By Le’Joy White, Guest Contributor
As a high school college and career counselor, I have regularly been in the position of giving information to students. I talk to them about curriculums, admission requirements, SAT/ACT exams, internships, employment, the list goes on and on.
My speeches on college and career were rarely interrupted by the audience of students and parents. I was an expert in their eyes. Although we claim not to know it all, our behavior indicates otherwise. Counselors are taught to ask questions, listen, and respond. However, you are not told to encourage students or families to share what they know and to respect the banks of knowledge that they bring with them into that meeting or workshop.
“Forming a mutually respectful university-community partnership through a ‘family as faculty’ project” made me question my approaches and some of the best practices that I have learned over the years. Are we missing an important perspective that could provide us with even more information about our students?
Family as Faculty describes “an approach to teaching or research in which family members take on a leadership role, teach others through their insider perspectives, and broaden understandings of those with are working with or for their children” (Heller & McKlindon, 1996; Johnson, Yoder, & Richardson-Nassif, 2006). Although this article focuses on a university and community partnership, I believe it can apply to any school and community partnership.
Family as Faculty was a new concept for me that focuses on families and their power. As a college and career counselor, I often saw what the parents needed to know and the gaps in their knowledge. This was a deficit mindset that lead to a generalization that all families did not know about the topics we discussed. I am sure, if I had asked, that there were parents that understood the financial aid process or admission requirements. This was a missed opportunity for true family engagement, leadership, and advocacy. Families and peers are often the most influential on student success and college and career decisions.
The article highlights first the need for “mutually defined and beneficial” goals. In the high school setting, this can be accomplished through initial family meetings and discussions by engaging families in conversation about topics they feel they need more resources or support with. These topics or concerns then become the shared goals for the counselor and the families.
Beyond the shared goals, opportunities for families to share their knowledge is critical in Family as Faculty. This means leading or co-facilitating workshops, small group discussions, or panels to discuss their experiences and learnings. In this model, counselors can research alongside families, develop knowledge together, and build the skills of families.
The authors of the article stress reciprocity and the value of compensating families that act as co-educators or facilitators. We often fund external organizations to lead trainings or workshops, so why not families? Sustainability is something to consider, but as discussed in the article, this is a sign of appreciation and recognition of the time and effort invested into the project.
This article reminded me that I am not the only expert in the room and that the lived experiences of families can add a critical perspective to the conversation that is often missing. It is possible to accomplish the goals of ensuring that all students are aware of their college and career options, while partnering with families in a meaningful way. I believe this model takes family engagement into family partnership and ultimately creates an environment for families to advocate for their child, create and contribute to their goals, and share their knowledge, skills, and insight to impact student success.
Le’Joy White is an Urban Educations Studies Doctoral Student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.