Forging Strong Parent-Professional Partnerships

Decades of research show that when families and schools partner together, children are better positioned to reach their greatest potential as learners and active members of the school community. There’s simply no doubt that parental involvement is directly linked to students with higher self-confidence and more positive attitudes toward school and learning. From better attendance and higher grades, to better homework completion rates and higher graduation rates, the most consistent predictor of high academic achievement and positive social adjustment for children is engaged parents.

When I collaborate with school staff and parents, I highlight the fundamental belief that all teachers and families want to work collaboratively to support the development of every child. Perhaps they simply lack sufficient skill to do so effortlessly. However, when skills are nurtured, a true partnership allows us to advance the eager reader and the math whiz beyond grade level, develop a child’s ability to organize and plan work effectively, strengthen language skills, and nurture social-emotional development—all critical outcomes of the early education years.  With a team approach, we are better able to understand how every child thinks and learns, capitalizing on his or her strengths and working together to support any challenges that may impact learning.

Here are some tips for focusing on partnership…IMG_3657

The Commitment to Parents-As-Partners–What Schools Can Do

Walk the talk. It isn’t enough to say the partnership is important. A true commitment is evident when parents are invited into the school for a variety of  child-specific as well as social events and activities.

Our information is your information. When a teacher makes observations or has assessment data about a child, parents are urged to contribute to the plan for education. Whether a child needs to be more challenged or his learning more supported, teachers engage parents in the conversation.

Be Flexible. Schools must demonstrate respect for the real work-family balance issues parents struggle with. Creating family-friendly ways for engagement should be a school-wide priority.

Build a Community of Learners. Schools are uniquely positioned to encourage parents to be lifelong learners. Through parent education, family support, and referral services, schools play a key role in helping parents see the benefit of growing and developing as their child’s best teacher.

Tips for Strengthening the Partnership–What Parents Can Do

Make connections early. There’s no telling when there will be a need to discuss a child’s academic, social-emotional, or behavioral learning. It’s always easier to be open and honest when a relationship has already been established.

Opt for face-to-face communication. Voice mail and email, while time-efficient, may lead to incomplete or contentious communication. Talking to teachers about your child is more likely to be successful when the communication is done in person and has been scheduled so both parent and teacher have had time to think through the main objectives.

Always keep your child at the center of your exchanges. Not every parent and teacher will have an affinity for each other. Yet when parents and teachers keep the child in front, and not between them, the child is sure to benefit.


Crossover Fiction Gets Parents & Teens Talking

GirlSentAwayNumerous studies also confirm what every reader already knows—that the novel is an incomparable vehicle for the exploration of human social and emotional life. Literary critics and philosophers have long advanced the notion that one of fiction’s main jobs is to raise social consciousness.

Decades of research also show that when parents and teachers partner together around social-emotional learning, teens are better positioned to reach their greatest potential as healthy, active members of the community. There’s simply no doubt that this kind of involvement is directly linked to teens having higher self-confidence and more positive attitudes toward school and home. From better attendance, higher grades, and higher graduation rates, to increases in prosocial behavior and decreases in problem behaviors, the most consistent predictor of high academic achievement and positive social adjustment for teens is engaged parents and teachers.

The Power of Fiction to Teach

When teachers, parents and teens come together to deepen their understanding of our collective emotional lives—using fiction—they positively impact the development of the core competencies of social-emotional development, which include nurturing self and social awareness, developing relationship skills, and influencing responsible decision-making.

Despite biological predispositions to conditions like anxiety or depression, it is resiliency skills that help protect teens from various mental health conditions.  And if you or someone you care about has an existing mental health condition, then building resilience is crucial to improving one’s ability to cope.

Using a conversation-based approach to discuss fiction, teens are afforded a safe space to learn about preventive mental health and capitalize on personal strengths for building resilience and navigating complex social relationships.

Crossover Fiction Gets Parents and Teens Talking

Some within publishing deem a novel “crossover” when it is written for young adults but attracts a healthy adult audience. Others—mostly in the fields of public relations and marketing—consider a novel “crossover” when it is written for adults but young adults read and spread the word about it. Regardless of which direction interest first flows, crossover fiction serves a powerful purpose, which is to get parents and teens reading and talking about meaningful text together.

