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Reflection gatherings are one of the most useful tools I know of on this path of service I’m on, but I didn’t always realize it. Even now, I’m pretty sure that I only have a tenuous grasp on what they are and have the potential to be. Since this isn’t something that everyone has a lot of experience with, I thought I would share what I know about organizing reflection gatherings that are meaningful and successful.


What is the purpose of a reflection gatherings?

Reflection gatherings are intended to elevate, clarify, and unify a group’s vision of their service. They provide a space to think about the progress and challenges that they have experienced in the recent past, understand what has been learned, see next steps, and plan ahead for the future. They also provide context for what individuals have been experiencing and learning, both through study and through consultation with others.

First thing to consider: who should attend a reflection gathering?

There are many different types of reflection gatherings, all of which draw on a different subset of people. Perhaps the best known example is the cluster reflection, where all those participating in the community-building process from a particular geographic area (in the US, this is usually either several neighboring counties or a metropolitan area) gather along with those who are new to the process but would like to learn more about how to become engaged. This could include: tutors, animators, children’s class teachers, hosts of devotional gatherings, study circle participants and junior youth, local institutions such as assemblies, committees, and those serving in appointed roles … and more. Some participants might even live outside of the cluster, but travel to serve within it, especially in early stages of development. The main factor is their geographic focus.

But this isn’t the only kind of reflection gathering. Next week I’ll be hosting a children’s class teacher reflection for my state. Participants include anyone teaching, assisting with, or learning to teach Grade 1, 2, or 3 of the children’s class program of the training institute anywhere in the state of Indiana. Sometimes folks from neighboring states also join, and that’s not a problem, as we’ve never run out of room. This is a short gathering, only three hours or so.

Last week was a gathering for people all over our three-state region who are focused on learning about engaging youth and young adults in the main sequence of courses. While all of the participants were tutors, they had different roles in this particular learning process. Some mainly tutor those study circles, some primarily focus on visiting the families of youth, especially those who are younger and are still under the care of their parents. Some are animators who are working on helping to accompany other youth on this particular path of service. But all are committed to continuing the conversation in their own communities and widening the circle of people who are engaged in this area of learning. This gathering was just over two days long.

So you can really have a reflection gathering at any level. People who serve one particular neighborhood can benefit from a reflection gathering. People who are currently tutoring Book 10 of the sequence of courses. People who have started a new junior youth group within the last three months.

Second thing to consider: what questions are being asked?

Sometimes this is actually the first thing. In that case, the people coming are whoever is thinking about these questions. Having particular questions at the center of the gathering gives it purpose aside from just a recitation of recent events.

In the case of our group focused on youth in study circles, we have several questions that we started with at our gathering in August:

  • What is the nature of a conversation that attracts young people to join a Book 1 study circle?
  • What are ways and spaces in which study circles can be formed?
  • How can we accompany participants in Book 1 immediately into the field of action?
  • How can a cadre of tutors support one another in action and learning?

In November, we saw that we needed to focus more tightly (for now) on the first two questions, with an added question of how animators can also serve a role in inspiring youth to become engaged.

The point here is to show that the questions a gathering is focused on should be:

  • Few in number
  • Specific
  • Focused on immediate needs and steps
  • Answerable through action and reflection on action

A question like “How can we have lots of new study circles?” would be too broad. A question like “How can every cluster in our region have 50-100 new participants in study circles in the next three months?” while somewhat more specific, doesn’t make sense where most clusters in the region have yet to learn how to engage 10 new participants in study circles in a three month cycle. “How many study circles have taken place in our region over the last year?” is specific and easily answerable, but is rooted in study rather than action and reflection.

You can see how choosing the right questions can easily make a gathering fruitful and productive, or create confusion, boredom, or despair.

Third thing to consider: do you have something on which to reflect?

There is nothing sadder than a reflection gathering where, asked about their experiences, there is nothing to share, because nobody has been engaged in the process in question. More commonly is the situation where everyone has something to reflect on as an individual, but the experiences are so scattershot and unrelated to each other that there is not enough experience with any one particular thing to answer any questions about it.

In this case, it can sometimes help to include an experiential portion of the gathering, just so that everyone has something pertinent to talk about. For example, if a children’s class teacher gathering is focused on learning about how to effectively describe the nature of the program to parents in order to elicit their support for and reinforcement of the qualities being taught, part of the gathering could involve all the participants going out to visit with the parents of children in a local class and speak with them about the program.

