What Might Aesop’s Fables Say About Glitzy Media Parent Involvement Campaigns?

I’ve been reading more lately about a campaign called Be There, which appears to be provided by a public relations agency to school districts (supposedly at no cost) and is designed to promote “parent involvement.”

Based on what I have read, the main focus seems to be a fairly glitzy media campaign of posters, public service announcements, and videos.

I’m sure that everybody is very well-intentioned — both the provider of the campaign and the school districts participating. However, I’m always concerned about efforts like this that are focused on media talking “to” people, instead of of emphasizing a priority of genuinely developing reciprocal relationships of people talking “with” each other.

The beginning of our book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, speaks to this point in this way:

The Jay And The Peacock

A jay venturing into a yard where peacocks used to walk, found there a number of feathers which had fallen from the peacocks when they were molting. He tied them all to his tail and strutted down towards the peacocks. When he came near them they soon discovered the cheat, and striding up to him pecked at him and plucked away his borrowed plumes. So the jay could do no better than go back to the other jays, who had watched his behavior from a distance; but they were equally annoyed with him, and told him:

“It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.”

(from Aesop’s Fables )

This fable is about a bird who thought that a few feathers could make him be something he was not. This book is about why and how it is in schools’ self-interest to have a parent engagement strategy that does not settle at having a few parents on a school site council, or even a large number coming to a Back-to-School night… This book is about providing specific ways that schools can avoid the same trap as the jay. Tempting as it may be, and as challenging as it may be to do more, a few parents (or even many of them) coming to a meeting or periodically turning-out large numbers of parents to a school event and calling it parent engagement does not make it an effective parent engagement strategy.

I might add that a media campaign doesn’t make it one, either.

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