Engagement and Involvement (without the vs.)

Swooped in on the #ptchat last week titled The Australian Ed System & Innovative Family Engagement Efforts LIVE from Melbourne.  It was an interesting conversation.  Much of it got by me as it was specific to what’s going on in Australia or Melbourne, more specifically–acronyms I don’t know, programs that are unfamiliar.

But even so, an interesting thread came out of the whole experience.  @Dunlop_Sue said, “Engagement can mean people have conversations and listening to others’ ideas.  Engagement can mean showing interest.”  And so the question came up from @everyparent, “Is there a difference between family engagement and involvement?”  @Joe_Mazza wisely shared, “For some families, just getting their kid to school safely can be considered family engagement.”  Yet another piece to the conversation came from @martp1, “involvement supports the school and engagement supports the young person learning.”  And then my quote-on-the-wall Tweep, @DrJoeClark said, “family engagement requires more listening than speaking.”

It’s taken these few days for me to land on semantics as our enemy here.  I made a T-chart about engagement and involvement–no good.  As I walked campus I tried to define what I was seeing–no good.  We are dealing with human beings here, who don’t fit in nice vocabulary-related categories.

A few examples helped me arrive at my own conclusion–Who cares what we call it!?!?  Are parents here, doing what they can?  Am I always seeking out input and conversation?  Is the campus welcoming to all our families?

We have a posse of parents who do morning crossing guard duty.  A 1950’s residential street trying to get 402 students to school at 8:05 every morning.  Hairy.  Quite hairy.  This small group of dedicated crossing guard parents–engagement or involvement?  For some it would be involvement as it’s about the school and drivers being safe.  But if you stood out front as I do and watched the interactions with students and families, you’d see real engagement.  A child who wasn’t smiling is now after pushing the crossing light button.  A mom who looked frazzled isn’t anymore with a ‘good morning’ and ‘don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time.’  Noticing a new sweatshirt or particularly sparkly skirt that’s engagement with our students that starts their day with a spring in their step.  Is it about learning?  It could be.  The way we walk into the classroom says a lot about what and how well we’ll learn that day.

What about the moms and dads I only see once or twice a year?  If it’s because they’re attending the parent/teacher conference–bravo!  If it’s to listen to our band and chorus in the spring–great.  If it’s to complain to me about hot lunch costs–that one depends on me.  Do I listen more than I talk?  Do we look for solutions?  Am I listening for other issues and concerns where I can intervene and improve the situation?  Does this parent just need to be heard (really heard), validated and thanked for coming in–regardless of what we can or can’t do about lunch costs?

Don’t get me wrong, the #ptchat was great and I’ll be returning soon.  And clearly this piece of the chat really got my wheels spinning, but for me, it’s semantics.  Everyone has to engagement in a manner that fits their ability, interest and personality.  Where the burden really lies is on me, our school and our groups and committees.  Are we inclusive?  Do we invite other voices?  Do I reach out to hear from our parents and get them plugged in?  It’s something to always be examining.  Communication, projects, outreach, and climate.  Are our arms open wide to all possible involvement and engagement?



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