Friday, August 29, 2008
The problem with communication … is the illusion that it has been accomplished. George Bernard Shaw
About four weeks ago I reported on an incident at a PTA conference:
One incident stays with me. I had made a comment to the group at large about sensitivity to families that held two or more jobs, single parent homes and families that spoke a language other than English. At the end of the session quite a few participants came up to me to ask for contact information and also to ask questions. A Latina local PTA officer asked me about Spanish speaking mothers who she would see on campus joining their children for lunch or taking their children to school and picking them up in the afternoon, but she would not see them at PTA meetings. Yet they didn’t seem to be easily accessible for her to invite to participate.
I counseled that she establish a relationship with them, initially just greeting and asking how their family was doing…how their children were doing in school. I advised that she hold back on recruiting them to be school volunteers or to become PTA members.
I said: Instead of approaching them with a ‘sales pitch’ become an acquaintance, concerned about the education of their children, and eventually a trusted friend. I peppered my conversation with Spanish and gave snippets of how I establish that kind of relationship with the families I come in contact with. She didn’t speak much Spanish with me but clearly understood everything I said. Even if her Spanish was not as strong as her own parents’, she obviously had enough facility with the language to communicate with the parents she wanted to connect with on her campus.
“Buenos días señora ¿como esta? ¿Como están los niños? (Good morning, ma’am, how are you? How are the children?).
I continued: As you establish these ‘qualitative’ relationships, then you can identify the ‘live wires’, the ones that are centers of communication within their own social circles. As each of these “emerging leaders” becomes an active participant, volunteer and PTA member, (and in time, if you persist, they will) she will bring others with her and also take information to many who might not ever attend a PTA meeting but are acutely interested in the education of their children and want the information the school can offer through these ‘intermediaries’.”
New incident, different cast of characters, same lesson:Last week I was conducting training of trainers in south Texas for a group of parent involvement specialists. On the day that I was setting up for the training, I visited a large room, very welcoming with smiling hosts, flowers and many service providers awaiting parents to come in and select supplemental education services for their children. The coordinator told me that over 1500 packages of information had been sent to families that qualified for the services.
The next day I asked how many showed up. Response: less than twenty. The frowns and under-the-breath comments seemed to blame the families. The coordinator told me she didn’t know what to do because she had done what the state agency required: that each family receive a complete list of all the service providers.
What was learned? To me it is obvious. Most families, across class, ethnicity, language and neighborhood will not pay much attention to a large, multi-page mailing.
If only 50 families had been contacted personally and explained what was available, there would have been far better results.
It seems that personal, intentional outreach is still too difficult a task.
I certainly have my work cut out for me, as a director of a Parent Information Resource Center. In Texas!