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

Too Much, Too Little, or Just the Right Amount of Struggle: What Do Butterflies Have to Do With Engagement?

As a family, a school, and a community, we want what is best for our children; we want them to be successful, to have a world of opportunities, to be comfortable, and to be confident. For some, this means finding the right balance between guiding and supporting without an overemphasis on doing, problem-solving, decision-making, and shielding from negative experiences or natural consequences. Perhaps I’m pushing the season a bit, hoping for Spring to finally arrive, but… when I think about the consequences of over-engagement, I think about the butterfly, who needs to struggle, to fail, and to try again and again to work its way out of the safety of its cocoon; if we free it too soon, it doesn’t develop the necessary strength, independence, and resilience to fly into the world. Continue reading

Inspiring Collective Confidence: We Know We Can!


One of the four goals of Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario is enhancing public confidence. Cultivating pride and inspiring collective confidence in the work of our children, families, and schools is a journey of multiple steps and multiple pathways. The more we engage as family and school communities, the more confidence we gain in who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. What’s more, the greater confidence we display on a day-to-day basis, the more likely it is that collective confidence will grow. School communities cannot do this work on their own; families must also work to inspire confidence through the things they say, the practices they share, and the ways they interact with schools. 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

Engaged or Not? That is Often the Question

communityRegardless of whether we are school or family, there are times when we need to step back and ask ourselves whether we are authentically engaged or not, how we are engaged, or how we might engage more fully. This might apply to homework, communication with children, communication with family or  school, involvement at school, engagement in community events, or invitations for engagement. What is clear is that we all require an understanding of the diverse forms of engagement, and we must be aware that what may appear as lack of engagement to one may be something completely different to another. It is in these times that we need to exercise deep listening to explore, understand, and appreciate from as many different perspectives as possible. Continue reading

ABCs of Engaged Families in the 21st Century


The sheer bombardment of information about parenting and raising a family is intimidating, particularly for those who are looking for a simple answer to what they feel is a simple question. How can schools, school councils, school boards, community agencies, or even other families help families to weed through all this stuff in a way that does not imply judgment, influence, interference, or thinking that we know best? Sharing an ABCs of families, or getting families to construct their own, might be a great place to start. Continue reading

Family-School Ways to Well-Being – We’re All in This Together!


Student well-being is an increasing concern for home and school. Many children and youth experience bouts of anxiety, stress, and isolation at some point over the course of their educational careers. Families and schools that make well-being a priority emphasize strong relationships, positive communication, risk-taking, self-confidence, and management of physical health and emotions. This can seem like a daunting task, but with a systematic plan that emphasizes what we already do, families and schools can work together in an ongoing and seamless manner. 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

The Youth Connection: At the Heart of Secondary Family Engagement


The Spirit of Youth (St. Dominic’s High School,  Bracebridge, ON)

Engaging families of youth can often be challenging. Factors such as multiple teachers, increasingly complex homework assignments, out-of-school activities, prior experiences, even the growing independence and autonomy of youth may present a landscape in which families feel out of their comfort zone. School communities, in collaboration with youth and families, can promote family engagement both in and out of school, repositioning all as equally invested in student well-being, academic achievement, and lifelong success. Continue reading