Transcript: Building a strong foundation for family-school partnerships: A story about growth and human connections
Kenwyn Derby: Hello. Thanks for being here. My name, again, is Kenwyn. This session, just to remind everyone of the context, is part of this multi-part virtual event from the California Center on School Climate (CCSC), and this whole event is called “Strengthening School Communities for Resilience.” At the end of this webinar, I will remind you how to register for more of the webinar sessions. There are three that will occur on April 28th.
So this afternoon, this session is here to help us learn about building a strong foundation for family-school partnerships. It’s brought to life with a story about growth and human connections in early childhood. Go to the next slide, I’ll talk a little bit about the center. So, the event, again, is brought to you by the California Center for School Climate, which is an initiative of the California Department of Education. We invite you to visit the website to explore a range of supports that we provide to districts and schools across the state. Jenny’s posting in the chat our website, and you can also use your phone to be super modern and use the QR code on the screen right now.
To give a little brief overview of the center now, though, we provide free supports on school climate and data use to local education agencies (LEAs) across the state of California. Our high-level goals at the center focus on supporting LEAs in your efforts to improve school climate for students and staff. We do that by meeting you where you are and providing relevant supports. That might be helping to ensure effective use of data to inform your school climate improvement efforts, serving as a connector to other LEAs and support providers across the state, and supporting LEAs in developing local partnerships to best serve the needs of their communities, so it is customized and varied. And you see here that those are our four pillars that drive the work.
And then if we can go the next slide, we will see our visitor from CDE. They support this work. Tom Herman with CDE, he’s going to welcome us and talk a little bit about CDE’s priorities in this area.
Tom Herman: Well, hello, and welcome to this virtual event. I’m so glad that you’re all here. Schools have a long history, in a sense, of being sort of closed systems in which there was a sort of a tacit deal made that you send your kids to schools and we’ll keep them safe and we’ll teach them well. That system in the last many years has really been blown up, with a fundamental understanding that we have to work closely with communities and with parents to really address the needs of the whole child. This is getting results in many schools around California as they attempt to improve their school climate and increase their connections with communities in which are found their schools and with parents alike.
And so, I want to just welcome you and encourage you to increase those efforts in that regard because you will see great dividends from that. And also, I want to encourage you to use the California Center for School Climate, the resources that have been created. They’re just great resources, and you will gain a lot from doing that. I look forward, as you all do, to attending the virtual event today. And thank you again very much for coming, and on behalf of the CDE, I welcome you.
Kenwyn Derby: Thank you, Tom. Thanks so much for CDE’s support. At the end, if you all stick around to the end of the webinar, we’re going to just give a little more detail about what the center offers and share some registration links for upcoming events.
All right, so what are we doing here today? Here’s our agenda. We’re here to talk about why family engagement matters first and then some ideas for how to improve and enhance family engagement efforts. We’re sure you’re aware and believe that family engagement matters, and that’s why you’re here, but we’ll hear a little bit about the evidence space that really supports that’s an important part of your work. Then we’ll dig deep into a case study of Robla Preschool and how they transformed their family engagement culture and practices. And then our presenters will help make that connection between that work and how those principles and practices can be applied across all grade levels. So, if you work in a high school or unified district, this is still very relevant for your work. And then at the end, we’re going to save time for questions. So please enter your questions along the way in the Q&A button at the bottom. Sometimes people put them in chat, and we’ll try to grab those and save them elsewhere, but if you put them in the Q&A, that’s a little easier for us to track. And you can do that starting right now or even while I’m presenting our speakers with the questions.
We will be hearing from the principal of Robla by video because they’re on spring break this week. Lucky them, and it’s much deserved. But first, I’d like to introduce our live presenters. We have two experts here today that will be speaking with you, and you’ll be able to ask these folks questions at the end. One is Maria Paredes. She’s a Senior Engagement Manager at WestEd in the Quality Schools and Districts content area. She developed the Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT), which you’re going to hear a lot about today. It’s a strength-based model of family engagement designed to strengthen the capacity of teachers and families to transform family participation in their children’s education. She has partnered with state departments, districts, and schools to support needs assessment, program development, and integration of effective family engagement practices in all areas of school improvement.
And she is joined by Annabel Lee. They are colleagues who’ve worked together for a long time. Annabel is a Family Engagement Facilitator also with WestEd. She’s a trainer and coach for schools implementing APTT. And through that work, she builds capacity of teachers and leaders from pre-K through high school to implement effective family engagement practices. She comes with a vast range of experience. She’s been a teacher and a principal, and she’s worked with educators to develop reading and math curricula. She’s designed assessments with schools and conducted instructional rounds. So, we are really pleased to have them here, and I will hand it to Maria to get us started. Thanks so much.
