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The View From Here - October 2019

By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director

I hope you are enjoying the beautiful Fall weather here in the Capital Region. The amazing colors of the Fall foliage remind us of our truly good fortune to be living in this beautiful area.

Last month I wrote about student empowerment and asserted that engagement and empowerment are not one in the same. In my opinion, engagement tends to lack a deeper sustainable commitment; one could say they engaged with another person by the nature of reaching out. Yet, simply reaching out may not be enough of a catalyst to bring about actions resulting in change or improvement. Empowerment, on the other hand, takes engagement to the level of an exchange, perhaps involving ideas, tools/skills, or resources. The exchange related to empowerment includes a commitment on the part of both parties, to supporting over time the self-efficacy of the participants.

In my new It’s Intentional podcast series, I have addressed the topic of student empowerment as opposed to engagement and the role of schools in fostering student empowerment. If you are interested in those discussions, you can access the links here. Building off those discussions, this month’s newsletter focuses on parent and family empowerment, again, intentionally choosing empowerment instead of engagement as the focus.

This month’s Hanover Research brief, “Best Practices in Measuring Parent Engagement,” examines the research base used to define family engagement and the tools used to measure family engagement. The research offers Four Models of Family Engagement, and though I prefer the term empowerment, the idea of empowerment is evident in these models. For example, The Democratic Participation Model “...assumes that families and communities are powerful change agents who can participate effectively in school reform.” In Standard Four of the National PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships, titled Speaking Up for Every Child, it states, “Families are empowered to be advocates for their own and other children...”

If you are looking for a comprehensive resource on family empowerment, I highly recommend, “Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family School Partnerships,” by Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies. According to the authors, “The more that parents feel that they have the power to influence their children’s future positively, the better their children tend to do in school.” As with student empowerment in the classroom, where students are provided real voice and choice, they say parent empowerment is based on three practices:

1. Provide workable mechanisms for teachers, parents, and students to voice their ideas and concerns, and to take part in decision-making.

2. Build a broad base of involvement by increasing families’ political knowledge and skills, and their connections to other parents and people in the community.

3. Strengthen families’ links with community organizations and resources.

Another model for parent empowerment is offered by Jungnam Kim, Kathryn Fletcher and Julia Bryan, authors of “Empowering Marginalized Parents: An Emerging Parent Empowerment Model for School Counselors,” who identify four elements of empowerment to address academic and opportunity gaps, systemic barriers, and educational inequalities:

1. Engaging parents in consciousness-raising.

2. Facilitating parents’ competence and skills development.

3. Connecting parents to their communities through parent and social networks.

4. Facilitating parents as leaders through organizing groups in the school and in the community.

Both of these models reminded me of work I was involved in as an Assistant Superintendent. Having collaborated with several community organizations on the creation of a Parent University initiative it became clear early on that the audience of parents we were reaching was not the group that most needed the valuable information being imparted in the workshops. So, the Parent University Committee decided to create the “Neighborhood Series” of workshops, designed to reach parents and families who, for a variety of life reasons, were not able to access our programming. The main goal of this special series was to remove the very real roadblocks preventing parents from attending like transportation, childcare and dinner by moving the programs to accessible locations, providing childcare (community service hours for students) and preparing a meal (simple spaghetti and meat sauce), so parents and their children could have dinner. Add to this, capitalizing on our relationships with community organizations who had relationships with community brokers and we had a recipe for success. I delve into this example further in episode three of the It’s Intentional podcast series.

Empowering parents and families is challenging, ongoing work that is necessary if schools are to realize on an academic and social-emotional level the common aspiration associated with the phrase “all students” in many school mission statements. CASDA stands ready to assist in your work to empower your students, parents/families and communities.

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