser-like pursuit of a single goal.  A singer wants to be a star, so they pursue that with everything they have.  Career counselors agree that a scatter-gun approach will fail and that a sniper approach is what’s needed.  A pitcher who tries to be a third baseman may end up cut from the team.  A child who is always drawing should probably not try to become an accountant or salesman. 

When we face a challenge with a single focus, a single idea that we can put our whole self into, we end up with a much higher chance of success.  When we find that single talent or purpose and give it our all, we stand a much better chance of winning against the competition.  Trying to be all things to all people never works.  Trying to get everyone to agree, or to like us, can never be achieved.  But, if we can find one thing that will take root, one thing that will grow and become stronger, then we have a chance to draw others into its success. 

Instead of many ideas for parent engagement, I suggest finding one foundational idea.  Like the difference between scattering many seeds on dry soil and adding humus and water to the soil first.  If we make the soil rich and ready for seeds, then we can have a great garden. 

The core impediment to parent engagement is ignorance.  Parents don’t know what their role is supposed to be, how to fulfill that role over thirteen years of schooling, and where to get the information they lack.  They rarely know just how important they are, and how to translate their love for child into life success for child.  Schools don’t know what will work to increase parent involvement.  If they did they would be doing it.  They also don’t know where to find the answers they lack.  So, what we have here is ignorance winning out and students losing out. 

One “soil enriching” solution would be to capture the attention of first-child kindergarten parents.  When parents are bringing their first child to kindergarten for the first time there are many unrepeatable opportunities.  They are scared.  They are lost and confused.  This is an opportunity to draw them in with useful information, to give them knowledge that enables and empowers their participation.  Ignoring these parents in their time of need is a critical error. 

To do this smartly would be to develop an online learning process using the school's LMS (learning management system) platform and create accounts for parents.  This could then be introduced in first-child classes and followed up with through the LMS interface.  Coupling it with a communication process whereby the teacher and parent interact with each other to help all three (student, teacher, and parent) build a unified approach to education will create rich, fertile soil.  Imagine the future of these parents’ involvement.  Imagine the subsequent trust and inter-communicative exchanges that will happen over the years. Imagine how much more successful the other programs (scattered seeds) will be.  

By finding one specific solution that addresses an underlying issue (ignorance) and building in beneficial practices to create perpetual successes, progress will be made.  As the roots reach deeper into the soil each year, more and more parents will join this new culture of enabled participation instead of standing on the periphery with reticent distance.  More and more first-child parents will hear about and attend the classes.  By opening them up to other parents of older students there will become a growing buzz about the difference this interaction and unity of purpose can make in the success of the students. And THAT will draw parents in even more.  

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