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The Playbook for Highly Engaged Parents

Losing Trust

She asked me with surprisingly little emotion in her voice. “Why should I trust anything you say,” she started. “After the corruption, dysfunction, and failed promises, how can any parent trust you…” her voice trailed off as she looked for the right words. “…to trust you to make sure that MY child is ready for college and HIS future?”

What bothered me was not the question. No… this was the right question, and she was right to ask it. What bothered me was the way she asked it. She asked with the calm demeanor of someone who fully expected to receive a lie. I did not disappoint.

“You can trust me because I’ve been fighting for parents like you for 20 years… Blah, blah, blah.” I said.

When I had finished, this mother gave me a half-hearted, “thank you,” pursed her lips in a thin, but unconvincing smile, and almost imperceptibly shook her head as she sat down.

After 9-months of campaigning, and 3-months in the political wilderness after my defeat, this one interaction continues to haunt me. She was asking for honesty and I gave her a political answer. Something that I didn’t really believe. 

Brutal Honesty

This parent — like all parents — has a dream for her children. But, like many, she was confused on how to achieve that dream… And I didn’t help her with my answer.

So, to her, and to any parent reading this blog, here is the cold, hard, brutally honest answer I should have given:

“You can’t trust me to make sure your child is ready for college and his future. In fact, you can’t trust ANYONE to do that. Why? Because it’s not my job. It’s yours. It’s not the school board’s job, not the superintendent’s job, not the principal’s job, it’s not even the teacher’s job. Assuring that your child is ready for college and the future is your job… and, the moment you expect anyone else to do it for you, is the exact moment that you begin putting your child’s future at risk.”

-Matt Barnes

I should have said this to her without apology or hesitation… because, this is what I believe. 

I Believe 

“The education system is failing, not principally due to administrative mismanagement or instructor inattention, but because parents are not playing the role they were designed to play in the education of their children.”

Who is in Charge? 

A few years ago, I was consulting on a parent-engagement initiative in a large (40,000 student) school district outside of Houston. I met a family who had a son who was at the very top of his middle school class. He had never received a grade lower than an “A” on any assignment… ever… in his entire school career!

Now, some of you might be so proud of your son for having achieved this level of “excellence.” However, I had seen this scenario before and I saw a hidden problem of which his mom was unaware.

Having provided educational coaching for thousands of parents over the years, I give a standard caution whenever I hear about kids like this. I tell parents to consider asking their child’s school for a more challenging curriculum and, if they cannot or will not, to consider finding another school. In a former life, I sat on the board of a selective university and knew just how competitive college applications had become. This child needed additional rigor to be ready and I wanted his mom to know.

But, when my advice got back to the middle school principal, she was furious. She took offense that I might suggest that “her school” was not preparing “her top student” for college. She was steaming at the idea that I would even mention that his mother consider another school.

I Believe

“That parents must reestablish themselves as the key decision-maker for their child’s education and future. I believe that doing this will be difficult and disruptive but, after 40 years of failed top-down education reform, I believe that no other action could do more to improve student outcomes while simultaneously transforming a school system that is horribly stuck in the 20th Century.”

Problem #1: Role Confusion

Each of the above stories describes the foundational problem in education. It is something I call “Role Confusion.” 

The mother I met during the school board campaign looked to the school to be the leader of her child’s education and future. The principal in the story above behaved as if she was the child’s educational leader. That is why she worked to limit information to the parent and to control decision-making for the child. 

In both examples, the role of the parent was reduced and the role of the institution expanded. Over the last four decades, this has been the general trend in education: the parental role declines and the institutional role expands. 

This trend has led to academic stagnation, accelerated the disengagement of students and families, and has fueled teacher burnout as they are unfairly expected to play the role of teacher, social worker, and parent. 

My Purpose

Reversing this trend is the sole purpose of this blog. In the coming weeks and months, I will show you — parents — a different way forward. A way that will dramatically increase the chances that your child will achieve the dreams you have for them. It will start by redefining your role.

The lessons I will share come from hundreds of other parents who have, or are currently, making the transition to becoming the undisputed leader of their child’s education (I call it the “Head Coach” role). I will also provide specific instruction on how you can make the switch.

This is Not for Everyone

Most don’t want what I offer… and that is OK. But for those who are willing to participate in this journey with me, I can only promise you two things:

  1. That it will not be easy. 
  2. That it will be worth it. 

I, and many others, will be walking with you… providing you with insights, encouragement, and advice. We all simply want the best for our kids and, my hope is that, if enough of us make the changes I will recommend, it will signal to others that there is a new and better way forward. This is a movement and, for the sake of your child, I welcome your participation.

If you’re ready to begin, get started by signing up below.

Welcome to The Education Game. The Home for Highly Engaged Parents.

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Quick Start Guide

If you made it this far then don’t stop now. The Quick Start Guide delivers a week’s worth of curated and highly practical resources to grow your learning leadership for the next 5 days. This is only the beginning! 

What’s included:

  • Key podcasts
  • Questions to ask your child
  • Blog posts
  • Interviews & videos