Getting Ignited!

Author: Karen Copeland

[watch on Periscope]

Tonight I am going to share with you an unexpected journey. We have two children. They are fifteen months apart in age, so I don’t remember a lot about when they were babies. We knew from early age that our son was just a little bit different.

In his elementary school years, there were things teachers were doing that made a difference, but I couldn’t fully understand or recognize these at the time. These educators provided my son with the message that he belonged in their classrooms.

But as I said, I couldn’t see this at the time. The good things were overshadowed by the difficult moments. I often heard about the negative things my son was doing. I didn’t know how to advocate in a way that could be heard. I became ANGRY.

If you were to know me back then, you would’ve seen a very angry and bitter person. Nobody wanted to see me walking into the school. To be honest, I didn’t want to be there either. I was driven by fear, anxiety and worry for my son.

Thankfully, I got connected to other parents who helped me start to believe in myself. And we moved schools and found a Principal who believed not only in our son, but in our family.

This motivated me to start thinking about the way I could change my story. I didn’t want to be “THAT” parent, the one that everyone avoided. I knew I needed to start changing the way I thought about teachers and education, and I knew this would require a great deal of courage.

During this time, I was involved in regular meetings with community systems, sharing my family’s story and perspectives. I started to wonder what would happen if I could share my story with educators. Have you heard the phrase: “we need to meet people where they are at”?

I wanted to start connecting with teachers, and I discovered there were a LOT of you on twitter. I got involved with #bcedchat. I was blown away by the welcome I received when I introduced myself as a parent.

To be honest, it was easier to be connected to you in this way because you didn’t know my back story. You didn’t have an awareness of who I was, other than I was a parent who was interested in learning more about education.

But what stood out for me discovering I needed to know YOUR stories. I learned about all the great things you were doing in your classrooms and in your school communities. I had NO idea. And I thought to myself…”I need to know more!”

I wondered what might happen if I started bringing my online connections into real life. I took the opportunity to attend EdCamp. This took a tremendous amount of courage. I was very nervous walking into a professional development event for educators.

I suggested a topic, not knowing I would then have to facilitate the conversation. It’s not often a parent leads a conversation at an event for educators! But I did it. And what happened in that room was unbelievable.


As we spoke, our titles left the room and what remained were simply people who were passionate and curious. We were united by our stories and vulnerability.

And as I reflected on that day, I realized that it was these informal connections that were changing everything for me, changing my perspective on education from one of distrust, caution and frustration to feeling inspired, curious and most importantly, hopeful.

And I wondered, what kinds of things might we create when we invite each other in? For parents to be seen for their strengths instead of sometimes as adversaries, for parents to know the stories of educators and the great things they are doing in our school communities?

I really believe we have to recognize the role that fear plays in our relationships with each other. We all carry our stories of hurt. They are real. Fear blocks out the good things that are happening. But it doesn’t have to represent our entire story!

Borrowing a phrase from Chris Wejr, what might happen when we step outside of our roles and start with strengths….with each other? I want to tell you all…AMAZING things happen.

I have made a commitment to sharing your stories with other parents. Letting them know that great things are happening in education. All I ask in return is that you do not give up on that angry parent. You never know who they might turn out to be.

It’s about seeing each other as human beings. I don’t want you to buy into the idea of informal connections, I want you to believe in them. We can create meaningful change when we believe in each other.

I would like to dedicate this Ignite to all the educators who have invited me in and gotten to know me for who I am. I would also like to recognize the Langley School District for creating the opportunity for parents and educators to come together at events like this. You are leading the way! Thank you.


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