Birds, Bees, Butterflies, and Children!

Birds, bees, and butterflies fly busily from one flower to another, unintentionally pollinating, making  plants healthier, stronger, and a little more resilient to environmental factors. In the same way, children flit busily through the many contexts of their lives – family, school, and community – unknowingly sharing energy, enthusiasm, and excitement wherever they go. As adults who plant and nurture their gardens, we play both a lead and supporting role in what they share and how they share. Active listening and intentional action make all the difference in the world and will, ultimately, produce stronger family-school engagements that can weather the storms of life.

A Note to School

Before I was even in the door of the house, I was talking about our classroom menagerie: I am so excited about Lovey and the other hatchlings, the cocooned caterpillars, and the tadpoles that are growing legs. When I play outside, I look for evidence of other life cycles. I’ve even created a habitat for ants, ladybugs, spiders, and worms. I’m supposed to keep it outside, but sometimes it makes its way in – at home and at school.

Thank you for the inspiration,

An energized child

P.S., I enjoyed last week’s ‘surprise’ teacher when you were absent.


The energy, excitement, and enthusiasm of a child that are carried spontaneously and naturally between family, school, and community just might be one of the most authentic solutions to the disconnect experienced by some as a result of previous negative experiences. This, however, will not occur without both intention and attention on everyone’s part.

  • Do we recognize children as a critical component of family-school engagement?
  • How do we ensure that children do not bear the weight of perceived lack of family-school engagement?
  • How do we ensure that children, families, schools, and communities share the good along with the bad, recognizing that it is all engagement?

Children are more than capable informants, reporters, even directors of their own lives, if they have the comfort and support of a “more knowledgeable other” (Vygotsky, 1978). Without even realizing it, they contribute, in a very powerful way, to family-school engagement. It’s hard to not share in a child’s excitement, or a child’s sadness, about something that happened at home, school, or in the community. While so much of this is child-centred and spontaneous, there are some practices that increase the likelihood of these connections.

Give them something concrete to talk about. Grow a plant. Plant a community garden. Hatch a chick. Catch pollywogs at the creek. Listen to bees as they buzz from one plant to the next. Climb a tree. Watch a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Plant a tree. Pitch in. Do a food drive. Engage in a community service project. Create a minor crisis that needs to be solved. Take them on a trip. Show them pictures of their ancestors. Tell them a story that is so outrageous they just have to repeat it.

Make time to listen. In a very busy world, we are often trying to accomplish multiple tasks at the same time, and often our time to listen, and therefore learn, is compromised. Set aside dedicated storytelling and story listening time at home and at school. Be ready with prompts when spontaneity is elusive. Recognize that children, like adults, simply want to be heard and seen without outside interference. Not surprisingly, my 28 year old daughter still tells me to shut down my computer when she calls home!

Listen with sensitivity as children share. As teacher or family, recognize that spontaneous sharing and excitement of a child, even sadness, come from a place of security, contentment, and/or excitement about family, school, and learning. Listen to all they are communicating in words, thoughts, and actions. It might not always be positive, but the more they carry back and forth, the stronger they perceive the connection and the support they will receive from you as their more knowledgeable other.

Invite talk about learning and goal setting. Engage in joint projects such as family-school journals, scrapbooks, photo albums or memory boxes that focus on what is happening in their lives at home and school (including strengths, needs, hopes dreams and struggles). This Week At School (TWAS) or Friday letters are a good stimulus to open these critical conversations about learning. Host three-way conferences to discuss goal-setting and learning.

Accentuate the positive. Always look for the best of what is being transferred between family, school, and community – this is how children learn about the interrelatedness of life and how to get along in this world. This is not to say that there is never negative, because there will be – that’s life. But, we can catch a whole lot more flies, that is to say engaged families and schools, with a spoonful of honey than with a spoonful of vinegar.

Thanks for listening, and thanks to the families and schools that create these memories!

Courageous Conversations

At some point in a child’s educational career, families and teachers will face a difficult conversation that needs to be handled with respect and integrity. These are not easy. It could be something simple like the inevitable phone call home about a minor altercation or something more difficult such as discussing a child’s ongoing struggle to keep up with the prescribed curriculum. Such conversations require both families and schools to step back, tread carefully, and engage in respectful and courageous conversations that always keep the best interests of the child in mind. Continue reading

Family-School Engagement with Simplicity in Mind

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Our current culture sets us up to approach life with a want more, need more stance that keeps families and schools filling children’s spaces and times with many activities. But does it really need to be that way? And do all those activities really make a difference in the grand scheme of academic success and well-being? Or can we aim for a more simplistic view that places understanding, relationship-building, and communication as our core goals? Shouldn’t engagement aim to recognize, celebrate, and enhance what we already have as families and as school communities? And how do we set our school communities on a path toward simplicity amidst the chaos and complexity of life? Continue reading

‘Tis The Season… Progress Reports and Conferences


Children, youth, and families often await the first reporting cycle with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. While they may have kept in touch with the school, supervised homework, or reviewed work sent home periodically, there is still a wonder about how it will all translate into a formal grade and a comment on a report card. Also in question is often what it will look and sound like when families sit face-to-face to discuss the academic progress of their child as well as their social-emotional well-being on the landscape of school. Continue reading

Communication For Good and For Bad


There will be times when schools have no choice but to share less than positive news with families; such communication is better received when schools communicate the good as well as the bad. When the negative is balanced with the positive, families are more receptive to problem-solving and less productive decisions can be viewed as opportunities to learn and grow; everyone benefits as children, youth, families, and schools come to understand that they are all on the same page. Continue reading

How Do I Share Information? Let Me Count the Ways

Sometimes, communication with families is just about sharing information – details about school community events, policies, fundraisers, etc. Today, there are so many communication strategies to choose from. Why not apply the principle of differentiation in order to ensure that school/class messages are received in a timely and balanced way by the greatest number of families possible?

Continue reading

Special Forks, Broken Lamps, and Lullabies: Engaging Families Through Story


Family stories allow school communities to connect with families in ways they had not thought possible – with those who have come before, those who are here, and those who are yet to be.

Stories . . . provide all the vital instruction we need to live a useful, necessary, and unbounded life – a life of meaning, a life worth      remembering. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

We all have family stories. Some long, some short; some happy, some sad; some full of struggle, some full of success; some outrageously unbelievable and some extraordinarily funny. What better way to connect with families than to share a story or two? Continue reading

Empowering Families to Communicate with Confidence



Not all families feel the same level of comfort talking and communicating with schools. Most can easily and willingly share their children’s strengths, needs, successes, struggles, interests, hopes, and dreams. Many struggle with how to ask questions, what to ask, and how often to ask. Some are uncertain how often to contact the school and when. Yet others wonder how to be active and engaged, without overdoing it.

The reality is that children, youth, and families learn what they live: If they hear and see effective and productive communication, they will strive to communicate confidently, become empowered on the landscape of school, and develop self-advocacy skills that will serve them for a lifetime. Such skills are particularly important as youth transition from secondary to post-secondary. Continue reading

One More Marble in the Jar: What Does Trust Have to Do With It?


trustspockEach day, parents and families send schools the very best that they can. They entrust their little ones (and their big ones) to school communities they may not know, hoping that all will be well on the landscape of school. Families need to know that their efforts are valued and they need to trust that they will not be judged for what they do or don’t do.

Trust grows over time, much like a marble collection. Continue reading