Diverse group of community members sit at a meeting together.

Foster Community Engagement: 9 Steps to Establishing a District Family Engagement Team

Effective family engagement is an intentional and systemic partnership of educators, families, and community members …[who] share responsibility for a student’s preparation for school, work and life, from the time the child is born to young adulthood.

– Lopez & Rosenberg

Family Engagement Toolkit

This toolkit was developed to help districts and schools by providing practical planning and evaluation tools that support efforts to engage all families, particularly those of underrepresented and underserved students.

STEP 1. Establish a District Family Engagement Team

School leaders will brainstorm potential candidates for the team that will represent the diversity of the communities within the district.

Consider people in the following roles for your team:

  • District Family Engagement Coordinator
  • District, State, and federal program staff (e.g. programs for English learner students, students with disabilities, students in foster care etc.)
  • Site administrators
  • Teachers
  • Parent leaders
  • Community partners
  • Support staff (custodian, nurse, receptionist etc.)

Having some team members who are already on other district committees can facilitate cross-communication.

Ensure the list of prospective members reflects the diversity of your district.

STEP 2. Create a Vision Statement for Family Engagement

Conduct a group discussion to gather ideas about what outstanding family engagement would look like for each stakeholder group. (Save your notes from this discussion to use in conducting a needs assessment.)

Delegate a small group to draft the vision statement based on consensus and bring it back to the team to be finalized.

When the team meets to finalize the vision statement, consider the following equity questions:

  • Will this vision statement resonate with families of all student groups?
  • Does this vision statement include a role for all stakeholders?
  • Will this vision statement serve as an inspiration for all stakeholders?

Consider sharing the vision statement with the Board of Trustees (or school board members), to seek its approval and ask that the vision statement be included in the district’s family engagement policy.

STEP 3. Identify Current Levels of Trust Between Educators and Families

Gather evidence of, and reflect on, the degree of trust between educators and families in the district and schools.

Ask the family engagement team to reflect on the two questions below, and to identify existing evidence that helps to answer each question.

  • How welcome do families feel at our school / district?
  • Are there differences between different groups of families, by grade levels or schools?

If your team has very limited evidence about the current situation, discuss evidence you might gather that will help to answer each question.

As you review the evidence you have, note any needs you may want to address when you start the Plan phase of the continuous improvement process.

STEP 4. Identify Current Levels of Communications to Student Learning in Family Engagement Efforts

Gather evidence of, and reflect on, connections of district and school family engagement activities to student learning.

Ask the family engagement team to reflect on the three questions below, and to identify existing evidence that helps to answer each question.

  • Do district plans include family engagement actions as part of each student learning goal?
  • How confident do educators feel about partnering with families to support student learning?
  • Do families understand effective ways to support their child’s learning?

If your team has very limited evidence about the current situation, discuss evidence you might gather that will help to answer each question.

As you review the evidence you have, note any needs you may want to address when you start the Plan phase of the continuous improvement process.

STEP 5. Review Existing Family Engagement Activities

Reflect on existing family engagement activities and how well they (1) contribute to building trusting relationships and (2) connect family engagement to student learning.

Make a list of current family engagement activities.

As a team, reflect on each activity and determine the extent to which it:

  • contributes to building trusting relationships
  • connects to student learning
    • Document by writing:
      • Not well, Somewhat, or Very Well next to each listed item

Initial work can be done by team members, as individuals, or in pairs, and then discussed as a group, or it can be done as a whole-group activity.

Once the team agrees on the rating for each activity, have members discuss how that activity could be improved. However, before the team makes any plans to change existing activities, be sure to review the continuous improvement process in the toolkit; the discussion about existing activities will contribute to the Plan phase.

STEP 6. Develop a Plan for Strengthening Trusting Relationships and Connections to Student Learning

  • Identify the district goal.
  • Ask the team to discuss and define objectives (i.e., what knowledge and skills you want educators to have, and what you want them to be able to do).
  • Discuss activities to accomplish your objectives. For each activity, identify progress indicators that will help you know if the activities are underway, and how effective they are.
  • Depending on the size of your team, you may choose to have the members work as a whole group or in smaller groups, with those smaller groups sharing out their work for the whole group, which provides feedback.
  • Have the team discuss how to integrate these objectives, activities, and progress indicators into larger district plans, such as the Title I Local Educational Agency Plan, or plans required by the county, region, or state.

STEP 7. Develop an Action Plan

Identify tasks for implementing an activity to stay organized, efficient and on time.

For each activity in your plans for strengthening trusting relationships and strengthening connections to student learning, make an action plan that includes these elements:

  • Task
  • Who is Responsible
  • Materials Needed
  • Task Completion Timeline

In some cases, the person responsible may be someone who coordinates others, or assigns the tasks to several staff members; ultimately, the person responsible is the person who makes sure the task is completed.

STEP 8. Develop a Communication Plan

Develop a communication plan to increase awareness of family engagement and the role of all stakeholders, and to solicit feedback and input on family engagement plans and activities.

Facilitate a brainstorm among team members of all the possible audiences in the district and school communities who need to be considered in developing the family engagement communication plan.

Keep in mind that each audience may need different information, may prefer different methods of communication, and will have input on different aspects of family engagement.

For each audience, have the whole group or smaller groups address the following questions:

  • What are their interests/roles related to family engagement?
  • What are we asking them to think about, say, or do?
  • What is the key information they need?
  • What feedback or input are we seeking from them?
  • What are the best ways to communicate with them?
  • Who will be responsible for communicating with them?

The following communications-related equity questions should also be considered:

  • Do we need to make our communication materials available in different languages?
  • Have we used easily understandable terminology and avoided education jargon?
  • Have we explained all acronyms?
  • Have we indicated where staff and families can get more information and who to talk to if they have questions or want to get more involved?
  • Have we considered how diverse staff and families do (or don’t) access information in the district?

STEP 9. Evaluate Family Engagement Annually

Evaluate the implementation and impact of family engagement activities.

  • Review the action plans for strengthening trusting relationships and strengthening connections to student learning, and evaluate accomplishment of each district goal.
  • Facilitate a discussion with the team about whether each activity was implemented in full, in part, or not at all.
  • Make notes about any obstacles to implementation and/or any observations or insights about what led to only partial implementation. These notes will be useful when the team discusses how to share information and how to adjust activities for next year’s plan.

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