Yes, this takes a fair bit of organizing. The organizer needs to consult with the teachers of the class, reach out to the families, organize times for them to be visited, assemble information and addresses for each family, put together pairs or teams, arrange transportation for those who need it, and then also help to coordinate the collection of information and the organizing of follow-up.

But it’s so much more effective than having a theoretical chat with a group of teachers about how they might go about talking with parents, should the opportunity arise.

Fourth thing to consider: where are you strong?

If you have a lot of things you could reflect on and are not sure where to focus, focus on your strengths. Where was there the most growth? It might feel a little backwards (I know my first instinct is always to shore up my weaknesses before anything else), but strength builds on strength. If your group is fantastic at starting new junior youth groups, it’s natural to build on that strength and focus on how to expand groups so that they have a sustainable number of participants over time. Those new and strengthening groups might very well inspire more adults to become engaged in study circles.

On the other hand, to ignore those small new groups in favor of throwing all your effort behind bringing new adults into the process means that the groups continue to form, meet for a while, and die out within a few months. The animators, without support, eventually become disheartened. The adults, seeing no long-term value to the community, fail to become engaged. Parents, having noticed that activities don’t last over the long term, don’t trust the teachers of children’s classes to stick around.

Yes, I’m making all this up. But there’s a real inertia involved in both growth and stagnation. Focus on what’s already moving and then move on from there.

Fifth thing to consider: stop considering, and start doing.

If you’re not having reflection gatherings because you’re not sure you could do them perfectly, just try something. Truly, some of the one’s I’ve put together over the years have been a mess, but they’ve always been a net positive experience. I’ll almost certainly look back over all this advice in a year and be so embarrassed by my lack of understanding.

That’s one of the side effects of blogging, I suppose. We put things out there whether we’re feeling totally prepared or not. Coordinating is a lot like that too, whether you’re serving in a formal role or just as one tutor in a group of friends who wants to help make things a little more organized. Maybe your first gathering is just about learning what you want to learn about, and that’s totally legitimate. As long as you’re focused on learning through service and moving forward, you’re doing it right.



On failure

I was recently digging around through a bunch of links I had bookmarked, and came across an article by Carol Zou, who I had the pleasure of knowing when we lived and worked in the same neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. Carol is an artist whose primary form of art is empowering communities to create their own art. (If that sounds strange to you at all, sit with it a while. It’s actually a really helpful way of looking at artistic expression.) Anyhow, she published an article last year called Who is Allowed to Fail? Some things she notices:

  • A recently-arrived refugee must prove their business idea is foolproof in order to receive a $5,000 loan, but a middle class 18 year old can take out a student loan for ten times that without so much as a conversation about how they intend to pay it back, or even how they plan to successfully graduate.
  • A bank can get a bailout after making bad decisions with their money, but a renter will be evicted from their apartment when they start missing payments.

Anyhow, I don’t want to summarize the entire article, because it’s Carol’s work and you should read it for yourself. But it definitely got me thinking about the privilege of failure.

Part of this is the privilege of defining success and failure for ourselves. In the the Baha’i community, we’ve been encouraged to see past “narrow conceptions of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ that breed freneticism or paralyze volition.” We talk about a learning process, an experiment, rather than a failure. Failure to move forward and learn is a problem. Failure to adhere to a formula for results is not.

Artists get this. They’ll tell you about a “sketch” or a “draft.” It’s one of many, and we’re lucky when we’re in a community of others who get that.

But this freedom to focus on learning over results is a matter of privilege. When I was teaching at a school a decade ago, I was in charge of the Writing Club. At first, the 12- and 13-year-olds in my class made almost no progress with their writing. No matter how hard I worked to develop a meaningful prompt, they would spend inordinate amounts of time coming up to me and asking me to spell words for them, or erasing their handwriting and re-doing it neatly. They were shocked when I told them that we’re only making drafts here, that I cared not one bit about their spelling or their margins at this stage. That they could have as much paper as they wanted, that I would personally go to the store and buy everyone new notebooks if they ran out of space, that they could try and try again, in search of powerful language. That they could fail.

Children without paper who are graded on their work don’t get to say, “Oh, I don’t need immediate results, I just want to learn about improving my writing.”

