Top Ten Ways Family Engagement is Like Fishing

by Sally Wade, EdD.

My husband loves to watch fishing shows.  Personally, I find fishing pretty boring and fishing shows especially boring. One day, while I was enduring a fishing show that my channel surfing partner was enjoying, it dawned on me how much fishing is like family engagement. I was inspired by a funny top ten countdown from a late show I’d watched the night before… 

  1. Fishing has been studied a lot.
    The positive influence of families on their children’s success has been well documented and researched. 
  1. Fish belong in schools.
    Well, so do families…in early learning settings, preschools, kindergarten and all other kinds of schools.
  1. Good fishermen use many methods to catch fish.
    Educators use many strategies to engage families: home visits, technology, positive phone calls, family liaisons, welcoming environments, two-way communication, meetings, culturally honoring approaches, subject-matter information, and so on.
  1. Fishing is a mix of science, art and instinct.
    Family engagement takes a lot of skill and practice. Different settings and cultures call for differentiated approaches.  Growth in knowledge and experience enhances family engagement practice.
  1. If you wait too long after catching them, fish spoil.
    Engaging families early is most effective. This has three applications: (a) Starting early in a child’s life;  (b) Starting in the beginning or even before the first day of a program or school year; and (c) Building upon previous efforts by not waiting too long between contacts.
  1. Fishing is fun when they are biting.
    Having good relationships with families and the community is a positive experience. We all have had wonderful experiences getting to know families and exciting outcomes from our family engagement work.  Families often provide much appreciated information, encouragement and support. I feel honored to have become friends with many families throughout my career as an educator.
  1. People who fish love to tell horror stories.
    I’m not sure why this is true. Educators often share stories about the one or two difficult parent situations they have had. This is in spite of the many families with whom they have had positive experiences. It seems that the 99% is victim of the 1%, similar to Occupy Wall Street.
  1. Even good fishermen stretch the truth.
    How big was that fish?  How many different families came to math night?  I have often heard, “We love our parents.” Really? You love them? Each of them?  Do you know them enough to love them?
  1. When they’re biting word gets around.
    The community learns quickly of your positive reputation and interest in their partnership. Authentic family engagement leads to enhanced family engagement.

 Insert Drum Roll Here. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Number One Is  . . . . . . .

  1. Fish rot from the head down.
    Committed and effective leadership is key to family engagement that is integrated and sustained throughout your program or school.  Sending clear signals that families are a top priority, and providing steady support to staff in terms of time and resources, should be at the top of every school and program leader’s job description.

Because I so enjoy the fun of family engagement, I thought it would be a good idea to take a lighter approach in my blog post.  Humor allows us to take a deeper look at our practices, and ourselves, without taking ourselves too seriously.  It can be risky, but I’ve found humor to be an effective tool in advocacy and systems change.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have something funny to share or would like to talk about family engagement.

Sally Wade, EdD. is a NAFSCE Board member, a former teacher, administrator and college faculty member. She currently works with Manhattan Strategy Group directing technical assistance activities, including family engagement in  21st Century Community Learning Centers.