The Room Where it Happens: Bringing All Stakeholders to the Table

To loosely quote Hamilton, we ALL want to be in the room where it happens. What does it look like when all the stakeholders ARE in the room where it happens, but not everyone knows? For anyone who saw the video of the school board executive session that was unintentionally streamed to the public, you witnessed one unfortunate outcome. What would it be like if we always spoke as if everyone was in the room? Or what if every stakeholder actually WAS in the room? Join the Mental Health Mamas as we talk about taking sides, positive partnership and building trust.

Notes and Mentions

Partners in Education: A Dual-Capacity Building Framework for Family School Partnerships written by Karen Mapp and Paul Kuttner

The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships (Version 2) https://www.dualcapacity.org/


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Transcript

Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

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Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.

Tina: So…..can we talk about the story that made national news in the past few weeks? Did you see the video?

Serena: Oh yes. I saw that video and it was painful.

Tina: And if you haven’t seen it, the video went live on Youtube after a school board executive session streamed to the general public. In the video, the school board members said quite disparaging things about parents including the one comment that made me totally bristle, “They want their babysitters back.” It was surprising and yet….

Serena: And yet in the role we play, we hear people share lots of things including assumptions they are making about the people who are NOT in the room.

Tina: Mmhm. For many years Serena and I have played a role in fostering family/school partnership and supporting families as peers and not as advocates. This is an important distinction because we do not ever advocate FOR families but instead encourage families to find their voice. The place we do find ourselves sharing themes we have heard and I guess where we are advocating in a way, is at the county, state and the kind of “systems” levels. We constantly ask people, you know the people with the power and the funding to invite parents to the table to better understand what life is like for us. We also invite stakeholders to meet as if there are always family members in the room. Because if we all talk like all the stakeholders are at the table, it levels the playing field. Does that make sense?

Serena: That makes total sense. But let’s back up for a minute and talk about some of the things that were said at that meeting in which they didn’t think that the stakeholders were in the room.

Tina: Let’s do it. One of the statements was, “They forget there are people on the other side of those letters that they’re writing.”

Serena: Mmhm. Another was, “It’s easy to hide behind their screens but when you’re face to face with people, it’s a whole different ball game.”

Tina: And one other is, “They don’t know what we do behind the scenes.”

Serena: So I’m curious if you noticed anything about these statements?

Tina: Yeah, I guess I can put aside my bristling in anger at the group of people who are acting, who were supposed to be the acting leaders, right? I notice that perhaps they were feeling hurt? Maybe unappreciated? And certainly frustrated.

Serena: Mmhm. Yeah. And I can imagine that the families are feeling the same things.

Tina: Yes, I agree. Let’s go ahead and just add the school employees into that mix as well, right?

Serena: Right. All the feels on all sides. The other thing I noticed when I thought about these statements apart from the incident was that anyone could have said them. The parents in the district were probably expressing very similar concerns about not being heard and the leaders not understanding what the parents are doing “behind the scenes”.

Tina: Serena, there is a word you just used that is likely a big part of the problem.

Serena: Ok. Which one?

Tina: “Sides”. When we are in “us vs them” mode as we’ve talked about before or if we take sides, we are not working in partnership.

Serena: That is so very true. Before we dive into the idea of partnership a bit more, I’d like to share a few quotes from families since we just shared some other quotes. I read these in the past week and this was about family experiences during the pandemic with education and mental health.

Tina: Yes. The National Federation of Families shared the results of a survey in which they received responses from 1100 families. There were responses from families in all 50 states and this survey represented about 2300 children. Here are a few quotes that stood out for us:

Serena: A parent in West Virginia said, “I am a working mother and feel constantly like I am being asked to choose between my child and my career. There is no choice because without my income we lose our home. I am a strong person, but I am begging for help.”

Tina: And here’s a parent from Indiana: “I have become depressed and anxious. I can't manage my work on top of helping my 6-year-old manage his school schedule and learn new material. It's absolutely exhausting.”

Serena: And here’s one more from a parent in Georgia, “I’m very concerned about the inequality in what different families are able to provide their children. The most vulnerable (special needs, non-English speaking families, poor) are likely going to fall further behind while the wealthier, more privileged ride this out with fewer impacts.”

Tina: Yeah and there are many more. We will post a link to the survey results in the show notes and we will warn you, it is not particularly hopeful, quite honestly. Clearly this goes way beyond needing the babysitters back and we need to find a way to hear one another in a better way.

Serena: Mmhm. So let’s go back to the idea of partnership.

Tina: Yes, partnership is super important. And I think that the bottom line and perhaps the remedy, if you will, for this kind of toxic acting out by school representatives, families, students, is building a foundation of trust and respect. Trust and respect are the foundation of partnership. We have done a ton of reading about this in the context of family engagement. And just to be clear, many state educational systems have identified, as they do their check boxes, family engagement as an area of “needs improvement”.

Serena: Mmhm. Yeah. And perhaps that family engagement piece is something we dive deeper into in another episode. But let’s go ahead and explore that building of trust and respect.

Tina: Yes. Let’s do it. And please know that we believe that trust and respect, we understand it is not an easy check box. It takes time and effort and mostly it takes intention. We all have to work together and the folks in power have to take that first step and take the lead. When we first started our family-school partnership, as we said, we did a ton of reading and one of the most powerful documents was called Partners in Education: A Dual-Capacity Building Framework for Family School Partnerships and it’s written by Karen Mapp and Paul Kuttner. We will again link it. It’s a very awesome document. Everyone should read it.

