Sex Noises in French Class … and Other Tales of Family Engagement

Several years ago, I started working on an idea that turned into the book “Engaged: Building Intentional Partnerships With Families.” Its publisher is a mid-sized nonprofit called Parents as Teachers that focuses on educating parents during the ultra-taxing early years of family life. But the book itself is not about infants or toddlers or preschoolers — or, for that matter, about school-aged kiddos and teens. It’s about the values and hopes shared by everyone whose lives intersect with children:
* Trust
* Respect
* Responsibility
* Generosity
* Accessibility
* Integration
* Compassion
* Initiative
* Persistence
* Sustainability

We don’t often talk about the things on that list in family engagement settings. Parents and teachers hover on opposite sides of the school doors, warily guarding their turf. Sports coaches and spectators grumble about each other on the drive home from youth-league games. Health-care providers mourn the “what-ifs” that might make their young patients healthier while making notes in files, perhaps without understanding the constraints under which the families live. Neighborhood agencies throw open their doors, only to struggle to make sense of the multitude of perspectives, attitudes, insights, strengths and problems that pour in — which causes them to narrow the opening to a scope they can better handle.

I’ve been on a several sides of these barriers, and I guarantee that no matter how solid they seem, they are artificial and they can be crossed. True partnerships are possible.

Back in my early days of parenthood, I thought it would be easy. It is not.

In fact, it is really, really, really hard.

As a parent, I’ve been on the receiving end of a cease-and-desist notice at a school where the PTO was beyond disfunctional. My kid has gotten detention for faking an orgasm (more on that in another essay, I promise). I’ve benefited from the free-and-reduced lunch program. I’ve dealt with individualized education programs (IEPs), driven away from the carpool lane in tears, stood up to teachers on behalf of my sons while my knees were shaking inside my pants.

But I’ve also had incredible opportunities. I worked as a writer and editor at Parents as Teachers for many years, ending up as the director of product development, and I received an on-the-job education in the beauty and magic that is child development. This opened a pathway for me to join schools’ advisory committees and task forces and strategic planning groups — spaces that are normally difficult for parents to infiltrate, let alone thrive in. I’ve formed lifelong friendships with teachers and administrators at every level of my sons’ education, from preschool on.

Most importantly, my sons are learning and growing. They have bonds with their educators. They whine and complain about homework. They watch me and all the other adults around them intensely (even when we think they’re obliviously absorbed in their devices) for cues on what’s important to us.

The cover of “Engaged: Building Intentional Partnerships With Families.”

The book “Engaged: Building Intentional Partnerships With Families” came out in August 2019 after a couple of years of writing, editing, revising and production. Over these past months, as readers have started to discover it, I’ve had time to reflect on the content. It’s incredibly gratifying that my ideas — and the words of the book’s talented and insightful author, Lindsey Shah — are forming the basis of conversations across the United States.

I wish I could spend a few moments with every one of those potential partners and give them some words of encouragement as they wrestle with family engagement at whatever type of institution they’re part of.

I wish I could tell the optimists that it won’t be as easy as they think it will.

I wish I could tell the naysayers that it can be done.

I wish I could tell the talkers to listen and the listeners to share what they’re thinking.

I wish I could tell funders to pour their money in — and attach some realistic guidelines and benchmarks to it.

I wish I could tell state and federal agencies that their support is awesome, but partnerships aren’t something they can legislate into existence.

And I wish I could tell the children watching us that all of the people who interact in these conversations on their behalf desperately want them to succeed. Because I absolutely believe that is true.

***** Each month throughout 2020, I’ll share snapshots of situations, places and events that will bring to life the values outlined in “Engaged: Building Intentional Partnerships With Families.” The book — which is available via Amazon, shameless plug! — includes many real-life anecdotes and examples from parents, educators, leaders and researchers across the country. The difference here is that I can present my own experiences with a higher level of detail and candor. I can let you know how things worked out … and offer what I learned when they didn’t.

I’m an “invisible storyteller” who’s not in the field of editorial consulting for the glory or the followers. I do it because I love words and respect people.

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