Powerful parent-led healing circles building solidarity in the fight for a just education recovery
By MEHUL PATEL
Picture description: Our initial healing circle was led by organizers from Parent Revolution on April 14th, with leaders of the Parent Power Network. The healing circle includes parents, organizers and a virtual altar space. This healing circle initiated our own healing process from the pandemic, modeled strong facilitation, and inspired us as public school parents to lead our own circles as we continue to organize for a just education recovery.
During the pandemic, many of us stepped into the role of co-educator. This was in addition to working multiple jobs, attempting to take care of our families and keep them safe, and dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic. With many of us in the hardest-hit communities being essential workers ourselves, our children and families were left to figure out distance learning in many cases with limited to no support. As the pandemic ravaged on in 2020, death from the virus and its negative economic, mental, and social impact in our communities became the norm. As so many discussions and ideas are put forward for what the post-pandemic recovery could look like, those of us who are public school parents living in the hardest-hit communities continue to struggle to imagine ‘recovery.’ The education sector has begun to set the parameters for the recovery and return to school, and the loudest voices are districts, schools teachers, education organizations, and policy-setting bodies. Even though many of those players may be well-intentioned, there are some facts that remain true for us in low-income and highly-impacted communities in Los Angeles.
Our communities have faced loss across the spectrum. We have coped with the loss of…
Our loved ones.
Our economic stability.
Our children’s educational futures.
Loss after loss, we continue to compound our suffering, sadness, and helplessness. It wasn’t only us as parents facing this. Our children face similar losses. We know that our children continue to face drastic learning loss as a result of distance learning. Whatever plan education leaders put in place must be just and address many challenges. Our network of parents in the Parent Power Network is organizing every day for a just education recovery. We train to become knowledgeable on policies and district practices, meet with school board members to find collaboration opportunities, and recruit and organize many other public school parents facing similar challenges. As we have more and more conversations and build our understanding,, there is one common theme:
Before there can be any discussion of recovery or ‘reopening’, there must be space for community healing.
We are obviously motivated to participate in conversations around education recovery and school reopening, but as we discuss these topics, many of us continue to face mental battles with what we faced during the pandemic. Healing for parents must be an essential component of any education recovery campaign, plan, or reopening idea.
Earlier this spring, organizers from Parent Revolution researched healing circles as a restorative and organizing practice and facilitated one for a core group of our leaders. Healing circles are safe spaces that promote working together to remove obstacles to healing, alleviate suffering, and deepen one’s capacity to heal. Through circle agreements and strong facilitation, healing circles are powerful tools for many communities and can lead to powerful action and change. Most of the parents had never attended a healing circle before, so they didn’t know what to expect. At first, the initial moments were met with silence, but after the sound of the Tibetan singing bowl, one parent after another let their struggles come to light. We grieved together and opened a circle of trust, recovery, and healing. Doing this healing circle brought us together and reconnected us as humans and in our shared identity as public school parents. We found common struggles in what we faced during the pandemic, specifically the experiences of our children as students.
After the healing circle, leaders of the PPN felt a newfound sense of energy, motivation, and organizing ‘fire’ to continue to advocate for a just education recovery and participate in the education reopening conversation as advocates. We thought that we had to bring this opportunity to more people and specifically unite us as public school parents. In order for these to work and be even more powerful, we realize that we as parents and community leaders need to lead our own healing circles. We need powerful parent-led healing circles building solidarity in the fight for an equitable recovery. These healing circles would need to be hosted by us, facilitated by us and we would also need to lead on the recruitment. Our aim is to have as many of our leaders as possible host healing circles and have them invite public school parents from their networks and communities. This would have a domino effect and open up opportunities for parents from outside of our organization to join our fight for a just education recovery by facilitating their own healing circles, creating a parent2parent healing space. These would be held virtually. In the attachments, we have included the following:
The slide deck for our healing circle, modeled after the one conducted initially by Parent Revolution Organizers. This includes an opening bell and closing bell video for parents to use virtually
The sample template flyer for a parent to use
A guide for parent facilitators
Parent Revolution (they are the facilitators and organizers of the Parent Power Network and its advocacy/organizing work).
Parent Power Network (a network of public school parents in Los Angeles fighting for an equitable education system for their children and their communities. They will be the primary executors of the healing circles — facilitating, hosting, and recruiting for them.)
Public school parents are being asked and continue to weigh in on conversations with school and education leaders around reopening practices, plans to address learning loss, and how to spend recovery funds in schools. Without implementing healing or restorative practices, or more importantly without giving a space for healing before recovery, public school parents will enter these spaces with unaddressed grief and trauma. Although one healing circle may not address all the grief and trauma, the more that parents do, the better equipped they will be to lead and participate in these policy conversations.
Parents need to trust the person or person(s) that are expected to help them recover. The low turnout percentage of students returning back to school shows that parents and students do not have faith that they will be okay returning to school. It will take groups like Parent Revolution, leaders like those in our Parent Power Network, and the work we’ve done with families over the past year to help build that trust and faith back into the school system. Moreover, parents need a voice to be heard and by acting as facilitators, on their behalf, we can not only bridge the gaps in lost communication but also build stronger relationships with the district. By putting healing first, we are acknowledging the loss faced by our communities and in the long term, the impact in schools with students and parent-teacher/administrator relationships will be strengthened and rooted in constructive progress. This is not an opportunity to blame anyone for what has happened, but rather a space offering collective healing and support using our identity as public school parents.
Adopt & Adapt
Schools that have Parent Resource Centers and/or parent organizations can adopt this as a practice for parents as they begin to reconvene and reopen schools. With some strong template tools for parents to use such as a meeting flyer, a strong slide deck, a detailed facilitator guide, and access to Parent Revolution staff and leaders from the Parent Power Network, parents in school communities can implement this. School leaders can also invite our leaders and organization to facilitate these education-focused healing circles.