A Conference in the City of Brotherly Love Delivers Critical Info on Educators of Color and Strong Family Engagement

It was a breath of fresh air—the City of Brotherly Love, Rocky Balboa, and the most recent Super Bowl. Philadelphia, PA didn’t disappoint, most crucially because I was there to join a collective of over 1000 Black male educators to discuss key issues that matter most to kids of color, particularly Black boys, at the Fellowship of Black Male Educators for Social Justice Conference.  

Did you know it can be critical to a child’s success to have an educator that reflects his or her race?  A new John Hopkins University study  shows that when low-income Black students have at least one Black teacher in elementary school, they are more likely to graduate high school  enroll in college. Discussing this with a room full of fellow Black men, I had a moment. I thought, “When did I have my first Black teacher?”  

The answer is sophomore year at Wareham High School. It was Mr. Paul Barnett who taught Algebra. Before his class, I had never enjoyed a math class. He was into sports and brought energy to the classroom. I still remember him talking about and very comically demonstrating how he stole second base in baseball. Until looking at the data, I had never thought about it, but he definitely had a strong impact on me. It mattered.

Right now, less than 2% of teachers nationwide are Black men. I’m convinced that there is a strong need for educators of color in public schools, particularly Black men who can serve as role models to our young Black boys. Sharif El-Mekki, Co-Chair & Founder of The Fellowship and the Principal at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus, is committed  to creating a pipeline and network for the next 1000 black male educators by 2025; it’s a bold plan but a much needed one. We cannot just look at the data and think something will change. We need to leadership on this, and the Fellowship provides that.    

An excellent session I attended at the conference focused on parent and family engagement. The overarching takeaway was that the biggest challenge is identifying barriers to engagement and ways to overcome them. Data on parent engagement by age of child, parent education level, socioeconomic status, and the diversity of the school will tell you a lot about who is getting involved, but also who isn’t. How can we work to ensure everyone is engaged, regardless of these differences? How do we make everyone feel welcomed and like they have a seat at the table? Bookbag drives work, but are we stopping to ask families who attend how they feel? Are we finding out more about our families and  getting to know them? When was the last time we had a conversation that was not about the student?

What are a few suggestions that schools could implement right now to improve family engagement?

  • Consistent office hours can lead to stronger relationships. Sometimes, you have to meet parents where they are to do that, which might mean being flexible with times. Make time for your parents.
  • Go out of your way to kickstart relationships. It’s not enough to care. Show that you care.
  • Schedule useful summer programming and family events. For example, a back-to-school trauma workshop, technology training, or a “here’s what we have for you night.”
  • Do home visits and really go the extra mile.
  • Ask them what they want and need. Parents and families deserve to be heard and have their suggestions honored.

Here is a photo showing how Chicago Public Schools creates shared home-school expectations and a photo of their family outreach rubric for teachers. A lot of good advice and ideas in here! Ultimately, schools are funded per pupil and many parents vote with their feet. Customer service needs to be better than Comcast.  


The conference in Philadelphia made me more thoughtful about family engagement and increasing the numbers of educators of color. These two important issues have overlap. For example, I believe we need parents involved in the hiring of teachers, particularly teachers who reflect their children. Parents should be heard on issues of school structure and governance. Oftentimes, we have the schools we do because they are a microcosm of wider society built on systemic racism. A parent-led revolution is the only way to solve this. We need to create an environment where compassion is a cultural norm and where everyone is welcome. 

By Ed Shoemaker

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