There has been a great deal of discussion lately on what parent involvement and engagement is to look like, especially in our public schools. I know what I believe that engagement to look like because I live it everyday. It starts at home with the first good morning my children give me and flows throughout the day with the myriad of tasks I do to create a positive family experience and ends at night with that very last "I love you too, Mom!" of the evening. For me it also means participating in my local, district and State PTA, in a variety of ways. It means being a room parent at my son's elementary and middle schools, volunteering at the 15th District PTA Clothing Assistance Program and offering my time and talent as the President of the 15th District PTA here in Louisville, Kentucky. It means attending local PTA meetings, school board meetings, and meetings in Frankfort as part of the Parent Advisory Committee. It means blogging, and participating in social networking such as facebook, twitter, linkedin, and, of course, Mom Congress, and passing along information to my friends, family and PTA members about important stories and legislature that will impact the education of our children.
But my level of engagement should not be the litmus test for your level of engagement. I am blessed to be able to be a full time volunteer. I have the time to sit on community committees and participate in opportunities that others may not be able to. So how do we have a conversation about parent engagement when we have a different sense of what that engagement should be? And how do you have a Parent Engagement Partnership talk if you don't know with whom you should speak?
Start local. Start with your PTA or any other parent support group that exists within your community. Find out what your school community has for you and introduce yourself. As we get closer to the start of another school year, most PTAs will be co-hosting a new student orientation session. Many schools invite all their new and returning families to a brief "meet and greet" or celebration kick off event. This is a fabulous opportunity to introduce (or in some cases, re-introduce yourself) to the parent group in your school. If there are dues, pay them that day/night, get your membership card, and say "I am PTA!" Sign up for the newsletter so you will know what is going on with the school. You may be asked to serve in a position on the board, but be honest. If you do not have the time or inclination to be a board or committee member, let them know that you are willing to contribute in other ways. Do you scrapbook? Maybe you can help be the historian for the school. Do you facebook? Maybe you can help by monitoring and working on the group page. Can you take five minutes to send an email to an elected official or make a phone call? Parent groups are always in need of additional assistance. It is a large table with many chairs, please find one, sit down, and start offering what you have to contribute. We don't know unless you let us know. With the help of the group find out what the parent/family engagement policy is for your school or district. See if your community is following those best practices and if they are praise them. If they are not, ask how you can help to achieve the goals that were set before them.
The bottom line? Positive parent engagement is critical in the educational success of our children. Not just mine, not just yours, but ALL children. We must no longer carry the baggage from our past educational experiences, especially if it was negative, into our children's schools. What you and I may have experienced in school over 30 years ago is not the issue because that educational moment has passed. My time in middle school is not going to be my son's. He has different teachers, different math lessons, and different challenges that face him and his peers. While our experiences, positive and negative, should be acknowledged and recognized as important and valuable, once spoken off they cannot frame or guide the conversation we must have about current and future educational issues. Certainly we must approach the conversation as equal partners, with all of us bringing our ideas and energy to the table. We must be willing to work with one another and create an experience and conversation that others will want to join. At times we might be uncomfortable with the direction the conversation goes, but it is still important to follow that path. We simply need to talk with one another and most importantly listen. Why? Because somewhere in your community this conversation about parent engagement is actually taking place right now as you read this. Like in Louisville in today's paper.
So make time to Connect. To Collaborate. To Communicate. To Create. Most of all, participate. Your children and schools will thank you for being a part of a parent engagement partnership. Next time, how two minutes worth of emails can make a lifetime of difference.
Myrdin Thompson is the Kentucky Mom Congress delegate.