Participation in conversations using high interest fiction, allows parents, teachers, and teens to:

  • discuss risk and protective factors for mental illness
  • develop resiliency skills that promote emotional well-being
  • demonstrate perspective-taking and conflict management skills
  • express empathy toward others
  • practice interpersonal communication skills

Your Book Discussion Group

GSA-companion-cover copyDue to the sensitive nature of the types of books that can have the greatest impact on raising social awareness and reducing stigma, it’s important to prepare the environment, making it conducive to sharing and learning. Thoughtful, respectful conversation is more likely to occur if teachers and parents create emotional safety zones in advance of book discussions.

  • Create ground rules and goals, either by utilizing a planning committee or taking the first few minutes of each meeting to agree on participation expectations.
  • Consider coaching teens to co-lead the discussion with agreed upon ground rules and partnerships with parents and/or teachers.
  • At every meeting, ensure confidentiality and find ways to establish a sense of closeness among teens, teachers, and parents by aligning interests.
  • Choose books wisely by outlining group goals in advance and then selecting titles that support certain kinds of discussions.
  • Keep discussions focused on characters and their wants, needs, and choices. Revisit ground rules if conversations become too personal.
  • Extend the learning beyond the group by identifying activities that parents, teachers, and teens can engage in to keep conversations going.

The best fiction illuminates the human condition and gives readers much to reflect on and discuss. By harnessing the power of storytelling—informed by research on social-emotional learning and effective communication—teachers, parents, teens can engage in conversations about mental health and emotional well-being, with the goal of building empathy, nurturing perspective-taking, and strengthening resilience.

Titles to Consider:

Stories written for teens with crossover to adults:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Friendship, Diversity)

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (Mental illness, grief)

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Loss, loyalty)

Stories written for adults with crossover appeal to young adults:

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Technology, Relationships)

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon (Belonging, Diversity)

Once Upon a River Bonnie Campbell (Independence, courage)


Let’s Talk About Adolescent Mental Health


Recognized expert on family relationships, Lynne Griffin will facilitate a discussion of her new novel Girl Sent Away using the companion guide Let’sTalk About It: Adolescent Mental Health. The guide includes conversation starters, discussion questions, and additional books and films parents and teens can read and watch together to keep the lines of communication open, effective, and engaging.


Tailored to meet your educational initiatives and to suit your parent, faculty, and student population, Lynne Griffin is available to assist you with:

  • strategic implementation of Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Health
  • curriculum mapping for social-emotional learning
  • coaching and program development for interpersonal leadership and communication
  • consultation for working with complex families.


Lynne’s nonfiction guide, Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Healthprovides information and activities a school may use to positively impact adolescents’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes about emotional well-being. With a focus on curriculum integration, each literacy, health, and social-emotional learning module includes:

  • Overview & objectives
  • Essential questions
  • Activities/projects/assignments
  • Select STEAM mapping opportunities
  • Discussion questions related to the novel
  • Resources for further exploration

 Email Events [dot] LynneGriffin [dot] com today to discuss your program needs.

What is Crossover Fiction?

The magic pixie dust for how to reach lots and lots of readers may be elusive, but two things about book discoverability are indisputable: readers are always on the look out for good stories and writers are increasingly desperate to find their people. While the definition of crossover fiction within the industry is debatable—on this readers, writers, agents, editors, and publishers can agree—everyone wins when a novel has ageless appeal.

Some within publishing deem a novel “crossover” when it is written for children or young adults but attracts a healthy adult audience. The quintessential example being J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Others—mostly in the fields of public relations and marketing—consider a novel “crossover” when it is written for adults but young adults read and spread the word about it. Think—George R.R. Martin andGame of Thrones.

Two things about book discoverability are indisputable: readers are always on the look out for good stories and writers are increasingly desperate to find their people.

Many classic stories can be described as having crossed over either way. When I was coming into my own as a young adult reader, I loved (and still do) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, both novels written for adults. And regardless of when you came to experience it, who among us isn’t still fascinated by the timeless Lewis Carroll novel written for children, Alice in Wonderland?

I don’t necessarily recommend that writers set out to write a novel with appeal to adult and young adult readers. What I have been known to harp on in the writing classes I teach, is to build story worlds where something is at risk for well-developed, authentic characters. What’s at stake can be subtle—yet still powerful—like in Alice McDermott’s masterpiece Someone. Or emotionally quiet but nonetheless impactful like in Ann Packer’s The Dive From Clausen’s Pier.

