by Eileen Galvin
What does it mean when you are trying to get someone to do something? What kind of relationship do you have? How does the language we use shape our relationships or reveal how we see our relationships?
Last November, I attended the Saturday Gathering titled "Whose Agenda Is It? Mapping the Terrain of Parent Engagement from Multiple Perspectives," facilitated by Lani Shapiro. With a good mix of parents, teachers and administrators in the room,we explored the relationship between these three roles as co-constructors of a school community and as citizens. What do we, as educators, mean when we promote ‘parent involvement’? What do families have in mind when we seek to be ‘engaged’ in our children’s education? How do school communities understand ‘being involved’?
There was one word that kept surfacing. At times we discussed the word, its meaning, and context. Other times it was used without further comment. The word was get.
“How do we get parents to participate?”
“How do we get different people with differing perspectives to come together with openness and curiosity?”
And the question that resonated with me the most, “how do we get parents to be interested in documentation that isn’t focused on just their child?”
I have never minded the word get. It is small, efficient, and implies action. This gathering made me think of the word differently. It inspired me to reflect on the power of this tiny little word. Now, I think the word implies manipulation. It implies a power dynamic that is out of balance. It implies superiority. It implies a “right way.”
...if we want to have a school based on participation, we must create spaces, contexts, and times when all subjects—children, teachers, and parents—can find opportunities to speak and be listened to.”
--Paola Cagliari, Angela Barozzi and Claudia Giudici
If you are trying to get others to do something you are not listening, you are not considering their truth, their perspective. When we use that word, what do we communicate about how we see our relationships? What does it say about how we define the democracy within our educational systems? How can documentation draw parents in and inspire them to think differently about the important work of all children?
In a shared partnership, we value differing perspectives, we are open to possibilities, we inspire, and we are inspired. For me, this simple shift, moving away from this efficient little word, is a concrete way to remind myself of the kinds of relationships I want to build in this world.