Serena: Absolutely. So in this document, there are some very concrete and powerful examples of family-school partnership and building of relational trust. And the first one comes in the form of home visits. But not just any home visit.

Tina: Mmhm. So not the kind of home visit that everyone cringes about, for sure. Because home visits, as many of us know them, can be very triggering for families and when families feel triggered…

Serena: Yes, let’s talk about that for a moment and then we’ll get back to the home visits. So Tina and I have learned a bit about brain science as it relates to trauma and regulation and it seems to explain a lot about people’s reactions, like in the video.

Tina: Yes. And while there is a LOT to learn about the brain and its inner workings, we will really focus on this specific topic, the reactions people have to one another. In short, when a parent, kid, or a teacher or any person feels a threat is present they leave that frontal cortex or what we might call the upstairs part of their brain and go straight to the fight, flight or freeze or that limbic lower-brain region, the true survival part of your brain. We sometimes call it the downstairs brain. When you feel that threat, you leave the reasoning portion and head downstairs to the place of fight, flight or freeze. And the response is very primal. It was meant literally to be a survival mechanism for when you see a bear in the woods and your body needs to shut down major functions to focus on survival. This is often when, as we saw in the video, people say things that aren’t really….well, they’re not really their best, most reasonable selves.

Serena: Right. When you understand the brain science behind the behaviors, it makes perfect sense. If we’re not in the thinking or upstairs part of our brains, we literally lose the ability to reason or be reasonable.

Tina: And I will add that it also hampers your ability to hear what’s going on and that is important especially as we circle back to this home visit piece. So let’s circle back to that. The home visit piece and that building of relationships and trust.

Serena: Right. So, I’m gonna share a quote about the home visits. “These visits provide opportunities for educators to spend time in the neighborhoods in which they work and to listen to the perspectives of community members. The visits are not designed to be assessments of families; rather, they are relational in nature and are specifically designed to be respectful of families’ assets and strengths and to build the capacity of both the educator and the family to support the academic and social success of every student.” And then it goes on to say, “Teachers begin the home visit conversations by asking families to share their hopes and dreams for their child as well as information about their child’s strengths and possible challenges.”

Tina: I love that! And listen to the quotes from the parents, “What made me more engaged was the home visit. When they first called about the home visit, I was very skeptical. I thought it was a CPS,” or Child Protection Service, “visit. For the teacher to take the initiative, to come to my area where I live and have no problem with it, to sit in my living room, and ask about me and my child, that really meant something to me. It meant that this person is going to be my partner, and we are going to work together, and she cares for my child. The whole time we discussed my child. For me, that was the first engagement that signaled a change for me. Before, I used to always be on my guard and feeling defensive. I’m not defensive anymore. I really appreciate that—by my not being defensive, it allows me to take in information. At one time, I was so defensive I wouldn’t hear a thing. Now, I trust when my children are here,” meaning at school, “that they are in good hands. The staff has welcomed me to the point that now that they can say anything and tell me things and I’ll feel okay about it.”

Serena: So there it is right there. That parent talks about feeling so defensive that they couldn’t hear what was being told to them and just by building that relationship, she was able to hear what they had to say. Here’s another quote that I’d like to share with you from another parent, ”To make a long story short, that home visit was the best visit of my life. Now, the teacher and I are so connected. I really appreciate these home visits; when I was coming up we received home visits, but they were for CPS,” again Child Protective Services, “or they were for attendance issues. Home visits were for a lot of negative issues and so there are a lot of negative connotations around the idea of home visits. I’m glad that is changing.”

Tina: Yeah. Amazing. And if you are wondering about this from the teacher perspective, “Teachers commented that the effect of the summer and early fall home visits was felt “instantly.” The framework document continues to say that these home visits seem to shift the entire culture of engagement. So...we must intentionally build trust. It truly is the foundation of positive family-school relationships. And we need that now more than ever when families and teachers are being asked to do it all!

Serena: We started this podcast episode talking about the stakeholders and not only talking like everyone is in the room but also inviting all stakeholders to the table.

Tina: Yeah, we love the phrase, “We not only need to be invited to the dance, we need to be asked to dance.” And for me that speaks to the trust, respect and equity needed to be in “The Room Where It Happens”, right? I’m not gonna sing, but that’s from Hamilton if you don’t know that.

Serena: It is clear that the challenges that this particular school district is facing run quite deep and I would guess that there is a lack of trust and respect on all sides. And there’s that word again...the sides, right? But I really think that there’s no other way to talk about this particular situation. This school district has a lot of work ahead to create a different climate and culture.

Tina: Right. Hopefully we can all learn from this kind of extreme example. So, to sum up, here are the things we’d like you to hear from today.

Serena: If we all speak to one another as if everyone is present, all the stakeholders are in the room, situations like this just won’t even happen.

Tina: Exactly. Partnership is not only possible but necessary for change to happen.

Serena: And the foundation of partnership is about building trust with one another...which will never happen as long as we’re sticking to an “us vs. them” mentality.

Tina: Mmm. Yes! And so podcast friends, we are, as always very grateful to all of you for listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leave a review, and subscribe and share with others. You’ll also find more content on our website, NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks for listening!

Serena: Bye!

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