Engaging Potential Transformers
Making the most of potential transformers’ readiness to engage in school change will mean approaching them as partners. Such partnerships can be cultivated in several ways.
- Speak to parents’ highest priorities to build the momentum for change. School safety, bullying, basic educational opportunities for all children, supports for children who need extra help and assistance or resources for teachers were among the top concerns for parents who participated in the Kansas City focus groups. Since they may not necessarily agree on which issues are priorities, parents who are ready to roll up their sleeves may need opportunities to establish common ground on where they would like to begin directing their energies. Well-facilitated dialogue can help individuals with diverse priorities find common ground.
- Build potential transformers’ capacities to lead change efforts. In a number of large urban school districts across the country, leadership academies offer parents and concerned citizens opportunities to participate in trainings that build skills and knowledge about important education issues. Trainings might cover such topics as the history and laws of the public education system; parent–community–school partnerships; strategies for increasing parent engagement; communication among parents, students and teachers; and understanding education terms and jargon. In both the survey and in the focus groups, we found parents who were encouraged by the idea of a leadership academy and saw its potential to build a cadre of citizens dedicated to improving educational opportunities for all children. As stated by one Kansas City parent,
[The leadership academy] I think is a good empowerment tool for parents, and it’s also creating a pool for advocates and activists that help change systems that aren’t working, and maybe help get more community-based educational institutions involved.
School administrators, district leaders and educators looking to explore parent leadership development programs may find it useful to connect with local or national organizations to learn more about such opportunities and with local leaders to underwrite them.
- Build potential transformers’ capacity to be authentic engagement facilitators. Engagement is too often viewed as a one-off event—a single school board or town hall meeting, for instance. To be truly effective, it should be an ongoing process of communication among leaders and publics that is embedded in the life of community. These habits of communication can become points of departure for new forms of individual and collaborative action, as well as community leadership development. Potential transformers, with their unique talents and local knowledge, can play an important role in creating this culture of shared responsibility and collaborative problem solving. For example, they can be trained in dialogue facilitation by engage¬ment experts and collaborate with local organizations on the design and organization of engagement processes.
- Recognize successes and achievements in parent engagement. Creating venues to recognize accomplishments, honor commitments and celebrate victories is an important early step in building a sense of shared ownership of problems and solutions. Such opportunities should be regular in order to maintain high-levels of engagement and energy for change and improvement.