In 2017, I joined the Flamboyan team with over 15 years experience working in public education. As a middle-school classroom teacher for the first decade of my career, I experienced a revolving door of new programming and partnerships, only to be introduced to something new the next year. It was exhausting and rarely created meaningful change in my teaching practice or translated into better outcomes for my students. We had an opportunity at Flamboyan to break that pattern and inform thinking about sustainable change in schools by learning directly from and with schools and communities. So began a two-year pilot to answer the question: How does a school launch and sustain REAL Family Engagement?
When the pilot began, Flamboyan’s Family Engagement Partnership (FEP) was highly sought after by DC area schools. Across the district, teachers and school leaders championed REAL Family Engagement. As a result, families spoke of the stronger relationships and deeper connections they had to educators in their children’s schools. At the same time, Flamboyan coaches gradually eased off some of the intensive partnership supports at schools where family engagement showed signs of sustaining.
Leaning into our approach of Understanding + Incorporating, we conducted interviews, facilitated focus groups, looked at school data, and completed observations in the first year of the pilot. Analysis of this data overwhelmingly proved that in schools where family engagement thrives, it is not about best practices – it is a way of being for teachers and educators. The learning we did with our partner schools expanded the way we thought about family engagement. We saw that in successful schools, engaging families is not only a classroom teacher’s job but everyone’s job. We noticed that family engagement was part of every school conversation, and it was often an agenda topic in data meetings, principal-teacher check-ins, hiring interviews, grade-level team meetings, and leadership team meetings. We doubled down on the importance of listening and responding to families as part of a whole-school family engagement model. And we gained a new awareness of how the strongest leaders of family engagement champion positive mindsets about families and challenge negative attitudes and biases.
When we set out to graduate our schools, the goal was to coach and codify. But it ended up changing our entire FEP program, giving us a refreshed approach to how we coach our partnership schools. Listening to the communities we serve led us to create a sustainability framework that guides our work to this day.
Since 2017, we have successfully graduated 25 schools, including the 12 schools that comprise our 2021 graduating class! The lessons we learn from our partners – graduated and current – help us evolve our approach to our whole-school family engagement model. These lessons are now captured in a resource designed for anyone looking to begin, improve, or scale REAL Family Engagement in schools: The School Leader Tool. Built by working closely with school-based partners in DC, The School Leader Tool reflects our belief that high-quality, equitable school-based family engagement can change a student’s life.
We hope you’ll check out the Tool and let us know what you think.
Kyle Evans is Director of Coaching and Sustainability at Flamboyan Foundation.