After around four months, they did start writing some beautiful things, until I got sick and another teacher came in and scolded them for their sloppy work. That was a failure of mine that still weighs on me. I never did learn how to protect them from the needless critique of adults flush with power.

People with money for more notebook paper are allowed to fail. People with power are allowed to fail. People with social capital are allowed to fail. We expect it. We respect it. But not when it’s the wrong kind of people making the mistakes.

It would be really easy to let this kind of pervasive social attitude slip into the community-building process. That the educated, the wealthy, the powerful have the right to try and fail and reflect and learn and move forward, while those who are without need to be cared for and patronized and protected from their own failures-in-waiting, or abandoned to deal with the consequences of their lack of continual success.

In this kind of scenario, we get teachers who can snap at children, while children who lash out are expelled from the class. We get youth who are fed “education” bite by bite, without ever being invited to be protagonists in their own learning. We get adults whose lifetime of acquired skill and wisdom is never put to use, either for the fear of what response it might elicit, or from the assumption that it simply doesn’t exist.

We know the attitude is insidious. And as GI Joe says, “knowing is half the battle.”

But the other half, the half where knowledge gets put into action? That is the half of the battle where people tend to get hurt.

I want to think that we’re learning to write a rough draft of a community, in the truest sense of that word. But it’s not something you can build perfectly, then invite people inside, based on your limited vision of utopia. The community is the building process. And no matter how much paper it takes, we need everyone to have the chance to pick up their pencil and write their future, failing as they go.


Background image for the “On failure” graphic by Pink Sherbet Photography from USA (Free crumpled paper texture for layers) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


I wrote a bit about accompanying others in their path of service earlier this month. I thought I’d share some about the other side.

On Monday, I met with a friend whose service is broader than mine, both in geographic spread and in scope. We had a few hours for coffee and conversation, and it was very natural to chat about the process that she and I are both concerned with at different levels.

Me: “I’ve been thinking about what Garth [another friend] was saying in our call last month about also having personal goals for my own learning, in addition to what learning the clusters need to do. Did you have any thoughts about what I should be focusing on?”

Friend: “Well, what do you think?”

Me, internally: “Dang, I should have expected she was going to turn that one around instead of answering it. She’s too good at this.”

Me: “I guess raising up coordinators is the huge thing right now. And also creating more collaborative spaces for reflection.”

Friend: “Well, when you think about it, those are really the same goal, because those spaces are the mechanism by which people can begin to think about the institute on a different level.”

Me, internally: “How the heck did I not notice that before?” 

Me: “That makes a lot of sense.”

We went on to share what we’ve both been learning about how creating gatherings focused around specific questions leads to growth. I would share my own learning and struggles, and she would add some things that were being learned in areas where they had a little more experience with the process. She reminded me not to fall into the trap of thinking I had to do everything myself, and instead help other people arise to the challenge.

Me: “Yeah, but I still don’t even know how to do it.”

Friend: “That’s really this old way of thinking, this idea that we have to know how to do something ourselves before we can teach others how to do it. But really, if we’re serious about this idea of all of us learning together as collaborators, it’s not like that at all. It’s very different from what we’re used to, but it’s also very powerful.”

Me, internally: [sounds of brain exploding and then re-assembling itself into a new configuration]

Also me, internally: “Huh, I just got schooled on one of the most fundamental concepts of the institute process, but I’m so excited to understand this better that I’m not even embarrassed about that.”

And even though it’s clear that she’s the one accompanying me on this path of service, this conversation doesn’t feel like a series of decrees from on high. Because what I lack in skill and broad understanding at this point, I make up for in knowledge of the circumstances here in my own little sub-region. I know who the tutors are, which folks are forming teams, where there have been communication mishaps, who are the families that are really engaged, all those little details that my friend doesn’t knowcan’t know, really, from her own experience as she focuses on a good-sized chunk of North America. The same way a teacher I’m working with might know about the lives of every one of the children she teaches.

She helps to guide and educate me, yes. But she’s not my supervisor, she’s my friend.

I’m so grateful to have a number of friends who are accompanying me on this journey. David, who helps me get a regional perspective on stuff. Yaquelin, my TFF (True Friend Forever!) who answers my desperate calls asking about … just about everything. Adwoa, who helps me be a better tutor. Haig, who reminds me that maybe I need to chill out a bit and take a walk in the woods for the sake of my health and well-being. (You can tell which the physician is, can’t you?)

