This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation on Learning for All = Teaching for All. To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
I have been working in urban education for 15 years, and in that time, I have engaged in over 40 parent/teacher conference nights as a teacher, coach, and administrator. Each time, I continue to be amazed at the creative strategies my colleagues find to meet parents/guardians where they are. One of the assumptions we often make when working in schools is that the engagement of our students' parents should look and sound like our own experiences (either as students or parents). When we make a call, we expect the number to be working, a person or voicemail to pick up, and a meeting to be promptly scheduled. And for those of us who grew up in homes with sufficient income to pay the bills with one job, this may be a reasonable expectation. But for the hundreds of families I have worked with over the years, the picture - for better or worse - looks very different. For these families, it is culturally irresponsible of me as an educator to have these same expectations, and so, we work together to find a way through. I offer these recommendations for creating a culturally responsive learning community:
Phone a Friend: Use every phone number at your disposal - mother, father, grandmother, aunt, neighbor, emergency contacts, sibling you taught three years ago - to make meaningful and consistent contact with each and every parent. Regardless of the child's age, parents want to be involved in both their challenges and successes.
Drop Your Guard: Don't expect parent/child interactions to always look and sound the same as yours did growing up. Race, culture, and socioeconomic background all contribute to how these dynamics play out for each family. It is our job to provide data and support - not judgment.
Build a Village: If your interactions with a particularly family are not "clicking," lean on your colleagues. Ask for advice on their approach or sit in on meetings together. Challenging conversations are not an excuse for avoidance.
Expand the Notion of "School": A child's education does not solely reside within the four walls of the school building. As educators, at times we make assumptions that parents should always come to us. What are you doing to go into the community and meet parents where they are? If a child is not coming to school, visit their home.
Share a Meal: Families do not all eat the same thing, and nothing brings a school community together like a potluck dinner and the opportunity to share a meal together. Breaking bread simultaneously breaks barriers.
Be Human: Lead with compassion and understanding in every parent interaction. Parents want the best for their child but are not always sure what it looks like or what their role is. Many of them have their own negative notions of school. Share their child's strengths, growth opportunities, and how you can support them. Together, you will find a way through.