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Mel Gravely

Eight Ways to Get and Keep Policy Council Members

Parent Policy CouncilPeople want to have a voice and be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s easy to type a hashtag on social media. It’s a lot harder to effect real change. How can you do that?

Head Start programs are based on family engagement. But is it really embedded in your program? Does your program and staff really believe that parents make a difference? If you want to have a great policy council, you need to consider how you can intentionally guide your program in reaching stronger engagement levels.

Below are eight actions you can implement in your program to help recruit and keep parents as partners in your program. Ideally, we want parents to be actively involved, really involved. Not just shake their head on the policies you suggest, but to argue, inform, question, and comment.

Educate Parents on the Importance of their Role

First and foremost, it’s important for parents to understand the importance of their role in the Head Start program. Talk to parents how they are the support base for the program: without parents, there would not be Head Start. Their involvement is key to the continuation in running a program that will work well for the community, and meet their needs. To quote Uncle Sam “We need YOU.”

Empower Parents to Make Decisions

Parents who are involved in policy council gain a renewed understanding of why their voice matters. They learn how they can give back to community and to a Head Start that helps so much. They become a part of decision making in their child’s education, a skill that will stay with them for the rest of their child’s school years. Parents also show their children that they are involved; that education matters and their child matter.

Show parents how they can affect real change: in policies; day to day operations; or even minor changes. Programs should seek input on things that matter to parents: naptime policies, schedule of the day, emphasis on specific area of curriculum.

Connect Policy Council Members with other Parents

Parents who are on policy council can be ambassadors who relate and share information with other parents in the program. Parents on policy council may have less complaints as they know and understand more about Head Start. They can share this information and reasoning, so other parents also know. Sometimes, parents may be scared to question Head Start employees, and will be more comfortable interacting with a fellow parent who is on policy council.

Be Strategic about Scheduling Meeting Times

You may need to be flexible about your meeting times so parents can attend. Can you schedule it at the beginning of the day at drop-off, or right before pickup? Make attending policy council meetings easy for parents. Most importantly, be up front with parents about the time commitment. You don’t want a bunch of no shows.

Make Meetings Pleasant

Set up the room for a professional meeting, before parents arrive. Treat them to a snack or meal. Food isn’t always the answer, but it helps.

Utilize Technology where Appropriate

Think about how you integrate technology into policy council meetings. Will notifications by text, email, voicemail make life easier? Can you spread the word on social media, using Facebook, Twitter etc.?

Engaging ESL Parents

Remember how will you include parents who speak other languages/cultures from both main and delegate programs. Everyone should be given a voice. Google Translate makes it easy to send notifications in all languages.

Reimburse for Expenses where Appropriate

Don’t forget to reimburse low income members for expenses, as noted in 1301.3(e): Reimbursement. A program must enable low-income members to participate fully in their policy council or policy committee responsibilities by providing, if necessary, reimbursements for reasonable expenses incurred by the low-income members.

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