What's a Butcher Got to Do with It?
As I left my butcher shop, I was smiling, a warm feeling running through me. I live in a very large city. With that comes anonymity. It can be isolating. The relationships I have at some of the places where I shop break that solitude. I know their names and they know mine. We share jokes and life stories. We support each other. For the moments that we are together, I no longer live in a metropolis. I live in a community.
Walking to my car, it occurred to me that this is what I’d like to see in our schools - a community. A community of people with common goals, who respect each other and value their relationships. People who have different jobs and one common focus - students. Everyone bringing something of value to the table, acknowledging their differences, and celebrating their fellowship. However, it cannot happen if families feel isolated, ignored, fearful, confused, disrespected.
Family engagement begins and ends with relationships. Why? Because relationships build trust. Trust leads to co-operation. Co-operation shapes partnerships. And partnerships result in achievement for our children.
We need to recognize that the ‘hard to reach’ could be our schools and not our families. We can begin with the locked doors; move to what we ask and expect of families versus what we are willing to give; finish with challenges such as language, past experiences, responsibilities, time. Dr. Steve Constantino tell us that research has never listed apathy as one of the reasons for “non-engagement”. He advises that when we offer effective, meaningful engagement, families will engage. When was the last time your school asked families what they needed before creating opportunities for engagement? Do those opportunities help student achievement or do they help the school?
The Flamboyan Foundation in Washington DC, works to engage families in education. They ask us to consider that families who do not “engage” may be under-represented (marginalized, disadvantaged), invisible or over-looked (slip through the cracks) or the service resistant (wary of contact, don’t know role). When we consider our “hard to reach” families in this way, it takes the blame off them for not participating in the way the school offers. It asks educators to consider the challenges some families face and work to remove at least some of the barriers.
We know from personal experience that good relationships make our life better. When our son went away to university, our butcher vacuum-pack meat for him, suggesting the easiest cuts to cook. It meant one less thing to think about. Building a “village” in our schools, lessens the burden on our teachers by sharing responsibility with our families. Dr. Janet Goodall advises that learning and education occur all the time in settings outside of school. Families teach their children how to walk, drink from a cup, tie their shoes, sing a song, learn a skill. That role as “teacher” does not end when children enter school. A partnership develops when teacher and family share their knowledge and expertise with each other - supporting learning in the classroom and the living room.
Apparently, I’m not good at cooking beef. So when I need to produce the perfect feast for my husband’s birthday, I have a nice long chat with the butcher. He re-iterates to me (every year) how to prepare the roast, grill it, present it. Then I go home and try to do it correctly, supplementing the meal with what I do best - sides and dessert. It’s a partnership that results in a not bad dinner. Teachers need to help families understand how to support their child’s learning. They must also value and utilize family knowledge to better understand the student. It is symbiotic relationship that builds a community and makes dreams a reality.