Musings on Family Engagement in District 287

There’s this special feeling that travels along with me when I become immersed in accomplishing something at work. The feeling is strengthened as I get closer and closer to accomplishing that same something at work. Because the feeling is so positive and naturally regenerative, I sometimes fail to ask myself one critically important, intimately intertwined question:

If I accomplish this important something at work, will it really get me closer to what truly matters in the lives of our students?

If we’re lucky, we can find in our workplace people who care enough about that question and the work that we do, that they find loving ways to help us maintain a healthy relationship between what we can do and what we should do – our capacity and our cause.

This occurred for me recently as I tried to think of ways to support more positive phone calls from teachers to our families. A colleague mentioned using google voice as a tool and I thought, what if we could use google voice? What if we provided parent lists in google sheets? What if the IT department made it more efficient? What if we constructed a one-page best practice tip sheet? What if…what if……………what if…… and then that same colleague asked a simple question.

It was the same type of a question that kindergartners ask when their trust within the world is at its highest. It was the same type of question our teenagers ask when their trust within the world starts to dwindle. It was the type of question our elders ask when they start to teach us all about what it means to truly trust in others. It was a critical, intertwined, intimate question that comes from a place of care and she lovingly knew I needed to explore that question before I moved further.

How do we define family?

If one could drop a mic in an email, it was literally done in a literary manner with those five words.

How do we define family?

It pushed me to think of what makes a family, what’s the purpose of a family and who is the “we” that defines the family in the best interests of our District 287 students.

More importantly, it pushed me to reflect upon my own concept of family growing up as I started to think through this question.

How do “we” define family?

There are several versions of a quote best attributed to Mark Twain that reads,

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

This reminds me of my own father. He was not around as much as I would have liked and actually needed. As I got older and had my own kids, I began to appreciate what he was still able to accomplish by the seeds he planted within me. :thinking: I wonder if one purpose of family is to give you nuggets of wisdom that won’t make any sense at all when you receive them, but will make all the sense in the world when you’re called to use them.

I have a tendency to not apply enough self-care methods in my life. For some reason, I asked my mom a few weeks ago when did she first notice this lack of self-care behavior with me. Her answer surprised me. She said your older brother always tested limits and your younger brother was always in poor health, I think you saw me sacrifice so much that you felt it was the easier thing to do. But, na’im, you were like that since you were a toddler. :thinking: I wonder if one purpose of family is to help you make sense of how you come to wherever you are in life, support your desire to grow and then lovingly remind you to still stay true to who you’ve always been.

I’ve had a few, close former co-workers come through for me without asking when I didn’t even realize how full my plate was.

I’ve had a current co-worker reflect my own words back to me knowing it would help me listen better.

I’ve had a close neighbor who would tell me what I needed to hear, whether I asked for his advice or not.

I have friends from my old neighborhood that I know if something happened to me, they would immediately become aunts and uncles to my children – making sure my children would see how care has its own extended family.

I guess a purpose of family is to support the people within it to not just see the most accurate version of themselves and to love the very version they see, but to also, with wisdom and support, give them what they can use to become the best version of the self that they love.

Who are these people in the lives of our students? If we engage those people as part of an approach to family engagement, would we be one step closer to accomplishing in the lives of our students, what truly matters?

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Nicely written, Naim, thanks for sharing and welcome to the forum!

Lots to unpack here! Just a couple of quick thoughts…

I’d tend to think that for many of our kids who are struggling, this list might be quite short, which is part of the challenge for many of them. It’s hard to create family if you haven’t experienced it much.


This isn’t directly connected to what you wrote, but it made me think of how I changed some interactions with students after I became a father. I remember asking myself, “How would I want a teacher to interact with this kid if it were my kid?” The “family” perspective changed things and I’d like to think made me better at my job.

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Mike, either your reflection is indeed directly related to the topic or perhaps you added a helpful shift to the topic that reveals its relatedness because it gets at an interesting and helpful part of what I’m wondering. What would/should “family” feel like for our students. If they haven’t fully experienced it, what should they experience? If we want our students to experience what we would want our kids to experience, what would that be? I don’t know, but …that gives me some homework. I think I’ll start with asking myself your question and seeing what happens. coolness.

One of my favorite things about good stand-up comedians is their ability to temporarily live in your mind, see what you typically observe about life, prove to you that they are able to understand what you observe, and then anticipate what would make you laugh about your observations, and do so without offending you in the process (I did say good stand-up comedians).

I’m a huge Dave Chapelle fan. I believe he does this well. However, to my own surprise I discovered several years ago on Pandora, the 1960s comedy albums of Bob Newhart. Yes, the same 1929 born comedian Bob Newhart that was in the Elf movie starring Will Ferrell. Bob Newhart. Not to be confused with comedians Bob Saget, Bob Hope, Bobcat Goldthwait or Bob Marley (the comedian…not the one that didn’t shoot the deputy).

In Bob Newhart’s routines, he not only proved that he could project our observations onto the stage, but he would also engage in witty “dialogue” with these fictional, archetypal representations of our imperfections without the second character ever being present.

Snipped from Newhart’s routine, The Driving Instructor

Bob Newhart: Now let’s practice some turns. Um, the important thing on turns is not to make them too sharp, just kind of make a gradual…

Bob Newhart: Now that was fine…

Bob Newhart: That was a wonderful turn…

Bob Newhart: It’s hard for me to believe you only had two lessons after you make a turn like…

Bob Newhart: Are you sure you haven’t had more now?..

Bob Newhart: I find that very difficult to believe…

Bob Newhart: One little thing…

Bob Newhart: This is a one way street…

Bob Newhart: Well, no, no, actually it was partially my fault, you see, but, uh, you were in the left hand lane and you were signaling left, and I just more or less assumed you were going to turn left.

Bob Newhart: SAME TO YOU, FELLA!!!.

What I enjoy about comedy is that it can sometimes provide a creative method to “safely” reflect on myself and to also “safely” feel closer to the people around me. After all, I’m being given permission to pretend everything is an exaggeration of the truth.

How would I want a teacher to interact with this kid if it were my kid?

To answer this requires me to find commonality with that kid, my kid and also myself. The thought of it sounds good if I’m pretending, but in practice it feels a little too close and potentially, unnecessarily draining. Why? I’ll take three of my promising sons as a reflective case example – Micah, Amir and Andersen.
Micah and Andersen have always done well in school without any prompting. Amir will do well only when you remind him to do well even though he has such a talented mind; he always seems to enjoy the experience afterwards. Micah and Andersen have always been assertive on the basketball court. Amir will be assertive only when the coach and sometimes the crowd will “force” him to do so even though he’s such a good ball player; he always seems to enjoy the experience afterwards.

I can relate to Amir. I often need “permission” to apply skills in some spaces where “permission” is probably already granted.

To view a kid like my own would require me to really know them, to see from their mind what they see, to reflect on myself, to see me in them, and to ultimately view the situation as no laughing matter. That feels rigorous, too close and pushes me to look for an alternative. So, I guess the question for me is what would make the rigor worth it and the experience of becoming closer actually feel “safer?” Thinking through this feels like it could be fun.