About six months ago, I participated in a group planning session where education stakeholders were brought together to brainstorm strategies to help Kansas City raise the percentage of children who were reading proficiently by third grade. As the facilitator walked us through an exercise where we were to start by identifying the obstacles and challenges our city (and likely many others) faced in helping children develop literacy skills, one of the first things I threw out to the group was “parent awareness and access to resources. “ What I meant by this was that parents must first understand the importance of building literacy skills in the home (talking, reading, and singing with their children) and they must also have access to books in order to foster this development with their children. Reflecting back, I now realize that the suggestion I put forth was based on assumptions I held about families with limited resources—I assumed that many parents in low-income households lack these two critical components that build a strong foundation of readers later in life.
What brought me to this realization was a survey recently conducted by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation in California providing evidence that my assumptions above—while widespread—are flawed. For this study, surveyors went door to door in communities of varying socioeconomic status and asked about positive parenting practices, including activities that promote educational achievement. They found that no matter the income level of the household, the majority of parents read to their children regularly and most have books in the home. They also found that, wealthy or poor, many parents practice positive parenting techniques regularly.
With the new year and this new information, I feel compelled to challenge my assumptions daily. Although often best-intentioned, my assumptions influence decisions I make at work and at home. Pages & Chapters seeks to serve families who are under-resourced—a group who some perceive as uneducated or ignorant with regards to how to help their children develop literacy skills. It is our responsibility as an organization to continue to seek out evidence-based strategies that support teachers working in low-income schools and the families whom they regularly engage. Instead of making sweeping generalizations about the families we serve, we must get to know each individual family’s circumstance and story, which involves building strong relationships, understanding their unique challenges, and identifying their personal goals.
In 2017, I am pledging to assume less and listen more. To build relationships rather than pass judgment. To support those in my community while practicing humility. I challenge you to do the same. What assumptions have you made in the past that were ultimately proven wrong? What have others inaccurately assumed about you? Shifting our mindset from a position of “knowing all” to “ever-learning” will have benefits for not only our personal lives, but the communities we interact with and society at-large.
Written by Halley French
Halley is a Program Officer at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors for Pages & Chapters.