Most of these people have no relation to me, in an official capacity. There’s not a flow chart indicating who is allowed to learn from whom. There’s a framework to our service, sure. But then there’s friendship. Both are necessary in order for there to be progress. Neither is sufficient without the other.

Accompaniment isn’t something that I feel I’ve grasped entirely. There are still lots of unhelpful and outdated attitudes in myself that haven’t been rooted out yet. But I have faith that I’ll improve over time; after all, I’ve got lots of friends to help me on my way.



One unique thing about the Baha’i Faith is that there have been explicit instructions on the leadership of the community right from the beginning, so there are no denominations in the community. Since we don’t have much in the way of rituals, the way things look can vary from culture to culture, but the plans, the goals, and the structure are all the same.

Baha’u’llah, the Prophet and founder, was first. Then guidance of the community passed to His eldest son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Shoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson, then served the Baha’i Faith as its Guardian until his own passing. The plans he set in motion were carried out with exactitude, culminating in the first election of the Universal House of Justice, which is elected by the Baha’is of the world every five years and continues to lead the community to this day.

That’s the short version, anyhow.

The long version, Baha’is learn over time. Through the Writings of the Faith, histories, personal anecdotes, statistics, and more, we learn more about these figures over the course of our entire lives. There is truly no end to this process.

When I was a teenager first learning about the Faith, I loved Baha’u’llah, but it was sort of abstract. It’s like loving the sun. You love the light and the warmth and all that it gives, but you can’t know it, not really.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, though, was so concrete. Not the Manifestation of God, but something closer to the rest of humanity. The exemplar of kindness, of humility, of compassion. It was easy to love ‘Abdu’l-Baha, like a saintly grandfather. His talks were so simple and illustrative, even in translation.

And then there was Shoghi Effendi.

And I understood that he was important, but here I was, 15 and longing for spiritual truth, and this man was writing procedures for the election of local assemblies. Which I wasn’t even old enough to vote for. With Baha’u’llah I felt awe and with ‘Abdu’l-Baha I felt devotion, but with this Guardian … I felt primarily respect. There just didn’t seem to be a real heart-to-heart connection.

That was 20 years ago.

Both my life and my feelings are very different now.

Part of this is that I grew to better understand what Shoghi Effendi accomplished. To take a nascent community, one that would soon be bereft (although it was unaware at the time) of hereditary guidance, and establish it, not as a social movement or vague spiritual revival, but as a world faith, was a massive undertaking. There were so many moving parts to this. Legal recognition in nations around the world. Constructing fitting resting places for the Founders of the Faith. Translating the Writings from Persian and Arabic into dozens of languages and disseminating them to communities desperate for access to their own Sacred Texts. Guarding against those political and religious leaders who had made it their aim to eradicate the Faith from the earth, or at least the corners of it over which they maintained influence and control. And above all that, the Baha’is themselves. Who had loved ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who were dedicated to the Faith, but who had little to no idea what that entailed. What does it mean to be a Baha’i in this day? There was hope, perhaps, but a unified vision, knowledge, and skill are also necessary.  It is one thing to pray for a better world. It is quite another to build it with your own hands.

And it’s this process of building that taught me to love Shoghi Effendi with an intimacy that I never expected.

When I sit with my spreadsheets, extracting data from dozens of conversations, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

When I make maps showing where activity is taking place, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

When I craft an email that I know will be sent out to hundreds of people, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

When I write step-by-step instructions for a process that is structured, but no less spiritual for it, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

I feel so close to the Guardian in this service, perhaps one of the sweetest unexpected gifts that the role has brought me.

true brother Shoghi

Your true brother, Shoghi.

I’m currently re-reading The Priceless Pearl, the biography of Shoghi Effendi written by his widow Ruhiyyih Khanum, and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. You can download it as an ebook for free here

While I’ve been following the current ebola outbreak for quite a while now (my job requires me to visit the CDC website on an almost daily basis, so it’s constantly in my face), it’s only recently that I’ve seen Americans without ties to west or central Africa becoming actively afraid of the disease. And where fear goes, exploitation follows. Scammers are selling all kinds of products to “protect your family against ebola,” from essential oils to magical water to expensive dietary supplements. Never mind that the best way to avoid contracting ebola is to avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has ebola—not terribly difficult to manage here in the US.

But people quite naturally want to do something when horror strikes. As such, here’s my list of suggestions of things you can do, as an average person outside of an area where ebola is endemic, to help the situation.

