“How do you involve parents as partners in your teaching, classroom, and school community?”
Every teacher who interviews at my school must answer this question. But it’s not me asking it; this question comes from our parents.
I am the founding principal of Rocketship Dennis Dunkins Elementary, serving the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, Texas. We are launching our new school next month, but we started building relationships with our parents over a year before our planned opening.
It’s clear parents want to be involved in their kids’ education now more than ever. And too many schools center their parent engagement work on what parents can do for the school (e.g., fundraising, volunteering, donating supplies). That’s important work, but it isn’t enough. To build true partnerships with parents, educators need to think about what they can do to get parents deeply engaged and invested in their school.
Inviting parents to interview teacher candidates at my new school is one of the ways we are building partnerships with the parents we serve. By involving parents in critical hiring decisions, we are tapping into their critical insights — tapping into their power — to shape our school.
A lot of our parents couldn’t believe it when we first asked them to participate. “Me?” one parent said when we put out an open call for parent interviewers. “You want to know what I think of my child’s future teacher? No one has ever asked me for that before.” I had parents who thought the teachers would be interviewing the parents, not the other way around! And we had Spanish-speaking parents who understand spoken English but have never been asked to weigh in like this. They could not believe they were asked to help interview teachers.
In advance, parents met with our leadership team to talk about questions parents wanted to ask and to go over the parameters of the interview. On interview day, parents asked each teacher candidate such questions as how they see parents’ role in their child’s education, how they help every child in their classroom achieve, and how they navigate tough situations with parents. Parents have also shared their own stories of having a child with special needs and of struggling in school themselves. They’ve opened up about their hopes for what this school can be for our community.
Watching parents really engage in the interview process, ask thoughtful questions, and demonstrate the power of our collective community to the candidates filled my soul with joy. A teacher, after all, is not just a classroom leader, but a person tasked with engaging and communicating with families.
‘You want to know what I think of my child’s future teacher? No one has ever asked me for that before.’
I am a product of the Stop Six community. I attended local district K-12 schools, went on to college and graduate school, and eventually earned my doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies. I credit much of my success to my parents who advocated for my education. They knew how to wedge their way in and fight to get me what I needed because they understood how to navigate the system. My mother served 30-plus years as a teacher, principal, and school leadership director in the Fort Worth Independent School District, and my father was an engineer with the Fort Worth Fire Department. On his days off, he was a substitute teacher, often mentoring young men in school.
But many parents do not know how to make their way through a complex system or even what possibilities are available to their children. Parents should not have to fight their way into our schools; they should be invited in, invited to share their stories and perspectives. Engaging diverse parents across our community helped me make critical hiring decisions that will shape the future of our school.
Parents and educators want the same thing: what is best for our kids. By working together — in hiring, naming our school (after a longtime Fort Worth educator), and picking our enrichment offerings, core value, and so much more — we are unleashing the power of our parents alongside the power of our staff to create a transformational school.
Dr. Christina Hanson is the founding principal of Rocketship Dennis Dunkins Elementary and the mother of two children who will be attending school there. A Southeast Fort Worth native, she knows what it’s like to be a student, mother, teacher, and principal in the community she now serves. Hanson holds a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Tarleton State University.