Duncan Taylor is the Family & Community Engagement Director for the Washington State PTA. We asked him to share his thoughts on the value of family and community engagement, and what successeful engagement looks like in our schools and with our PTAs today.
In the pantheon of PTA nomenclature and vernacular, is there any term or phrase more nebulous than Family & Community Engagement (FACE)? Try this, right now as you’re reading this post; say out loud what you think FACE is. Go ahead, I’ll wait. No no, out loud I said, and I mean it. Here, I’ll do it along with you, ready? Three…two…one…FACE is:
How’s this for a magic trick – I know for a fact that what you just said out loud is different from what I said out loud when I composed that paragraph. How could I possibly know that? Because FACE doesn’t lend itself to a singular definition, and that’s a really good thing!
Think about it like this; when we engage, we do so via a myriad of methods, right? Conversation can be engagement. Volunteer service can be engagement. Advocacy can be engagement. And dozens of other actions we undertake can be engagement. Which reveals to us the overarching definition of FACE – it’s all about what we do.
Connecting with families in your community – The thing is, FACE isn’t a check box on a monthly PTA task-list. It has to run deeper than that. FACE is at the core of what it means to be a PTA – the idea that by being part of something larger than our local school community, we serve the interests of all children. FACE is the action we undertake to connect families in our communities with the opportunities that will benefit their children. It depends on the collaboration and partnership between your school, the community it serves, and the other institutions and organizations that provide services to children and families.
So right about now, you’re nodding your head at the conceptual framework I’ve just laid out, but you’re feeling a little impatient with me. You want me to give you something concrete you and your PTA can do. On that front, I have good news…and some bad.
The good news first; I can give you some excellent ideas (none of them mine) on specific, concrete things you and your local PTA can do that directly connect children and families with opportunities that will benefit them. And I can even break down those ideas in terms of opportunities to serve and opportunities to be served. But I can’t tell you if any of these ideas will work in your community. FACE is all about meeting the children and families in your community where they are.
The many faces of FACE – Here’s what PTA members are doing to provide meaningful FACE in their communities. A number of PTAs either directly, or through a partnership with another organization, provide food to families in their school community. Other PTAs provide a clothing bank for members of their community who are in need. If your family and PTA have plenty, these are great ways for you to do something as a PTA family to directly serve children.
FACE also encompasses inclusion – the idea that we must specifically reach out to the members of our communities who may not be represented in PTA member/leadership. What you do as a PTA to be culturally competent and relevant, so that your PTA looks like the community in which you live and serve, is absolutely FACE.
Here’s the bad news; I can’t tell you exactly what the needs are in your community. FACE, like any of PTA’s grassroots efforts, has to meaningfully reflect the communities in which we live and serve. I said before that FACE isn’t a checkbox, which means I can’t just tell you, “Do this thing here,” and have that suffice. It’s up to each and everyone of us, as individuals and PTA members, to ensure that we intentionally engage our families and our communities in the work we do.
Above all, remember that you never need go it alone – if there’s anything I can do to help you in your efforts, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to serve you.
Learn more about Washington State PTA, the largest non-profit, volunteer organization in the state with more than 130,000 members in more than 875 local PTAs, at their website here. Connect with Duncan Taylor to learn more about FACE at his email [email protected].