If You’re an Educator Who Thinks We Need to Hold Parents Accountable, You Need to Do Some Soul Searching

Apr 9, 2018 12:00:00 AM

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Time and time again, I’ve heard educators say that the lack of parental engagement in their schools is what is holding them back. But, when I listen to families, in Philly or Chicago or any other urban city, I hear about the shoes that educators often don’t slip on. Families speak of unwelcoming environments—hostile, even. They speak of educators who fail to consistently demonstrate the humility and respect that serving others should engender. I hear families who know that education is a key component of their child’s success, but also demand for their humanity to be respected and honored. Families know it is a privilege for educators to teach their children and they want us to act like it.

Some Soul Searching

Educators get frustrated with a child’s spotty attendance or reading level, or even their misbehavior, though it is often age-appropriate or trauma-induced. They sometimes place the blame on the family. And, while I believe that families are a child’s first teachers, educators are crucial to developing the systems of support needed for our children. I cringe every time I hear a teacher or a principal say that they need to hold parents accountable. What I hope they mean is that they deeply desire a partnership with the families of those they serve. But I’m not naive enough to think that educators never resort to judgment and shaming before pursuing the parental partnerships they desperately seek. Teachers and principals should not seek to hold families accountable. [pullquote position="right"]We should hold ourselves accountable for being the best, most welcoming partners we can be.[/pullquote]

Black Families and Trust

It is unreasonable for educators to expect that Black families should automatically trust other Black folks who are working within the existing school system. As Cecil B. Moore, a legendary Philly activist, once frustratedly (but accurately) said, “Often when I get a Black man a good job, I make another White man.” In other words, Moore meant successful Black people, including educators, can fall into traps of “serving” Black families while simultaneously holding them in contempt. When the sacred work of service and teaching is approached with this elitist mindset, it only pushes families further from embracing the school as partners. All educators should consistently do some deep soul searching to determine what implicit biases they may harbor about the people and communities they profess to serve. Even when we believe we have the right outlook about service, biases may surface. It is ongoing work and professional development. As educators we should be the first to recognize the deep-seated and well-deserved mistrust of institutions, including public schools, in our marginalized and oppressed communities. For generations, government institutions have conspicuously demonstrated that they were not established for the well-being of Black students and communities. Policies and practices were deeply anti-Black. As a form of resistance, some families decided not to put all of their eggs in the public school basket. It is a huge step for educators to recognize the deep and historic mistrust Black communities have for many institutions—even institutions with Black folks in them, like schools. Next, educators need to ensure that they have a welcoming school. That they hold themselves accountable for students’ performance, regardless of who the parent is. That they are as transparent as possible about how they serve other people’s children. When we hold ourselves accountable for how well we serve children, families will respond. Together, we can build the ecosystem that our communities’ children deserve. I deeply believe in the power of partnerships to move schools to higher levels of achievement, and the partnership and engagement of families is the most important of them all.

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a nationally relevant model to measurably increase teacher diversity and support Black educators through four pillars: Professional learning, Pipeline, Policies and Pedagogy. So far, the Center has developed ongoing and direct professional learning and coaching opportunities for Black teachers and other educators serving students of color. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting a Freedom School that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators. Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. El-Mekki’s school, Mastery Charter Shoemaker, was recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and was awarded the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. The Shoemaker Campus was also recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students. Over the years, El-Mekki has served as a part of the U.S. delegation to multiple international conferences on education. He is also the founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Philly's 7th Ward, is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.

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