"I couldn't have put it better myself..."

We all know how powerful a startling statistic can be.

Maybe you’ve seen a PowerPoint presentation where there is just a huge number on the slide or a newspaper headline that highlights the stark realities of a situation.

Remember the New York Times’ cover early on in the pandemic that shared the tragedy of reaching 100,000 deaths from COVID?

Numbers are impactful. But words are too. 

I’m sure you’ve remarked to yourself at some point, “I couldn’t have put it better myself!”

Or, maybe when you were writing term papers, you struggled to paraphrase a source because you just didn’t know how something could be expressed better than the authors put it?

To me, those phenomena are the beauty of qualitative data – we don’t have to rephrase anything! We get to let people’s words speak for themselves. 

I’ve written before about a research project I’ve been working on to learn more about the effects of the pandemic on the lives of kinship caregivers (e.g., grandparents raising their grandchildren).

When I was conducting focus groups of caregivers, it was truly emotional to hear them share their experiences and the dedication and love they have for their children.

Now, a few months later, we are analyzing the data we collected, and I am seeing how impactful their words are, even in print.

I’m sure you’ve had the same experience through your family engagement work.

Have you ever had a conversation with a child or family member that just stuck with you? 

I bet their words and experiences began to inform your interactions with the next family you saw or the next time a similar situation came up.

And I bet the services and support you provided were better for it.

So how can we create more opportunities for families to share their brilliant insights and teach us about their lives?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

– Add open-ended questions to your family surveys to allow families to provide some responses in their own words. 

– Host a listening session or “parent cafe” where the participants, not the educators, are the stars of the show. (TIP: If you get consent to record these conversations, you can use anonymous versions of their quotes to guide your work or highlight needs or impacts for grants or reports.)

– Post questions on social media and invite families to respond in the comments.

– Host your own focus groups or interviews with family leaders in the school community to pick their brains.

The families we work with are the experts on their kids and their lives. Let’s let them tell us what they need, in their own words. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be actively working through my mom brain to post more regularly and share more content about qualitative data – how you can collect it, analyze it, and use it to improve your work with kids and families.