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Mel Gravely

Inviting Head Start Families as Co-Trainers

Parents are often the most powerful leaders for change. Why is that?

Well, it just so happens that effective parenting skills have a lot in common with effective leadership skills. Parents use powerful and complex leadership skills and abilities as they manage their households every day and guide their children in the little and big tasks of life. Moreover, as parents look for ways to make a better world for their children, they inadvertently (and often purposefully) make a better world for all human beings.

Head Start believes that parents that work together and who speak up for their own children, can enact change that helps many others. The parent leadership process should be exciting for families, and it’s important for parents of all levels of knowledge to make each other feel accepted and encouraged by other parents.

Sometimes in our eagerness to bring parents on in leadership roles, we often forget the most effective strategy for family leadership development: parent-to-parent learning.

Families presenting to other families is a powerful tool that is often underutilized in Head Start. Think about the benefits. Not only do trainees benefit by seeing a peer in a position of authority and leadership, but the trainer also benefits by honing their presentation and public speaking skills, arguably the most valuable leadership skills that exist.

Head Start can offer a broad range of leadership opportunities for parents and families. So you must ask the question, when is the last time your program invited a parent, caregiver, or other family member as a co-trainer? For example, outgoing Policy Council members could train incoming members in parliamentary procedures. Or, graduated families could attend orientation to welcome new families and answer questions.

Even staff could benefit from a family co-trainer. Training your staff on ERSEA? Why not ask a parent to talk about their personal experience with attendance barriers? Or about marketing messages and technology that is most effective in reaching them? We would argue that there’s a place in every single training to have a parent give his or her take on a particular topic.

Overall, when a family member has experience with training, conferences, or advisory meetings in your program, it helps them to build important relationships, expand understanding of systems and services, and increase self-confidence. All of which will help that parent to be able to advocate for their child and to take on additional leadership roles long after they leave Head Start.


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