Involvement or Engagement?

Posted by Shariee / on 07/17/2013 / 1 Comment

An article recently came across my desk for a second time... and I'm glad it did! After reading it again I believe it's as relevant today as it was in 2011 when it was first published by ASCD.

Larry Ferlazzo's article, Involvement or Engagement , focuses on cultivating school-family partnerships in secular school settings. He makes the case that those relationships are the byproduct of using relationship-building processes focused on listening .

Sound familiar? It should. Ron Wolfson's book, Relational Judaism, stresses this point as well, laying the foundation for why relationships have to come first and how building those relationships is, in part, done by welcoming and listening. Among other examples in the book is the one provided by Rabbi Stephanie Kolin from Stephen S. Wise Temple, Los Angeles. Rabbi Kolin shares that there's an art to holding a one-on-one conversation which involves "listening carefully". She believes these one-on-one conversations are helping her leadership team move from welcoming to engagement. (Page 169) 

What I think Ferlazzo does so well in his article is:

  • Reminds us why it matters. In his case, it's about raising student achievement, improving local communities, and increasing public support. I think we all need to keep our own bigger vision in our minds as we make this shift from family engagement programs to relationship-building initiatives.
  • Emphasizes the value of home visits. How many of us are doing this? What holds us back? What's different in our communities than in the community he describes?
  • Uses great language comparisons like: serve clients vs gain partners; irritation vs agitation (as it relates to cultivating collective action); communication vs conversation; doing to vs doing with; volunteers vs leaders, and so on. We need to be aware of these subtle and not so subtle difference and be as intentional as we can in choosing the right actions.
  • Understands the temptation to settle for involvement given external pressures. For me, this is about the need to embrace the long-road effort and truly re-evaluate what our goals are. Perhaps this loops us back to my first bullet - why what we do matters.
  • And lastly, he reminds us of the importance of building social capitol and encouraging others to discover for themselves what's important in their own lives and then helping them make it happen. 

None of us wants to set the stage for passive participation, yet I fear we probably do just that more often than not. So, what does it look like to take a step back and decrease the chance that we'll fall into that realm of involving people but not fully engaging them? What tools and skills will we need to make that shift? What resources will help us get there? What challenges are ahead of us? And, what will our road map become?

I'm grappling with these very questions with other family engagement professionals in the NY area. In the coming year we will be taking a closer look at where we are being successful in the art of building relationships, finding new ways to track success and tell compelling stories about those successes, and identifying what challenges exist as we shift from being a program provider to relationship weaver.

For further reading: Interview with author Larry Ferlazzo on Parent Engagement.

I encourage you to join the conversation! I'd love to hear where you think about involvement vs engagement, or where you are experiencing successes or challenges in your own settings. Email me at or write your comments below.



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  • Ellen says:

    Thanks, Shariee. Interesting distinction between engagement and involvement. Social media has long been using the term "engagement" and is (e.g., with the new Facebook insights being rolled out now) ramping up how they define and measure engagement. Also, Shariee, very helpful when you highlight key passages. Thanks!

    July 19, 2013 at 10:02 AM | Permalink


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