This is a workshop focused on building relationships between educators, families and communities. As Oakland teacher and principal, Larissa Adams says, “Because of organizing, I realized parents care, community members care, organizers care. I feel less burned out and feel I can stick with teaching for a long time.”
1. When The System Fails
When children struggle in school, parents and guardians sometimes don’t recognize that the challenges are part of bigger issues facing the school or the school district. We sometimes blame ourselves, our children, or their teachers. When the school or district conveys a culture of low expectations, a sense of hopelessness is sometimes created among students, parents, and educators.
• Do you feel there are structures or conditions at your school that need to change in order for the school culture to be more supportive?
• When have you made a difference in the life of one of your students? What enabled you to make that personal connection?
• What are the systemic barriers to developing a personal relationship with your students and their families?
• What programmatic changes would support more personal relationships between students and staff?
• How would resources and programs be different?
2. Changing the Existing School Culture
In many schools and districts, parents are not viewed as assets – equals with whom educators can partner to make positive changes for students. Too often, the culture within schools is one that discourages parents from voicing their concerns and then collaborating with school and district staff to identify and implement solutions.
• What is the dominant culture with regard to parent involvement in the schools and districts where you work?
• Are parents welcome partners in your classroom or your school? What are indicators that they feel welcome? What are the signs that some parents may not feel welcome?
• Principal Dominic Amara shares in one of these segments that he was unaware of the messages he was sending to parents. What can you or your colleagues do to better understand how your actions and school policies impact parents?
• How do you think a community organization can communicate an alternative vision to better support educators?
3. Change Takes Time and Requires Trust
Often, the challenges facing our schools and our districts are so huge, and opinions and practices so entrenched that the pace of progress feels slow and the opportunities for long-term change feel bleak. Organizer James Mumm discusses the importance of being able to see growth towards desired goals, even if initially things seem to have fallen short.
• Do you have any examples where relationship with a community-organizing group enabled parents and students to create positive change in the district and to form a partnership with the school?
• How would your local school be transformed by such a partnership?
What’s Next? Taking Action
Identify a number of specific, shared problems in your school / district. Select one or two to work on in this session. Break into small groups to discuss potential solutions to the identified problem, and bring back to larger group. Before concluding the meeting, outline concrete next steps you can take — individually, and/or as a group until the next time you meet. Following meetings should review progress and plan next steps in reaching goal on one issue. Problems identified in first step can be re-visited as progress is made.