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Mel Gravely

The Importance of Avoiding “Shop Talk” when Communicating with Parents

I’m sure you’ve let it slip once or twice. An acronym that you use every day in your work as a Head Start staff person, only to experience a deer-in-the-headlights look when you use it in conversations with parents.

Federally-funded programs have a title and term for everything. Every framework, initiative, program, tactic, and strategy has its own terminology, with titles many words long that need to be shortened into acronyms. Head Start is no exception. CLASS, PFCE, OHS, ECLKC… There are probably hundreds of acronyms used throughout the daily business of Head Start administration. The Office of Head Start even put together a glossary for your reference.

The parent leadership process can be an exciting experience for families. However, it can also be an intimidating one. Think about your own experience coming into unfamiliar situations. No one wants to be made to feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong. When we use complicated terminology, short cuts, or other “shop talk,” it can make parents feel unwelcome and nervous, or even uneducated. It’s important to use terminology that is common and understandable for parents.

This is one of the reasons why we suggest that if at all possible you encourage peer conversations. Parents speaking directly to parents can be one of the most powerful tools of parent engagement that you have. Existing parent volunteers, policy council members, or even staff who started as Head Start parents can use their own experience to relate to new parents. There’s nothing quite like a personal head start story.

Remember, parents are more likely to become parent leaders when they feel accepted, encouraged, and supported by other parents and professionals. It’s our job as the professionals to help facilitate that by being sensitive to parent’s level of knowledge about early childhood education in general and Head Start in particular. It’s just another way to make them feel welcome so that we can fulfill one of our core missions of Head Start: Parent Engagement!

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