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Six, Going on Sixteen

By Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

From its inception in 1996, Tellin' Stories has worked through careful experimentation and ongoing conversations with school stakeholders to develop a comprehensive approach that enables parents to assume and sustain powerful roles in the public schools. Their work is based on four different strands of collaborative activity, which are outlined below. All of these strands are guided by ongoing reflection with parents and school staff to assess accomplishments, understand shortcomings and difficulties, and plan future direction. Contrary to cookie-cutter approaches to educational reform driven by the search for some standardized formula, the Tellin' Stories staff believes that fundamental educational change can only emerge through painstaking work rooted in understanding and responding to the school communities they work with. Thus Tellin' Stories staff members and the school's parents emphasize different strands at different times in response to the particular history, dynamics, challenges, and resources of each school and community. All of the strands emerge in a mutually reinforcing manner, and they all have a distinct role to play throughout the organizing process. Similar to the most effective grassroots organizing of the Civil Rights Movement, Tellin' Stories' approach is based on the conviction that "ordinary people" have tremendous potential to shape their own lives and grow into powerful actors in the public arena.

1) Community-Building?Through sharing personal stories and problems, exploring and appreciating differences, and implementing cooperative projects, parents build trust and commitment to common goals.

2) Gathering Information and Developing Skills?Parents gain knowledge and abilities they can use to more effectively meet the needs of their families and to analyze the climate, facilities, and quality of classroom learning at their child's school.

3) Prioritizing Concerns and Taking Action?By learning to ask the right questions, parents prioritize concerns and determine who has the power to address them most immediately and effectively. Parents then act on their concerns through direct classroom involvement, individual lobbying of elected and appointed officials, and effective participation in teacher meetings, school board and city council hearings, and sessions with district officials.

4) Collaborating?Parents gain confidence as respected and effective collaborators with teachers, principals, central office personnel, and elected and appointed officials.

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