Aspiring Principals Learn from FEP School Leaders Who Validate the Importance of Family Engagement

February 7, 2017 04:06 PM
by / Topics: Improving Family Engagement

From left to right: Carolyn Albert-Garvey, Natalie Gordon, and Kortni Stafford led a dynamic panel discussion during a recent Mary Jane Patterson Fellowship convening.

Principals from three of our Family Engagement Partnership (FEP) schools led a panel discussion exploring the benefits and impact of implementing effective family engagement strategies in their school community and culture. While each principal had a different experience on the process of implementing the practice, they all agreed that any aspiring principal, like the participants of the Mary Jane Patterson Fellowship which Flamboyan facilitates alongside District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), should unapologetically prioritize family engagement practices.

“If we were going to have a great school, we had to invest in effective family engagement,” said Natalie Gordon, Principal at Jefferson Academy Middle School in Southwest. One way to do this, she says, is to “be deliberate about hiring people who understand what we mean by family engagement.”

The elements of Effective Family Engagement:

– ensure families have the school partner and information they need to bolster student success.
– are founded on a trusting relationship between families and educators.
– create a balance of power in the relationship between educators and families.
– require educators to examine their assumptions about families.
– pay attention to how issues of systemic inequity affect student success.

“Parents will not let you do anything unless they trust you,” said Carolyn Albert-Garvey, principal at Maury Elementary, located in the Northeast neighborhood of the District. “I always have to think outside the box as a leader, particularly as it relates to connecting with families,” she said of her role at Maury where she’s seen rising participation from families when it comes to academic partnering. In fact, Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT) is the most well-attended family engagement practice at the school. Albert-Garvey credits this success to the time she invested in getting to know families. “During my first year as principal at Maury, I spent most of my time engaging families,” she said.

Also in attendance was Kortni Stafford, principal at Kelly Miller Middle School, who praised the power of ongoing communication. “Proactive communication is key,” she says. “My staff understand that ongoing communication is two-ways and that both the parent and the teacher play a role in it,” said Stafford when describing that home visits have been instrumental in learning how families seek to receive communication about their child.

After the panel discussion, Mary Jane Patterson fellows asked a range of questions as they sought guidance on how to best implement effective family engagement after receiving their dream job as a principal at a DCPS school.

“Family engagement is only as good as your belief in it. Believe in it just as much as you believe in data, standardized test scores, or teacher evaluations,” added Gordon.