1. Support science education of children, youth, and adults.

If we as a people do not understand science, we will not produce scientists. We will not be able to develop cures and methods of prevention. We will be easy prey for scams. We will not know where to donate money or time or energy in order to be of service. Supporting science education might mean tutoring a neighborhood youth. It might mean pitching in for science supplies for a local cash-strapped teacher. It might mean organizing a workshop at your local library, or calling your state legislators. It might even mean logging on to Khan Academy and educating yourself. Choose the path that makes the most sense for you.

2. Demonstrate and teach compassion.

Nothing gets better when nobody cares. (And caring is different from fear.) Does picking up litter in your neighborhood on your daily walk really have any effect on something like ebola halfway across the world? Not directly. But in a world where editorials make sarcastic cracks at those who dedicate their lives to curing disease and alleviating suffering, any attempt to eliminate cynicism is a step that brings us closer to being able to act in unity with our fellow human beings.

Vickery Meadow neighborhood cleanup

3. If it’s not about you, remember that.

If you live anywhere near a decently-sized city, there are people in your area who are affected by this crisis. You have neighbors or coworkers who are from central and west Africa, who have family there, who are worried sick in ways that probably don’t apply to you. A visit, some baked goods, a word of understanding can go a long way. Listen. Listen well, and do it more than you speak. Share the burden of those who are suffering, rather than adding a burden of your own.

4. Live in a learning mode.

Medicine is a tricky practice. It involves some science, some art, and a sizable chunk of engineering all thrown together. It requires a process of study, action, and reflection that doesn’t always run perfectly on an individual level, much less on a global scale. But when we allow ourselves to internalize this learning cycle, we stop being defensive about past mistakes, and instead upgrade our knowledge and habits without shame. While most of us aren’t going to develop a cure for ebola, we can bring to a halt the spread of misinformation, even misinformation we ourselves had a hand in promoting. We can encourage habits of creative thought and concerted action that might lead to a new scientific breakthrough, or just a better experience for the families on our street.

I know that these aren’t the kinds of advice most people are looking for. They don’t particularly alleviate fear. They aren’t direct. They aren’t immediate. They’re not simple. And they’re definitely not glamorous. But when we finally conquer this outbreak, there will be another crisis to capture our attention. Perhaps another virus. Or a war. Or a hurricane. Or a messenger from outer space—who knows? We can’t possibly hope to preemptively develop exactly what is needed to handle every possible contingency. But in all of these cases, there is a shared truth: that the best preparation is a community of people who strive towards acquiring and applying knowledge for the betterment of all.

If you want to make a difference, start there.

 “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

-The Princess Bride

Coherence does not mean the same thing as balance. To balance two or more aspects of your life, they must be separate, but given equal or appropriate weight. To live a coherent life is to understand how your work, your health, your service, your family, support each other, and are one. A coherent community does not attempt to separate the needs of children, youth, adults, families, and institutions. A coherent thought does not need to be diagrammed, balance sought between nouns and verbs. If balance is a pie chart, coherence is the combined ingredients in a strawberry-rhubarb pie. There is a difference.

Sustainable does not mean the same thing as easy. Lowering your standards might seem like a great way to ensure that a program or habit can carry on for years, but without the thrill that comes from meaningful challenge and the chance to create true change, is it really so feasible? Daily flossing is easy, but many people skip it even so. Try to see the sustaining power in exhilaration, inspiring greatness of spirit rather than smallness of action. There is a difference.

Empowered does not mean the same thing as independent. Just because someone cannot take on all the responsibility for a task without help does not mean that they cannot begin by taking some. Just because someone has all the skills to act without support from others doesn’t mean that they should. Abandonment is not a condition of power. There is a difference.

walking the path

A few reflections on walking a path of service, a theme that ran through the 10 day intensive youth training campaign I helped facilitate over the last two weeks.

It’s a path, not a road. It is built by the people who walk it. It is being built by you, now, for as long as you walk it, until you stand still. And even then it is shaped by your stillness, your feet sinking into the mud and leaving the imprint of where you stopped to catch your breath and look forward and behind.

But it’s still a path. It’s not only for you. Hiding the way so that you can show how singularly unique you are does not make you a pioneer, it makes you an egotist. The one less travelled by may very well be the better choice, but it is because of the challenge of the journey and the gorgeous views from the top of the mountain, not simply by virtue of being less walked.

