Insight / Published Sep 26, 2016

Families Shouldn't Have to Navigate Schools Alone

We call ourselves “EdNavigator” because we help people navigate school systems. That’s the heart of what we do: Meeting students and families where they are and helping them find a path to success in school and beyond. Ever since we launched, we have searched for the right person to be our top Navigator — an accomplished educator who would serve as our ultimate expert for parents and students. We’re thrilled to have found that person in Whitney Henderson, a nationally acclaimed teacher and administrator with a fierce commitment to supporting families. Whitney’s bio speaks for itself; here, we’ve asked her to introduce herself in her own words.


When I think about families and schools, I think about my own mother. She was a single mom who exhausted her resources to supplement the education I was getting in East St. Louis, Illinois, which she felt was mediocre compared to the one my more affluent peers were receiving just six miles down the road.

The author and her mother

My mom was always my champion. Up until my freshman year at East St. Louis Senior High, my mom left every parent-teacher conference with a sense of pride and empowerment. She felt confident that I, with the tremendous support of the school staff carefully tracking my performance and offering strategies for improvement, was on track to becoming my best self. She and my teachers were working as a team.

But things changed when I transitioned to high school. In the aftermath of a strike, many of our teachers were replaced with less experienced teachers who were not residents of our town. The school’s culture shifted, and so did how we learned and what we learned.

When I voiced my concerns about what was happening at school to my mom, she waited patiently for the next parent-teacher conference to speak on my behalf. We went together, and I’ll never forget that meeting. Flustered and confused, her authority was undercut several times. I saw her treated as if she was simply not educated enough to know what I should be learning. I saw her leave the conversation defeated, feeling unsupported and like an unequal partner in my education.

Despite that negative interaction, my mother never stopped fighting for me and with me. And not just her—I was fortunate to have many others in my life who contributed to my success in high school and onward. They were a constant presence along my path from East St. Louis Senior High to Jackson State University to Columbia and Harvard. Early on, I promised to be the same advocate they were to me for other children who faced similar challenges.

Over the past ten years as a teacher and administrator, I’ve seen family-school relationships challenged due to conflicting beliefs about what is best for children. But I’ve learned that families know best when it comes to the interests of their child, and I’ve seen families become transformational advocates for children when schools empower and equip them with the right resources and knowledge. At the same time, I’ve also seen how hard it can sometimes be for dedicated teachers and principals to reach and engage parents, even when their schools are fully committed to it. This work isn’t easy for anyone.

“It’s time for parents to be treated as full partners in their children’s education.”

That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining EdNavigator. If we want to see changes in the way students succeed in school, it’s time for teachers and families to come to the table more frequently, more openly, and on more equal terms. It’s time for parents to be treated as full partners in their children’s education, not taken for granted or pushed aside. It’s time to stop keeping the systems of home and school in separate silos.

I know there’s nothing families care more about than the success of their children, and I’ve seen firsthand how ready they are to be engaged and do their part—as well as how game-changing truly involved parents can be. But they need help to do it. They shouldn’t have to do it alone, like my mom so often did. I think EdNavigator can help bring families and schools together to do amazing things for our students, and I can’t wait to get started.