A Parent Group: Unity, Acceptance, Trust

The inaugural parent group meeting in January was very promising. Three of us chatted over tea and hot chocolate at a local restaurant. (Next time we'll have cookies!) The 7:30 pm start time was after the dinner crowd had gone home, leaving the dining area with few distractions and greater privacy. When the meeting ended, I was genuinely grateful for our time together.

There was no agenda or informative handouts. Instead, I trusted the moment. This was mildly frightening for me, a person professionally trained to write lesson plans. Fortunately, the two mothers who attended immediately warmed to one another and easily found areas of mutual concern. Each wanted to nurture their children's communication skills for assertive self-expression, classroom participation, social interaction, family support, personal growth, and increased fluency. They did most of the talking, just as I'd hoped.

 I've been a part of many small groups for a variety of reasons. I've volunteered for religious and secular committees, educational organizations, and recreational clubs. I've been a leader and a follower, always acting within a superimposed framework to achieve short term goals. As I wondered about a format for this parent group, I discovered two completely different approaches.

One was a parent program called the MAGIC Project (2). MAGIC stands for Maximizing Academic Growth by Improving Communication and was organized by speech language pathologists in a large urban school district. The 5-hour, 1-day format was tightly controlled and included instructional goals. Parents were taught concepts of child development, how good communication skills improved academic performance, and how to follow through at home in ways that were consistent with school expectations. While the format did include group discussion, the feeling of parents-as-students didn't resonate well with me.

Since I didn't want to instruct  a parent group, I picked up a book on how to facilitate one. (1) "The main belief behind group facilitation is that full cooperation between all people is both possible and desirable--values of equality, shared decision-making, equal opportunity, power sharing and personal responsibility are basic to full cooperation." (p.2) I liked the sound of that. A facilitator is present and flexible, honoring both the individuals and the group. A facilitator does not add content to discussions, but rather fosters a safe, creative space for group members to find "unity, acceptance and trust." (p. 44)  Purpose, vision, and learning emerge from member interaction.

Ground rules are required regardless of what form my parent group may take. Members need to be responsible for choosing how much personal information as they wish to share. My role as speech language pathologist demands that I respect confidentiality and will not divulge any personal information about group members. Mutual respect is paramount. Everyone's situation is a unique conglomeration of experiences, values, personal qualities, education, personal history and more. Sometimes advice is welcome but not usually.  People generally prefer to talk about what's on their minds and know that others are truly listening. Everyone learns a little something from one another this way.

I'm looking forward to finding a balance between teaching and facilitating. I will share what I know about communication and fluency when it seems appropriate, certainly not in the form of a syllabus or agenda. I expect the parents will be the real teachers. They say 'When the student is ready the teacher will appear.' I'm ready.

p.s. Visit the National Stuttering Association Family Radio Show for world-wide support at http://www.nsastutter.org/whoWeHelp/NSA_Family_Programs/NSA_Family_Radio/index.html

1.       Hunter, D., Bailey, A., Tayor, B. (1995) The Art of Facilitation: How to Create Group Synergy. Fisher Books.

 2.       Farber, J.G. & Goldstein, M.K. (1998) “Parents Working With Speech-
Language Pathologists to Foster Partnerships in Education,”  Language, Speech, Hearing Services in Schools, 29, 24-34.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.