Some walk at different paces. Smile and accommodate them. Step to the side for the quick ones, excuse yourself to the slow ones. Touch hands and walk alongside someone for a while, then separate when your legs beg you to stretch them out and give them a really good run.

It’s not criminal to step off the path, but it will certainly expend more energy and slow you down. Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not. How important is the direction you’re headed?

When in doubt, move forward. Quit assembling maps and equipment and go. Leave your shoes if you can’t find them. There is someone else on the path who will help you if you need it. But they’re not waiting for you. Walk out and let your feet find a place they can move as they were meant to, with joy, one in front of the other.

You’re not the first person to set out on a life of service. But your service matters just the same.

photo credit: Skinnyde via photopin cc

It’s funny, when you ask an expert, “What science fiction should I read?” you get straight answers back. Maybe a list with lots of “if you’re more into dystopia than I’d try these three” kinds of qualifiers, but an answer, at least.

When you ask an expert, “What should I listen to in order to get a feel for big band music?” you get answers. Enthusiastic ones, with suggestions cross-referenced by song, band, and year.

When you ask an expert, “What should I do in order to be educated in my field, to the same degree that others are regularly educated in theirs?” you get a few answers. Science! Math! But you get more talk about why people don’t want to be educated, why you should lobby for a school to provide you with an education, why you should raise money to hire some people to educate you, why it’s not financially helpful to be educated, why teachers won’t find it financially feasible to educate you, why you need accreditation to be educated, why other people should be educated first.

Folks who teach know what educated people read. They know what educated people practice. They know what educated people do to prove they know what they know. It’s in their syllabi. It’s their job. But for some reason, they don’t hand you a syllabus. They talk around you while you try and explain, “I wasn’t asking for your bureaucracy, I was asking for your advice. What should I read? What should I listen to? What should I do?” They’re wonderful people, friendly, intelligent, and polite. But the answers I crave aren’t forthcoming. I’m left with the same general list of subjects I had before the conversation.

I feel like I could save a lot of time, knowing what they know I should know. I could move forward with new things with more confidence. I could build a better plan. They seem to think I can’t learn it without their help. Or that, in the absence of outside validation, it won’t matter if I do. I don’t know, maybe it’s true. I’m glad they want a meaningful education for everyone, and someday they might get it. But in the meantime, I’m left here where I started, selfishly wanting it for me.


I’ve got a chemistry test in a week. I wrote it for myself. I’ve been at this, all on my own, for years. And it seems like that’s the way it’s going to stay for a while.

letter k

Ever get one of those writing or thinking prompts that goes something like, “What would you have done differently in middle school if you’d known then what you know now?” There’s nobody I know who wouldn’t have lived those years of their lives with some drastic changes.

That’s the power of knowledge.

To make a change, you have to know your reality. You have to know what you want. You have to know how to get there (or at least know how to experiment until you do). And you have to know enough about yourself to figure how to put all of this together.

That’s a tall order for a 13-year-old. Or an adult. But it’s true, anyhow.

That much I know.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

letter f

Every one of us has a family, whether we like it or not.

Engaging families can be a difficult task for an animator of junior youth groups. On the one hand are the overcommitted, overscheduled families. They can be so busy with softball games and viola lessons and the PTA that the idea of taking an interest in even one more of their child’s activities can seem exhausting. They’ll often show up when a group first begins to make sure it’s legit, but then be happy for a couple of hours of solitude each week, during which they can leave their child with you and run a few errands, or sit down with a book for a change.

At the other extreme are disengaged parents. Due to stress or a heavy workload or simply disinterest, they don’t take any particular interest in their children’s extracurricular activities. Unless you go out of your way to get to know these families, you might never meet them at all.

Of course, there are other reasons why family engagement can be tricky, like language barriers or lack of mobility. But these seem to be much more easily overcome.

Two things I’ve learned about family engagement:

  1. Every parent loves to hear good things about their child. Of course, it’s important that the praise be true. That’s why it’s so important to take notes and keep track of the progress you see. 
  2. Degree of engagement is less important than consistency of engagement. The parent that can commit to having one conversation over dinner about the group’s topic every week ends up doing more good for the group than the parent that organizes an entire service project once.

Just like their children, most parents are happy to be listened to. Start there. Work forward. And don’t give up.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc