Let’s Create a Culture of Family-Centered Practices in School Settings

greet parents

For professional educators, serving children in schools means serving the family as well, and we must adopt practices which will move school systems, procedures, perspectives, protocols and program policies, towards being family-centered in the framework of teaching and learning. The elements of family-centered practices all work towards empowering families with the knowledge and skills to make the best decisions  for their children and the family as a unit. When parents are empowered, they feel in control; a palpable sense of agency.They also become more invested when they feel they are respected as experts and collaborators in the educational planning process.

Professionals must recognize that when they develop a relationship with a child, they are also developing a relationship with the child’s family. The more collaborative the relationship is with families, the more invested and engaged the child becomes in the classroom and learning and achievement potential is optimized. Collaboration is the key, and successful relationships require hard work. When the life of a child is at stake, there is no room for failure-it is not an option.

An essential component of family-centered practice is collaboration in decision-making. As a model of partnership, family-centered practice has as its underlying philosophy the belief that
families are pivotal in the lives of children and should be empowered to engage in decision making
for them.
It actually has its origins in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in that it recognizes that children exist within a wider context of family,
community and society where at every level the ecological system is interconnected. In this ecological system, the child, the family and the
environment are inseparable and what affects one member of the system impacts on the other members.  Each member of the system, and their relationships, are in turn influenced by the broader social, political and educational policies. It is this broader system (mesosystem) that shapes the perceptions, expectations and equality of the relationships that exist between the nested systems.

display key

Since we recognize the interconnectedness of these systems-family, child, school, community- it is logical that we likewise assume a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning at school. What empowers one system, empowers and impacts all others. “If you know better, you do better!” Today, we know better and more about the interplay between learning at home and learning at school. When all are aligned, we maximize successful learning outcomes, we enhance life quality for families, strengthen communities, and position our society and its citizens to thrive in a global economy-the global village.

What remains baffling, however, is why it seems to be such reluctance to ‘share’ power and expand the instructional audience to include families, adult caregivers, and diversity. There is an incredible difference between giving away power and sharing power.

Family-centered practices do not mean that the experts in education are relinquishing their expertise to the parents, whose expertise is in their child, culture and unique strengths they possess. Instead, we are asking that professional educators, whose knowledge, experience and expertise lies in their chosen specializations, share their knowledge and benefits from their expertise with families-a collaboration.

Family-centered practices is a partnership, an alliance between systems of care, where knowledge is shared, goals are mutually identified, designed and collaboratively implemented. When parents and families understand your purpose, recognize common interests, and are given the tools and skills to support and fully align with them, children fare better, relationships become more meaningful,
and come to life in the classroom, the home and the community at large-inseparably.

The pathway to this end is through authenticity, trust, respect and reciprocal communication.With a focus on strengths and solutions- finding, we must adopt a genuine appreciation for diversity, culture, language, family structure, etc… Unless and until we can honestly say that we understand the impact of our own culture and cultural experiences, as it influences our cultural lens, we are challenged to engage in family-centered practices with cultural competence.

Cultural competence is also at the core of family-centered practices, when working with children and their families. To respectfully teach and engage a child in learning is to respect and engage that child’s family and with that child’s culture. Demonstrating respect for the culture is to recognize the differences, acknowledge the similarities, and communicate, in conversation or classroom instruction, responsively. This brings us to ‘mirrors and windows’. Children require, not maybe, but definitely, require in their best interests, a healthy balance of both mirrors and windows in the classroom, within a curriculum framed by a broad and inclusive lens.

Eurocentricity and windows-focused curricula and instruction defy the ‘whole child-whole family’ philosophy, and is harmful to the comprehensive growth and development of children. It also negates our responsibility to empower every child and his or her family, as well. If diversity is represented in a school community, especially, and the instruction does not address, affirm or highlight that diversity, we are ‘mis-educating’ the child, disempowering the family and  performing a great disservice to that community.

Family-centered practices place children and families at the fore and central consideration at the core of curriculum, policy, practice, and procedural design and protocol…if indeed we endeavor to act in the best interest of children, and to help them realize their potential for school, career, and life success.

“So goes the family; So goes the nation.”... interconnectedness!

How Do You Measure Parent-Child Connectedness?

mom teen

Parent-Child Connectedness [PCC] has been defined as a positive, high quality emotional bond between a parent and child. It is mutually felt by both parent and child and is long-lasting.  Since it is sustained over time, research has shown that it is a “super-protector”, as it outweighs and mitigates most risk factors for children and adolescents. Linked to positive outcomes for adolescents, PCC is protective against delinquency/truancy, violent and aggressive behaviors, poor academic performance and a host of others.

PCC may buffer youngsters from the many challenges and risks that children face today. It has also been associated with 33 adolescent outcomes such as tobacco use, depression, pregnancy, eating disorders, HIV infection and more. How can PCC be linked with both positive and negative outcomes for children? Youth outcomes are greatly dependent upon level or the degree to which parent-child connectedness exists in a family unit.

PCC is not only important in traditional 2-parent homes, nuclear families, but equally influential in single headed households, as well. The key lies within the relationship between child and primary caregiver[s]. What does it look like?

To start, let’s get some general information about PCC:

  • PCC develops differently during different developmental stages of a child’s life.
  • For PCC to exist, it must be mutual. BOTH parent and child must feel it.
  • Parents with a strong connection to their children are more likely to see positive results when they model/teach positive behaviors, values and messages. Unfortunately, the effects of connectedness also hold when parents model negative behaviors.
  • Parent-child connection comes about as a result of the act of parenting, that is care-giving, and as such, is not necessarily dependent on the presence of biological parents or a particular family structure, such as the nuclear family.
  •  Communication (e.g., a topical discussion about sex) and involvement (e.g., attending open-school night) are two important behaviors needed for developing and maintaining parent-child connectedness, but neither behavior alone results in a state of high parent-child connectedness.
  • Ecological contexts, such as economics, public policy and neighborhood, have significant effects on families and their ability to promote connectedness. For example, parents coping with poverty are apt to experience more stress and illness. These effects may mean that parents have less time and energy to devote to connecting with their children.

    Seven key behaviors that PARENTS must consistently exhibit in order to establish and maintain connectedness with their child have been identified. These behaviors include:

    1) Providing for basic physiological needs (e.g., housing, nutrition, health care, etc.)

    2) Building and maintaining trust

    3) Demonstrating love, care and affection

    4) Sharing in activities with their teens

    5) Communicating effectively including the effective giving of, receiving and understanding messages

    6) Preventing, negotiating and resolving conflicts

    7) Establishing and maintaining structure including: a) establishing expectations, b) monitoring effectively, c) disciplining effectively, and d)providing positive reinforcement.

According to Lezin, et.al. in 2004, Parent-Child Connectedness is basically a “lasting bond between parent and child based on mutual respect, trust, love, and affection – all demonstrated in day-to-day interactions and expressed freely as both parent and child move through their relationship together” . They concluded that four constructs are essential for the cultivation of parent-child connectedness: a climate of trust, communication, structure, and time together.

To simplify this discussion, this concept closely aligns with parenting adolescents and the ongoing relationship parameters set by parent and felt by child. It is the structure of the boundaries established by parent that guide and inform outcomes. Communication and parenting style can vary from family to family. But, there are clear variables which, when in place, are key determinants of youth outcome.

PCC can be instrumental in risk prevention and a vehicle for cultivating assets. It is important to view youth as resources, people possessing strengths rather than problems to be solved. If this characterizes a parent or helping professional’s perception of adolescent youth, there must be a shift in thinking. Try using an alternative lens and discard the deficit perspective. Focus on strengths of both parent and child, and build upon them.

If your work involves engaging families and parents, it is important that some of these key factors pertaining to PCC be addressed. Supportive programming should include work centered around positive youth development for parents. Positive youth development occurs when the strengths of youth are supported with external resources such as schools and youth-serving organizations. The outcome of this alignment is operationalized by the Five Cs: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.


Competence refers to the youth’s positive view of his or her actions in domain specific areas including social, cognitive, academic, and vocational.  Confidence refers to the youth’s internal sense of self-worth and self-efficacy; one’s global self-regard rather than domain specific beliefs. Connection refers to the youth’s positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in bi-directional exchanges between the individual and peers, family, school, and community in which both parties contribute to the relationship. Character refers to the youth’s respect for societal and cultural rules, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong, and integrity. Caring refers to the youth’s sense of sympathy and empathy for others. When these are in place, a child is seen as “thriving” and life trajectories flourish rather than resemble risk and problematic behaviors.


Family cohesion, communication, involvement and supervision all are factors which define family strength, and hence the strength of presence of the Five C’s in children. Work with families must incorporate strategies and interventions which enhance and increase total child and family wellness, and PCC components which will strengthen families, as the primary objective. As we highlight all of these components, parents will tend to engage with schools more readily, and thus partner with educators to ensure comprehensive positive socio-emotional and academic development of their children.

Parents can maximize their capacity to enhance the bonds between themselves and their child, and family workers can assist in that regard. At school or in the community, the tools and skills which guide the relationship between parent and child should support positive parenting and positive youth development, and can be acquired and reinforced within meaningful and culturally responsive alliances. Mindful parents, mindful educator and other professionals will certainly lay the groundwork for raising mindful youth. Remember this: It will always take a village!




What is it about swimming and Black people?

There is an historical myth/stereotype about swimming which says that ‘black people don’t swim’. Partially true that myth is, but do we know why? Most of us do not or have never endeavored to give it much consideration. So, it just lingered in the hearts and minds of many. This is my somewhat abbreviated explanation:

The truthful aspect of the stereotypic presumption stems from the notorious passages by which large groups of Africans were first shackled for future ‘slave’ labor and imported into North America and the nearby Caribbean islands. First, an internalized fear of water developed out of the trauma of capture and the horrific voyage across the seas. Upon these ships were very afraid humans, who were being taken somewhere strange, aboard a strange vessel, and traveling along a waterway far from home. Imagine that association! Along the voyage, many experienced or witnessed others being tortured, beaten, killed and thrown overboard, prey to the creatures of the deep and the elements. Many times, they weren’t dead before being thrown into the water. Imagine that imagery and the future negative association with water! So, swimming?? No way.

They then landed at places unknown, and in places where they were not only  viewed as sub-human, but treated as though un–human. As beautiful and as peaceful water is widely perceived, there was an already present fear, which was surely in contradiction with their desires to depart this land and return to their homelands where they were once free people. Water was the highway to freedom, yet they didn’t know how to get there, nor did they possess the wherewithal to get there.

Access to water, lakes, rivers, etc…, forbidden, except under watchful eye of whites, to whom they were ‘traded’ like livestock. There were no ‘inalienable’ rights, not even the right to live or breathe. All privileges were inaccessible, except for a few chosen persons. That is not to say that some of the enslaved blacks did not secretly learn to read, write, count, or swim, because some did. They risked their safety, life and limb to do any of these things. Access denied. As we progress into a post-slavery era, many people fought to continue to withhold certain privileges and limit access to that which would and should have been considered an American and human right.

Access and opportunity became a central theme of restriction as it pertained to black people, in the U.S. , both the north and south. Privilege described white people’s unrestricted rights in this country, and it was by design. Even into the 20th and 21st Centuries, access to a neighborhood swimming pool for people of color was few and far between- still largely inaccessible. At one time, pools were either restricted to whites only or they were segregated, as were drinking facilities, etc…. Whites had pools in their backyards, and people of color were lucky to have one in their entire community.
As black people migrated into the north and other places, many of which were inhabited by whites, whites moved out. They moved, took their wealth, privilege, and amenities with them. Stores closed, as did movie theaters, and pools.

Communities of color began to take on a generalized look of desolation, and disrepair, limited job opportunities and little chance for upward mobility in this nation. Strategically, there was a social and political denial of access and privilege to African-Americans and among other things, were there any existing fears of swimming, they were exacerbated by limited access.

Today, things are better, and now we see an entirely different mindset and new policies characterize a more humanistic landscape of the socio-political climate in this country. Access to what some may call the ‘creature comforts’ afforded to Americans, has improved for many blacks whose ancestors were strategically denied such access. Descendants of the original enslaved peoples now see a turnaround. Government officials, city planners, and businesses are  working to ensure equity in this society, and in NYC, which includes ensuring access to public pools, as well.

This young nation of ours is growing up, little by little. Some decision-makers recognize the necessity of targeting those communities which continue to resemble the objectives of a former discriminatory mindset.  We have been called to replace, rejuvenate and repair the fragmented services, opportunities and access once mostly denied or removed from the reach of people of color. It, change, must start somewhere and a neighborhood pool is one step along the way to a more equitable and purely democratic society. Time to teach people of color to swim! What do you think?

These were the depths of my thoughts after reading a recent article published in the New York Times. In their Race/Related series, this was definitely a good read. To read more, follow the link below:
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Schools: Do Parents Want ‘Good’ or More ‘Choice’?


The American public-school system is one of the pillars of our democracy,  funded by taxpayers—state, local and, for the past 15 years, federal governments. The money is allocated according to the number of children in each district that it is mandated to educate. Thus, each child enrolled in a public school is worth an assigned amount of cash. If parents opt to send a child to a private school, that’s fine, their taxes still go towards  public education because public education is  also seen as a public good. Its mission is to provide education for ALL children, including children with English as a second language, children with learning and physical disabilities.

key to success

As a parent, what would you want from your child’s school? Where would you want your child to attend school if all schools were equally resourced? My choice, as a parent, would be to send my child to my neighborhood school. When my child reaches 9th grade, perhaps school choice would make more sense, because high schools often have specializations which match a child’s career interests and academic aptitude.

In the early grades, all public schools should offer the same standard of instructional quality for all children everywhere with the only differences related to location-not race, income or community. That ensures equitable educational experiences. In rural America, does school choice make sense for them? In poorer neighborhoods, school choice may always be a viable option for some parents, but why should sending my child miles away, to ride a subway or crowded bus, sometimes 2 or 3, be the only way to ensure that my child receives a good education? Is that not ridiculously inequitable at its core?

A parent should have the right to send their child to any school he or she feels aligns with their child’s particular academic, developmental, physiological  needs. Once again, when we afford every child a quality filled experience in our public school system, choice may be exercised. In financially disadvantaged neighborhoods, if we must consider the reality for so many families. For the most part, parents will have very limited choices, but to enroll their child in local schools. Unless relocating into a new area, children attend schools within their ‘zoned’ district. Sure there is school choice, but choice is only afforded to the more advantaged families.

The American Federation of Teachers enlisted Hart Research Associates to conduct an online survey, and polled parents- Hispanic, African-American, and whites on the ‘state of the schools’. Parents were asked a series of questions centered around their perspectives on public schools. When asked about school choice, overwhelmingly, parents indicated their preference for good quality neighborhood schools over school choice. The responses from the parents in the subject pool resulted in the identification of five themes:

1. Parents say public schools are helping their children achieve their full potential and expanding opportunity for low-income and minority children.

2. Parents want access to a good neighborhood public school much more than increased choice of schools. Their highest priorities for these schools are providing a safe and secure environment, developing their children’s knowledge and skills, and ensuring equal opportunity for all kids.

3. Parents worry about several trends in education today, including inadequate funding, excessive standardized testing, class size increases, cutting non-academic subjects, teacher turnover, and shifting resources from regular schools to charters and vouchers.

4. Parents disapprove of Betsy DeVos’ performance as Secretary of Education and reject her “choice” agenda. They express little confidence in either DeVos or Donald Trump as education leaders, instead looking to teachers, principals, and parent organizations for the right ideas for public education.

5. Parents’ education agenda focuses on investing in traditional public schools, with particular emphasis on expanding access to CTE programs, reducing class size, supporting struggling neighborhood schools, including art and music in curriculums, and providing health and nutrition services. They strongly oppose shifting resources from traditional public schools to fund either charter schools or vouchers.

Though this survey was not exhaustive of all parents’ opinions, the ‘randomly sampled’ participants were written as, “….national survey consisted of interviews with 1,200 public school parents (parents with children who attend a regular public school and/or a charter public school), and included subsamples of 233 African-American parents, 371 Hispanic parents, and 196 parents in major U.S. cities.”, it still serves as  an informative and very useful for education decision-makers. The people have spoken, including those non-descript ‘parents’. Was it a Freudian example or quite intentional omission of descriptor of the 196? African-American and Hispanic parents were identified in the subsample. Food for thought! 

I will leave you with these points to ponder, and consider as we move forward into the 21st Century in America. As an ABC show asks the audience, “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”