If parents are going to be advocates, communicators must teach them to fish

Parent Engagement Blog Photo 7-17-17

There’s an old adage about the power of teaching a person to fish so he can feed himself for life. Unfortunately, many communicators aren’t applying that wise counsel when engaging parents and caregivers as advocates for education change. To create those powerful voices, communicators must train the next generation to fish.

Whether the debate is expanding quality pre-k or increasing excellent K-12 school options, we know parent voices can be powerful instruments of change. The problem is, our definition of parent engagement is often too narrow.

I came away with a newfound appreciation of this last month while attending the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. There, education reform advocates asked a critical question: What does true parent engagement mean?

Many communicators working on education advocacy campaigns enlist caregivers as partners, whether it’s asking them to pen letters to the editor or op-eds, speak to the media in interviews, or testify at legislative hearings. But how often do we actually empower them to lead on those fronts – by drafting their own letters, preparing their own media talking points, or writing their own testimony?

Not often enough.

Our default assumption is that parents are busy, and we’re inconveniencing them by asking them to take time to advocate for education change. Our default mode of operation then becomes to do the heavy lifting for parents – by penning their op-eds and having them sign it, or hand-holding when it comes to media interviews. In reality, caregivers themselves are best positioned to own these efforts, and we should empower them to do so.

Advocates at the National Charter Schools Conference talked about different ways they’ve let parents lead on education change. One education organizer in Washington, D.C. engaged a group of parents in selecting which charter school operator would launch a school in the city. This involved an intensive process that included teaching parents to interpret financial forecasting models for schools (something any lay person would need a crash course in), interviewing school-leadership candidates and vetting charter-school proposals.

The result? Parents felt true investment in their children’s school because they had played a role in selecting it.

Another organizer talked about engaging caregivers as social media advocates. Rather than drafting sample content for parents to post on Twitter and Facebook, his organization did a training session for parents on how to create effective social posts – and then asked them to create their own.

The result? More compelling, authentic social media content and caregivers who felt more committed to the cause.

It’s understandable why we too often do the heavy lifting for parents in communications efforts. After all, our job as communications and advocacy professionals is to make the task of creating compelling content easier for others. Why wouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to parents and caregivers?

We shouldn’t, because, as it turns out, by doing so we’re shortchanging them from the opportunity to be powerful voices for a cause. And we’re getting less authentic and compelling content as a result.

So consider this a challenge. The next time you’re charged with the task of engaging parents as advocates in a communications campaign, let parents truly unleash their voices. That will require taking time on the front end to provide the necessary counsel to guide them, and offering coaching, editing and support along the way. It will require building authentic relationships with parents and treating them as friends and partners – rather than just surrogate voices to plug into a debate.

The result will be worth the effort: stronger communications assets to fuel the cause – and parents who are more effective advocates for change.

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Education

If parents are going to be advocates, communicators must teach them to fish

Parent Engagement Blog Photo 7-17-17

There’s an old adage about the power of teaching a person to fish so he can feed himself for life. Unfortunately, many communicators aren’t applying that wise counsel when engaging parents and caregivers as advocates for education change. To create those powerful voices, communicators must train the next generation to fish.
Whether the debate is expanding quality pre-k or increasing excellent K-12 school options, we know parent voices can be powerful instruments of change. The problem is, our definition of parent engagement is often too narrow.
I came away with a newfound appreciation of this last month while attending the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. There, education reform advocates asked a critical question: What does true parent engagement mean?
Many communicators …

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Education

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