At almost ever parent meeting I attend, folks wring their hands as they look around the room at the low attendance and ask, “How can we get more families involved?” and especially, Black families?
I had a crazy idea this year… I decided to ASK THEM.
About a week ago, my daughters’ principal and I hosted a Black Family Breakfast at our school. It was a great opportunity for black and mixed-race families to get to know one another and share experiences to make our school a better place for Black students.
We enjoyed it so much we all agreed we want to get more involved in our school to make sure all kids and families feel welcomed and supported. We also agreed we want to support our teachers in making Black culture more visible in academic curriculum, visual and performing arts activities, classroom and school libraries, school events and celebrations. In this effort, we agreed to meet again to continue our conversation and get more families involved.
Hold a Black Family Breakfast at Your Site
I highly recommend other principals convene these types of breakfasts in partnership with involved Black parents/grandparents at their sites. In order to make this easier, I created this generic invitation for other families and educators who may be interested in hosting a similar breakfast.
Before you do however, I HIGHLY recommend you consider the following basic recommendations….
Don’t Forget to Invite Mixed-Race Families
I can’t tell you how many times my girls and I get overlooked when folks talk about Black culture in our district. This makes sense because as a mixed family, my daughters and I are very light-skinned. We are not alone, specially in urban public schools, where there are MANY, MANY, mixed-race kids. Keeping this in mind, it’s important not to overlook non-Black parents/grandparents or mixed-race parents on your invitation list. All families of Black and mixed-race Black students should feel welcomed and invited to attend.
Similarly… Don’t Forget to Invite Grandparents!
Many of the most involved family members in our schools are grandparents. Many grandparents have more time to volunteer at school and be involved in family engagement efforts. Make sure to invite and welcome them too!
Create a Safe Space
Because creating a safe place for talking about racialized experiences is so important, I believe it’s important for the “host” of the meeting to be a black parent or grandparent. I also think a black teacher or administrator might also be able to host the meeting, but they would have to work extra hard to ensure families feel safe talking about both positive and negative experiences at the school in relation to race.
Think about Timing
We decided to hold our meeting right after kids went into school so we could catch as many parents and grandparents as we could. Schools could just as easily hold a pot-luck to catch working families afterschool. Ask around to see when might be a good time for other families. If you can’t find consensus, don’t worry about getting everyone. Focus on the best time for your MOST INVOLVED families.
Consider the Little Ones
You don’t need a lot, but considering the needs of toddlers and pre-school aged kids will go a long way if you want parents/grandparents with little ones to attend your meeting. Print out a variety of coloring pages (you can find these using an easy web search) and bring a box of crayons. Set out some building blocks and board books and you are good to go!
Keep the 1st Meeting Social and Informal
Parents and grandparents need time to get to know one another and build trust. Don’t try to stick to a rigid agenda. The keep to a first meeting is building trust. The best way to do this is to keep it informal and social. Offering food is a great way to create a warm and welcoming environment. (Who doesn’t like the smell of freshly brewed coffee!)
Ready to plan your own Black Family Breakfast?
I put together this helpful handout to help you plan outreach for this or another family meeting. If you’d like a suggested agenda for your meeting, this is the one I’d recommend:
1st Meeting Agenda
- Introduce yourself and explain reasons for convening the group.
- Spend time getting to know one another. Ask: Why are you here? What is your experience as a Black family at this school? How could this school be more supportive/welcoming for Black students? (If you’d like some other good suggestions, download this list of Black Family Friendly Questions.)
- Agree on next steps. Based on your conversation, you can ask: Would folks like to meet again? How can we involve more families next time? How can we share our collective experience with others at our school to increase support for our kids? (We are using this Black Family Friendly Survey. and hope to share the summarized results with staff and other parent leaders at our school.)
So, there you have it! Stay tuned to hear more about this project. If you have a successful Black Family group at your school. Please share your ideas in the comments below.