Parents Play a Vital Role in Building a Sense of Belonging

About 35 parents came to this morning’s “Coffee With Khan” at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, where my two children are 8th graders. That’s about triple the usual number, and one-third the huge turnout two weeks ago that was sparked by concerns about student behavior, safety, and the administration’s restorative-justice model of responding to children’s disruptive and violent behavior.

From this morning’s “Coffee With Khan.”

This latest session was filled with much productive dialogue, and plenty of variation, I’m sure, in what resonates with any given parent.

One profoundly vital remark came from Brooks PTO Co-President Kelly Flemming. She emphasized the importance of parents and entire families connecting with one another. This is particularly valuable, Kelly noted, when seeking to deepen relationships with families that, for whatever reason(s), have children who are not engaged in extra-curricular activities or are otherwise not accessing as much of what Brooks has to offer.

One way of looking at it: what are we doing, as individuals, to go beyond our comfort zones? Too often, our tendency is to stay in our own cliques and walk away without having a meaningful conversation with someone new. Our lives are enriched when we step out of our comfort zone, expand the base of people we know by name, and see how we can build a stronger mutual sense of belonging and serve one another.

Brooks Principal LeeAndra Khan refers to this as “leaning into discomfort.”

On a practical level, the benefit of that “leaning” could mean a parent building a relationship sufficiently to make this simple request of another mom or dad: “Would you be able to drive my child home from XYZ Activity?”

I don’t know the data points on this, but from the sounds of it, children who live at a greater distance from the school may face a bigger obstacle in participating in extra-curricular activities because their families do not have the ability to pick them up and take them home. From my years as a youth sports coach, I can attest to this reality–and the ease with which it can be overcome by arranging for another parent to provide that ride.

After the 1 1/2-hour meeting concluded, I chatted with a fellow dad whom I had only briefly met a few months ago. I also spoke with a longtime District 97 staffer who for the past eight years has served as a mentor to teachers. Both of those conversations were building blocks that I know will bear fruit in myriad ways in the future.

As parents and adult leaders in our community, we sometimes settle for scratching the surface of our potential to make a broader impact. Kudos to Ms. Khan and the Brooks PTO for consistently holding these gatherings to foster a space where we can hear from each other, learn from each other, and–perhaps most importantly–make these deeper, symbiotic connections.

To quote from another principle that Ms. Khan practices (and rightly preaches): this is hard work…and heart work.

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