Larry Ferlazzo has been one of the most influential minds in my own personal learning network for a long while now. I first stumbled onto Larry’s work when In Practice—a collaborative blog that Larry writes with two other thinkers I admire, Brian Crosby and Alice Mercer—was up for an Edublogs award a few years ago.
That’s why I was so excited when Linworth Publishing agreed to send me a free review copy of Larry’s new book, Building Parent Engagement in Schools.
(Note to FTC: Does that qualify as a full disclosure statement?)
As usual, Larry doesn’t disappoint! His text—designed to introduce schools to the kinds of strategies and actions necessary for moving parent participation in schools from involvement to engagement—details a series of key principles that define effective community engagement efforts AND a series of practical projects that communities could tackle tomorrow.
Drawn largely from his 20 years of experience as a community organizer and his second career as an educator at a high-needs school in Sacramento, California, Larry’s thoughts and ideas have a measure of credibility that you just can’t find anywhere else.
Through 96 pages of engaging text, he describes four main projects, including examples of each in action:
- A process for parent-home visits designed to develop strong relationships between a child’s two primary teachers.
- An effort to develop family literacy through the use of computers and at-home internet connections.
- The important role that cross-cultural spaces—think community gardens—can play in engaging immigrant populations that are often isolated in traditional schools.
- The role that formal community organizers can play in supporting schools.
What made Larry’s book so powerful to me is that it directly challenges the traditional efforts made by schools to reach out to parents—chaperoning field trips, making photocopies, organizing bake sales.
Larry’s argument is that taking advantage of the funds of knowledge in the communities that we serve requires a willingness to give parents real ownership over the projects that they are involved in AND opportunities to be involved in the academic life of a school.
“Low income and working class communities are often less successful at involving parents as providers rather than consumers of knowledge. Teachers and other school officials too often assume that less educated communities will have a difficult time getting involved in the educational process….
Community funds of knowledge are a kind of social capital that is often overlooked. Too often, minority students are described by what they lack, rather than what they have…
If topics of study are envisioned as an exchange between mainstream sources of knowledge and community sources of knowledge, then the knowledge which parents have takes on new value.”
(Ferlazzo, 2009, pp. 54-56, emphasis in the original)
What will make Larry’s book powerful to you is that it provides tangible examples of what meaningful parent engagement efforts can look like in action—and in a world where closing the achievement gap depends on strengthening the capacity of parents, those examples are nothing short of invaluable.