If you had some time and money, what education issue would you focus on in DC?
Kristin Ehrgood, our CEO and Board Chair, asked herself this question ten years ago when searching for the flagship issue for her fledgling foundation. In conversations with families, educators, and community stakeholders, a clear theme emerged: the relationships between educators and families are broken. She heard that teachers didn’t value families, see them as assets, or believe in the impact of real family engagement. She also heard from families that they felt closed out and disrespected. She knew the next step was to deep dive into the research to understand: what is real family engagement?
We’ve learned a lot since those first conversations, and we now know that change requires more than just big ideas. The careful listening Kristin charged herself to do in our early days became one of six levers to how we approach the work: LISTEN + LEARN. We listen to and learn with people directly affected by challenges we are working to address.
We activated this lever again when building out an updated resource library for our new website last summer. Thanks to support from our friends and colleagues at the Polinger Foundation, we recruited for and launched the Research Collective, a group of educators with track records of strong relationships with families and a desire to contribute to the growth of real family engagement practices across the country.
We charged participants to conduct and record at least 10 interviews with families from their classroom or school to understand: What school/educator-actions make families feel welcome, engaged, and informed?
These interviews were seeking to accomplish four things. We wanted to: a) pull out stories and experiences, instead of yes/no situations, b) look for what is working or has worked, c) think about what could be, and d) utilize hindsight perspective, asking families to think about their students’ earliest experiences in school
Who are the members of the Research Collective? The Research Collective is a group of 35 educators from across DC, teaching at all grade levels from PS-12, at traditional public or public charter schools. One of Flamboyan’s four core values is around equity, charging us to challenge ourselves, one another and our partners to uphold belief in a shared humanity by interrupting bias, dismantling systems of oppression, and lifting up the voices of marginalized people and communities. To live this out in our work, we wanted to increase the likelihood that we would hear from DC’s most marginalized families. So, we prioritized selecting teachers from schools where most students have been identified as “at-risk” on the DC School Report Card and from schools that educate a significant ELL population.
Because of the incredible work of this group of educators, we now have transcripts of 350 interviews elevating family voices! We are still gleefully sifting through and analyzing the findings, but we wanted to share the themes that have already emerged:
- Authenticity + Care: Families want to know that teachers know and care about their student, and parents can tell when teachers aren’t being authentic.
- Partnership: Families are looking for partners in their children’s education and most often this means someone who will share resources and information – about everything from their kid’s academics to where to get help with groceries.
- Ongoing communication: As one Research Collective educator put it, literally no family said they were receiving TOO much communication! Families want to be engaged around academics -honestly and in real time – about social emotional stuff, and about supporting kids on the next step in their education. And they want it in all the ways: text, apps, Facebook, email, in-person… you name it!
- Safety: Concerns about bullying came up frequently. We must understand that before families can engage on anything else (academics, behavior, attendance, etc.), they must feel confident that their child is safe at school every day.
These preliminary themes aren’t surprising or revolutionary. In fact, they underscore the real work that still needs to be done to ensure that every child has the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. Flamboyan is committed to creating lasting change – and we know that people closest to a challenge often hold the keys to solving it – so we are always listening and learning to evolve our approach with help from our partners. The findings from these interviews will inform much of the work we do in the coming year. We are excited and eager to share what we learn from these interviews, so stay tuned for more!
Megan Lucas is the former Senior Director of Product Development & Network Strategy on our Effective Family Engagement team in our Washington, DC office.