Stories need not contain a car chase or a gun going off to draw readers in or keep them reading. Tension in fiction is created in a variety of ways, but always includes compelling characters, fresh plot lines, spot on pacing, charged dialogue, and settings that support the central conflict of the story.

The kind of intense curiosity that keeps readers turning pages lends itself quite well to uncovering the holy grail of book marketing—word of mouth. Readers love nothing more than to share with other readers books that have changed their lives. And I don’t know a writer who isn’t in search of a broader readership. Still crossover fiction has yet another powerful purpose which is to get readers within families reading together.

Research shows that when parents read and discuss fiction with children of all ages, they positively impact the development of the core competencies of social-emotional development, which includes nurturing self and social awareness, developing relationship skills, and influencing responsible decision-making. Reading fiction impacts the development of empathy and resilience too, and it enhances readers’ ability to navigate complex social relationships. Can you think of a better way to parent our teens than to foster connections with each other through literature?

This post would not be complete if I didn’t share some wonderful crossover fiction for you to add to your Goodreads shelves. Below you’ll find recommendations for family stories I’ve enjoyed with crossover appeal.

Family stories written for teens with crossover to adults:

Family stories written for adults with crossover appeal to young adults:

Want more? Check out this terrific list by genre of fiction with crossover appeal from @bookaddictguide.

Girl Sent Away

In Lynne Griffin’s new novel, Girl Sent Away, she takes on a topic that’s rarely discussed but which richly deserves our attention: the fear-based teenage boot camps that serve as a dark undercurrent to our domestic culture. In this book, Griffin explores that somber, frightening world, through the twinned journeys of a troubled teenage girl and her grieving father. This is a terrific and terrifying story, and one that should be told. Brava to Griffin for having the courage to do so. –Roxana Robinson, author of Cost and Sparta

Girl Sent Away is an emotional page turner that explores the ways in which grief can tear families apart and love can triumph. –Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle

From Kirkus Reviews:
With its young heroine and sensitive examination of adolescents in crisis, Girl Sent Away would do well to also find a teen audience.

This compelling novel takes us inside the lives of a girl and her father who fall prey to a horrific reality: a system of institutions that claims to treat trauma, but actually creates more of it. A must-read, especially for anyone whose life is touched by troubled teens. –Maia Szalavitz, author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids

Also coming in November is LET’S TALK ABOUT IT: ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH, a companion guide for reading GIRL SENT AWAY. Collaborate with Lynne to engage your community of parents, teachers, and teens in this important dialogue about preventive mental health. To invite Lynne to speak at your school, organization, or book club, email

Adolescent Rebellion

Lynne talks about adolescent rebellion on Fox Morning News

The Story Behind Sea Escape

Entertainment Weekly says, “SEA ESCAPE is a multigenerational saga that will pluck the heartstrings.

Complex Marriages in Fiction

Since the moment my husband and I announced our engagement—twenty-six years ago—I’ve heard just about all the marriage advice imaginable. Marry your best friend.” Marriage is work.” Dont go to bed angry.  Cliches without specifics didn’t resonate with me then, and now that my daughter is about to marry, I’m thinking long and hard about the pearls of wisdom I want to impart to her.

While there are lots of terrific nonfiction self-help books aimed at couples starting out, getting hitched, navigating rough patches, or even contemplating calling it quits, for the deep dive on marital relationships, I turn to fiction.

Crossing to SafetyThere’s no limit to the power of storytelling to teach. And since there are many right ways—and wrong ways—to nurture a relationship, novels provide complex and meaningful examples of what’s in store once the honeymoon is over.

One story I return to again and again is Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. I nearly sigh at the sound of the title. It’s touted as a novel about the alchemy of friendship, and it is, yet it’s also a glimpse inside two very different marriages. Sid and Charity Lang befriend Larry and Sally Morgan while both men are on the professor to tenure track at a small mid-western university. The portraits of these relationships offer much food for thought about how couples care for their relationships in the face of personal desires for independence.

Stegner writes, It all comes back in broken scenes,highlighting one of Crossing to Safetys strengths. It explores marriage in retrospect, over decades in the lives of its characters. Similarly beautiful is Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel. Set in the community of houses built on pilings in the middle of Biscayne Bay (hence the book’s title) readers watch the marriage of Frances and Dennis DuVal unfold. Against a landscape that mirrors the calm and storm of relationships, Daniel paints an authentic, heartaching view of what it means to make a commitment—and then struggle to remain true to it.

