You have established referral relationships with literacy
enhancing services in your community. You’ve
You’ve made the referral. Now the task is to support the
parent’s enrollment and participation.
Plan intensive ongoing support
For the parent and family, becoming a skilled reader is
going to be life-changing and relationship-altering. The
process can be challenging in many personal and practical
ways. Enrolling is a huge step. You can use Dynamic Tension
with the parent to anticipate and plan how to meet the
challenges and manage the consequences of becoming literate.
Dynamic Tension, from David Emeralds’
Power of TED*, The Empowerment Dynamic is a framework
for reflective action planning. In its simplest form, the framework
moves through three basic questions: What do you want? What
have you got? What’s next?
1. What do you want? Pick up your earlier reflective conversation
about getting some help with reading where you asked something like,
“How would things be different for you and Baby if you were a skilled
reader?” This gets to the foundational planning question, “what do you
want?” Remember, literacy skills always are used for some practical
purpose. Continue this discussion until the parent has articulated in
detail her best possible desired outcome – the practical purposes of
her reading. In challenging times ahead, you will want to reflect
back to her this primary motivation and her progress toward her
vision of her new future as a skilled reader.
2. What have you got? Next, assess current reality. Questions
for the parent include, What will help you make this happen?
(social support, especially from family; encouragement, time to
practice, money, child care, transportation). What might get in
the way of you participating in the program? (fear, embarrassment,
resistance of partner). What support will you need? Whom can you
ask for that support? How will you ask? Want to practice?
3. What’s next? Now we get to action – and anxiety. The essential
question is: What baby step can you (the parent) take this week? A
baby step is a small do-able action that has no previous steps and is
the parent’s to do. (If you do it for her, you rob her of learning,
experience, success). You may find there are preliminary steps.
Perhaps the parent needs to get glasses first, or to learn to ride the
bus, or find reliable childcare, or all these things. No matter. Keep her
focused on what she wants, and ask which of these prerequisites she
wants to start with. Maybe you’ll decide the first baby step toward
being a skilled reader is to arrange a vision test. Offer assistance
(“I know a good optometrist; would you like his contact information?”)
but resist the temptation to speed the process by doing what is hers to do.
4. Hold the tension. The dynamic tension, anxiety, arises as soon as
she says out loud what she wants. It raises the possibility of failure.
Tension increases as you assess current reality together because it
points to the distance between reality and the goal. Her natural
tendency will be to relieve the tension by letting go of the goal
(“I don’t really need to read any better”). To support the parent
in following through on the referral to literacy-enhancing services,
keep her “eyes on the prize” by reflecting back to her the outcome
she wants, her strengths and supports, and her progress. Keep her
taking one baby step after another, building success and confidence
along the way, becoming a problem solver, taking charge of her life.
Remind her and yourself that two steps forward and one step back is
still progress; and each baby step has the potential to be a quantum leap.
You will both be amazed by what she can accomplish.
Next: The scariest part is walking in the door the first time.
Support enrollment in a literacy program.
Emerald, David. (2009). The Power of TED* The Empowerment Dynamic.