What Teachers Told Us

Back to school is different this September! For my youngest, it’s him glued to a Chromebook, learning in a self-designed sports-themed space, a hoop mounted to the wall for shots in downtime, headphones immersing him in the sounds of his teacher’s voice and classmates’ chatter, and the anxious yet confident joy of a kid starting middle school virtually. I’ve been covertly listening, ear hustling, for all the things I hope my child will hear from his teachers as they enter a school year unlike any other – warm welcomes, personal connections, easing into the virtual space, clear expectations, permission to be a kid while using adult tools.

While I don’t have a classroom of my own, I have spent the last several months listening to teachers and families about what this first week might look like – their hopes, dreams, fears, needs, and advice for each other. What they shared is captured in two new Flamboyan resources: REAL Leadership: How Leaders Can Support Educators to Engage Families During Distance Learning and Teachers to Teachers: Advice for Family Engagement During Distance Learning.

Virtual learning this spring brought many teachers and families in closer partnership, especially when relationships already existed. Last year, we didn’t have a strong relationship with my son’s teacher, and that weak foundation failed us in the pandemic. As his Mom, I was frustrated and wanted more for my child, but I have resources and connections at my disposal to supplement his learning after a career in education. What might have supported his teacher so all students and families could have what they needed?

As Flamboyan’s Senior Director for Evaluation & Learning, I take quantitative and qualitative approaches to measure the impact of family engagement. Throughout my career, I’ve found purpose supporting educators and leaders to ensure equitable educational experiences and outcomes, particularly for Black and Brown students. We are in a critical moment of dramatic change in schooling and increased awareness of racialized systems in this country. It’s also a time when research, science, and disrupting racism are in question in some circles and under attack in others. At Flamboyan, we center listening with the intent to disrupt bias and value communities, particularly those impacted by inequity and injustice. We listen, and typically, we share our findings with our partner schools and system leaders.

But this moment is different. We must share the voices of partner-school educators with a broader audience – teachers and leaders everywhere.

REAL Leadership: How Leaders Can Support Educators to Engage Families During Distance Learning and Teachers to Teachers: Advice for Family Engagement During Distance Learning will be followed by a full report on our teacher listening, with tools to support your own listening with families and each other. These resources represent the voices of nearly 900 teachers in Washington, DC, during the peak of the global pandemic’s hold on DC. Whether you are a single teacher reading this post or you are reading in collaboration with your school staff, I hope you feel community with the teachers we listened to.

I hope the evidence from our research-based listening adds to the conversations about how to make schools more equitable. Our kids and families – especially those most impacted by inequity – need us to get this as right as possible, and on a personal note, my son and I need it, too!

Cecily Darden Adams is Senior Director of Evaluation, Learning, and Knowledge Management at Flamboyan Foundation.