By Alyssa Briggs
Director, STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice
I was a lucky parent. I was almost always able to align my work schedule to attend parent-teacher conferences, concerts, plays and the all-important “Family Night.”
My daughter, Jessie, wasn’t always happy when I showed up and it took time for me to understand why.
When she was in the fourth grade, I came to her classroom every Friday as a parent volunteer. One Friday, I was sitting on the floor with one of her classmates, Anthony. He was reading to me and I was praising him for tackling new words. Anthony reached over and threw his arms around me and asked, “Will you be my mom? Just for pretend while you’re here?”
Jessie heard Anthony’s question and wanted to talk about it when we got home. (She’s always been a few steps ahead of me and this time was no exception.)
She told me that when I come into her classroom and show up for school events it makes other students whose parents can’t or won’t come feel bad. In the language of a pretty precocious 8-year-old, (she skipped third grade) she explained that she had conflicting emotions. She wanted me there, but not if the cost was that other students would feel bad that their own family member wasn’t there.
She suggested that the school and teachers should make it possible for every child to have a parent or family member involved. As a fourth-grader, she had nailed what researchers have spent decades studying. Family engagement is critical and the onus is on schools and educators to join with families to co-design systems of engagement that work for them. It is a part of our job to meet family members where they are.
When the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice convenes in New Orleans during the first week of April, we will be tackling the critical subject of family engagement, along with other topics of interest and importance to the 68 (and growing) Ecosystems who make up the Community of Practice. Throughout breakout and mainstage sessions, we hope to bring attendees the latest research coupled with practical strategies for how to successfully embed responsive family engagement strategies into their work.
And by the way, when I told Jessie the theme of this convening and about our efforts to foster development of effective, responsive and culturally relevant family engagement strategies among schools, teachers and parents, she said, “It’s about time.”
Learn more about what we’ve planned and if you’re highly motivated, please read some of the research we’ve been reviewing.