I Married You For Happiness

One of the most poignant reflections I’ve read on this subject is I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck. This slim volume captures a wife’s remembrances of her husband and their forty three years together after she finds him in their home, dead of a sudden andunexpected event. As Nina waits by his bedside for help to arrive, she recalls the trials and triumphs of their long life together. A novel layered with romance and tenderness, tension and strife, this fictional story so closely resembles real life it reads like a memoir.

If you prefer depictions of marriage more contentious, then there is no better novel than Revolutionary Roadby Richard Yates. A finalist for the National Book Award in 1962, the novel was acclaimed and beloved long before Leo and Kate starred in the film version of the story. Frank and April Wheeler are a couple in love, but their undoing is the way each copes with frustration and yearning. Often referred to as the quintessential novel of suburban malaise, in an interview for Ploughsharesten years after the novel’s release, Yates said, I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbsa kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.Revolutionary Road

As with literary villains who are painted all bad, I’m not interested in reading only about overly dreadful marriages. I want characters and their interactions to be truly complex and multi-faceted—you know, like real relationships. Here are some more top picks in the category: reflections on marriage.

Life Drawing by Robin Black

A character-driven story about a painter and a writer navigating the intimacies and betrayals of their relationship—their art and mid-life. I fell in love with Black’s writing when I read her short story collection, If I Loved You I Would Tell You This. Verdict: read both!

The Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer

This compelling novel ponders the question, what if you longed to be out of your marriage and then suddenly your wish was granted? Reminiscent of the novels of Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, I recommend this one often because of it’s originality and Bauer’s effortless storytelling.

Favorite Family Fiction of 2014

Book enthusiasts love to compile “best of” lists and post them at the end of December. Every year I consider doing it too, but when I sit down to write, I find myself bristling much like Emily Nussbaum did over creating a top ten list of TV shows. Not only is it impossible to have read all the novels published in a given year, but it feels as silly as comparing paella to democracy. I just don’t think you can set anavant-garde novel about marriage like Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation against a robust family saga like We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. You may have connected to one more than the other but in fiction all things are not equal, which means neither novel can really be deemed better than the other.

Reading (and loving) a story, its’ plot and its’ characters, is a subjective experience, one that engages the head and the heart. Any fiction round up should acknowledge that the list is merely one person’s opinion. The goal instead being to contribute to the conversation about well-written stories—ones that buried themselves in the collective unconscious and those little gems that surprised and delighted perhaps only you.

For me it feels better to stick with the word favorite. My list of family fiction that engaged and moved me in 2014 includes novels I believe have the power to change you in 2015—and beyond. (More below on the amazing family fiction I read in 2014 that pubbed in previous years.)

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston—This novel takes wishful thinking about family reunification after abduction and turns it on its head. In the aftermath of Justin Campbell’s disappearance, the boy’s family is justifiably shattered. But when he returns to them four years later, mother, father, brother, grandfather—and even Justin—should be able to resume life as they once knew it, right? Not so in this emotional novel about a fractured family and how hard it is for them to hold on to each other once again. This literary page-turner gripped me from chapter one, and will stay with me for a long time to come.

Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis—I wrote about this lovely novel in an earlier Lit Chat post about father/daughter novels. Booklist liked it too, giving it a starred review: “…this beautifully wrought novel is a sometimes wrenching but ultimately uplifting story of murder and betrayal in the face of faith, family in its truest sense, and—most of all—love.” I enjoyed everything about this story set in Provincetown Massachusetts, taking place over three decades. I found the characters fully drawn and their struggles both personal and universal.

Ghost Horse by Thomas H. McNeely—This award-winning novel does an amazing job of exploring what family means in the context of what’s happening in society. In this case, set amidst the social tensions of 1970’s Houston, Ghost Horse tells the story of eleven-year-old Buddy Turner’s shifting alliances within his fragmented family and with two other boys–one Anglo, one Latino–in their quest to make a Super-8 animated movie. As the novel unfolds, readers learn the secrets Buddy’s parents are keeping from him and the compelling narrative urges readers to consider the impact of putting a child in the middle of adult issues and problems.

The Blessings by Elise Juska—A novel in stories about the interior world of a close-knit Irish-Catholic family and the rituals that bind them. Told through the eyes of mothers and fathers, uncles and cousins, readers share the joys and sorrows of characters who leap off the page. Juska depicts family life in honest and raw ways. So much so that by the novel’s end, I longed to be part of the family, joining into the Blessings’ celebrations and grieving alongside them at the loss of beloved relatives. This gem of a family novel is not to be missed.

