Diverse group of parents and teachers smiling and talking informally.

Practice Anti-Bias Education Through Family & Community Engagement: Support Teacher-Family Relationships Built on Respect

In addition to setting a tone of respect and inclusivity, strong communication with families also offers teachers an opportunity to invite family involvement and share curricular goals, materials and resources.

– Learning For Justice

The following guidelines can help schools avoid communication pitfalls and support teacher-family relationships built on respect.

Inclusive Terminology and Materials

All communications should be checked for assumptions about household resources, family traditions, cultural practices, political affiliations or other life circumstances. Teacher’s should make a point of learning the central figures in each student’s life. This may include stepparents, parental partners (regardless of gender) or extended family members.

Instead of sending an email that opens, “Dear Parents,” use “Dear Families” instead.

Instead of asking for “mother’s name” and “father’s name” on a form, have a space for “names of parents/guardians.”

Use of Home Languages

Because language plays a crucial role in families’ lives, teachers should communicate with parents in their home languages as much as possible.

Provide family materials in students’ home languages when possible.

When translation is needed, a school-provided translator should be employed, as asking students to translate can put them in an awkward position.

Inclusion of Family and Community Wisdom

Family and community wisdom can put a personal face on historical or sociological material and help demystify unfamiliar topics, such as LGBT identity, or living with a disability. Hearing from real people who have lived through eras of change or participated in social justice movements can provide inspiration as well as information.

Example – Family Interview
Students can interview family members on a variety of issues such as historical events or eras, family experiences of justice or injustice, evolving cultural norms, social movements and identity.

Example – Guest Speaker
Family and community members can visit the class to speak about a range of topics. Their connections to these issues may be personal, professional or both.

Example – Community Research
Conducting community-based research can deepen students’ understanding of social justice issues. This research might include opinion surveys or needs assessments, community interviews, visits to local sites or Internet research about community history.

Increased Connections Among Families

As students learn and grow together over the course of weeks, months and years, parents and guardians can learn along with them. Strong connections give families the opportunity to support one another in nurturing their children’s identities and values, adding richness to the work of anti-bias and social justice education.

Example – Family Events such as:
Potlucks or picnics; family affinity events (e.g., for families from a certain cultural or ethnic group, for LGBT families, for families of color, for adoptive families); showcases of student work; student or community performances; film nights; game nights; and cultural or multicultural events.

Example – Parent/Guardian Education Programs such as:
Films, speakers or discussions for parents and guardians on topics such as bullying prevention, identity development, racial experiences, gender expression, sexuality, learning differences and family diversity.

Example – Family Service Projects such as:
Family action days at the local food bank, working together on neighborhood political and social issues, attending community events, and fundraising projects for community causes.

Example – Sharing Support
Teachers can encourage families to connect informally to share information and resources, and to support one another in times of need (e.g., the birth of a new baby or a death in the family). The school can foster this type of support by naming it as an explicit priority and creating a user-friendly contact list or online directory.

Use of Local Resources

Witnessing marginalization, power dynamics and activism in their own communities strengthens personal connections with these curricular concepts. At a broader level, schools benefit from community connections and partnerships, and communities benefit when citizens are educated in matters of equity and justice.

Example – Guest Speaker Presentations
Individuals or organizational representatives can be invited to speak about how their life or work experiences relate to social justice themes.

Example – Neighborhood Explorations
Social-movement-based history and cultural knowledge often connect to specific cities and neighborhoods.

Example – Connecting With Community Organizations
Many organizations are happy to partner with schools, provide students with information, and offer opportunities for students to participate in their projects.

Engagement With Community Issues 

A core component of anti-bias education is learning to take action against exclusion, prejudice and discrimination. It can be especially powerful for students to do this in their own schools and local communities.

Example – Personal Action Plan
After reading about prejudice or discrimination, the Personal Action Plan assignment asks students to reflect on these issues in their own surroundings and explore how they might help make their school and community more welcoming, inclusive and equitable.

Example – Fighting for Fairness Letters
This project asks students to identify an instance of unfairness in their school or community, research the issue and write an advocacy letter to a person or organization with power to change the situation. In addition to developing issue-based analysis and critical writing skills, this project requires students to evaluate how change happens and where they can best channel their efforts for maximum impact.

Example – Student-Designed Community Projects
Possible projects include designing a public service announcement, conducting a survey or opinion poll, providing direct service through a community agency, creating a workshop or event, or hosting a justice-themed art show.

Example – Ongoing Partnerships with Community Organizations
Semester or year-long community partnerships offer students a chance to establish continuity and deeper connections with particular issues, populations or projects. A partnership spanning multiple years gives each class a chance to build on previous classes’ work, multiplying the impact.

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