Family fiction I loved—though not published in 2014

Girls I Know by Douglas Trevor—Wonderful writing, relatable characters and rich in theme and premise, this novel is a pitch perfect read about the families we have and the families we make.

Veronica’s Nap by Sharon Bially—A charming, beautifully written examination of one woman’s identity crisis after moving to Provence and having twins. Interesting portrait of the sometimes wide chasm between motherhood and artistic pursuits.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison—Better than Gone Girl, this novel takes a look inside a very dark and troubled marriage.

The Last Goodnight by Emily Listfield—Compelling mystery about a woman leading a double life and the impact of her lies on her present husband and baby.

LYNNE GRIFFIN is the author of the novels Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press, 2009) and Sea Escape (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Her short stories and essays have appeared in Parenting Magazine, The Drum Literary Magazine, Brain, Child, The Writer, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, Huffington Post, and more. Lynne teaches family studies at the graduate level at Wheelock College, and fiction at Grub Street Writers. In partnership with Grub Street, she has created the strategic writer program called Launch Lab, for soon-to-be-published authors. Connect with Lynne on twitter @Lynne_Griffin or at her website,

Characters With Special Needs Make for Exceptional Stories

In May I had the honor of speaking at the American Montessori Conference in Dallas alongside the remarkable Temple Grandin, author of many nonfiction books, including The Autistic Brain. She mesmerized the audience, sharing anecdotes about her childhood and how her insightful mother nurtured her at a time when little was known about autism. Her real life stories stole my heart, and got me thinking about the fictional ones I’ve been impacted by over the years.

I’ll admit I was late to the game reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I tend to shy away from phenoms du jour, but my daughter kept putting the tome on my bedside table until I had no choice but to acquiesce. Ten pages in and I was as hooked as the rest of the world with this gorgeous novel loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, about a mute boy, his dogs, and his search for the truth about his father’s murder. The Christian Science Monitor said of the novel, “Edgar might be silent, but his story will echo with readers for a long time.” I couldn’t agree more.

 Shortly after reading Edgar, I became equally enchanted with Rachel Simon’s, The Story of Beautiful Girl. Hard as it is to fathom, as recently as the nineteen sixties, children born with disabilities such as deafness and Down Syndrome were institutionalized, forever separated from family. Simon (also the author of the acclaimed memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister) believes like I do in the power of fiction to teachI spoke with Rachel about what it’s like to write from the heart about the plight of the most vulnerable among us (those put away as they were once referred to), who have been cast out of society, forced to make sense of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to find love. “She felt so lovely in his hands. She felt so loved in his eyes.”

Another deeply moving story is the powerful Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern. This hypnotic thriller centers on the disappearance of two children into the woods behind their school. Hours later a young girl has been found murdered and the only witness is a child who cannot tell what he saw. The child is autistic, and so begins his mother’s quest to give voice to the tragedy her child endured, and to find peace for the girl’sparents who desperately need to know what happened to their daughter.

All of these novels are as well-plotted as they are rich in authentic character details. Each hero goes beyond the stereotypical or sensational, working his or her way into our hearts because the challenges they face are both uniquely personal and universal. Readers will love them, not because of their special needs, but because they think and feel, as all of us do, about loving and being loved, about what it means to be part of a family. Readers will turn pages all the faster when these memorable characters are in jeopardy, and they’ll mourn each book’s closing despite their hero’s triumphs. All of these selections are must-reads because the stories are so compelling and the writing so beautiful.

Other Notable Selections:

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips

Icy Sparks, Hyman Rubio

Young Adult

Wonder, R. J. Palacio

Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper

What stories/novels have you read featuring a special needs character that made a difference in your life?

Lynne Griffin is a nationally recognized expert on relationships and family life. She is the author of the novels, Sea Escape (Simon & Schuster, 2010) and Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press, 2009), and the nonfiction guide Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment (Penguin, 2007). Lynne teaches family studies and leadership at the undergraduate and graduate levels at Wheelock College in Boston. She recently completed a second year as visiting scholar of education in Singapore. Lynne teaches fiction writing at Grub Street Writers in Boston, and co-created an innovative, intensive program for soon-to-be-published writers called Launch Lab.

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