Maria Paredes: Hello, everyone. Welcome, and thank you for joining our family engagement conversation today. During our presentation, we’ll take you through a journey of Robla Preschool and all the efforts that happened over the course of three years with teachers, with the families, the community, and the administration in the preschool. Even though this is a story about a preschool, I want to assure you that all of the principles that were put in place in Robla apply to all of the grade level bands from preschool all the way through 12th grade, and you will notice that as we go through our story. I hope that you find the Robla story inspirational.
To get us started and to, I guess, set the table, we like to do a quick activity. Everyone go into the chat and type a word that comes to mind when I say family engagement. What comes to mind? Do not post it yet. You will post it when I count to three. So just go into the chat and post one word that comes to mind when you think of family engagement. I will give you a couple of seconds. 1, 2, 3, post it. I see equity. I see community. I see partnership, connection, collaboration, student and family achievement, socializations. These are all really awesome words. For me, all of the above come to mind when I think of family engagement, and much more.
I have been in the field of family engagement for over 25 years, so I have seen a lot of amazing stories. I have seen a lot of transformation on the part of teachers and families and administrators and community partners. So, this is really exciting. I love the word connection. That’s really, really important, and we’re going to talk about connections a lot today.
For research, let’s all start from the same definition. This comes straight from research. This research was done in 2002 and then renewed later in 2010, but it stays the most consistent definition of family engagement. I’ll let you take a couple of minutes to read this: “Intentional and systematic partnership of educators, families, and community members who share the responsibility for a student’s preparation for school, work, and life” (Weiss, Lopez, & Rosenberg, 2010).
When I read this definition, when I take a look at it carefully, what comes to mind, the concepts that really stand out for me are intentional — family engagement being intentional. That is so important. Everything that we do with families has to be really focused on helping the families in their role as parents in education. Everything that we do really has to be for the cause of building capacity of families to do their job the best way that they can, so they feel equipped. And the other word that I notice is systematic. Systematic meaning, every time that families come into our schools, into our classrooms, that they feel like what they’re going to learn is consistent, that there are well-planned-out activities and events where they are going to learn. So intentional and systematic. Parents should know what to expect every time they visit the school and meet with the families. So, this is awesome.
Partnerships, educators, families, and community members — so everyone, everyone that is part of a child’s upbringing and is an influence on how students learn are part of that team that we call the family engagement team. So, this is where we park. This is our shared definition of family engagement.
Important to family engagement is a lot of research over the last 20 years have basically taught us, and the California Department of Education in 2017 wrote in partnership with WestEd a really incredibly useful family engagement toolkit that you can have access to. There will be a link posted. This is a very, very important resource, and I use it consistently because it is so good. I hope that you take a good look at it. One of the things that is the foundation of this toolkit is that it really tells us that family engagement in schools really consists of two main areas. Those two main areas that we should focus on at all times is the need for strengthening relationships with families, so our efforts to connect with families, to get to know families more deeply, to socialize with families as human beings. I always remember that parents are not just parents. They play the role of a parent when they come into the schools, but they’re a human being just like you and me. They are just playing the role of parent at that moment. But they are neighbors, they are colleagues, they do all kinds of other things outside of the school day. It’s really important that we get to know them so that we can work together with them. That is the first dimension of family engagement that is throughout this toolkit that I refer to.
The second dimension of family engagement is everything, all the efforts, the reasons why we invite parents into our schools, the reason why we have conferences or meetings with parents, that all of that really should lead to student learning, so parents can be well-equipped to support their children at home and while in the community. So keep in mind these two dimensions because this is really important and it consolidates all of the research that we have. And so, when we are planning for family engagement, we plan for really focusing on these two areas: relationships and connections and trust with families, and then efforts and activities being focused on student learning.
I would let you read this teacher quote that gets at those relationships. “When parents and teachers know each other better, they have more trust, and parents can feel more confident letting the teacher know if there is a problem with the child.” This is so important. During the Robla story that we’re going to go into more deeply, this is one of the things that the teachers in Robla said. This is one specific teacher, but the journey they took allowed them to really get to know families, get to know them as people. And that transformed the way that they were able to work together and come together as equal partners. That’s really, really important. That relationship allowed for parents to feel more open about communicating and relating to teachers, and for teachers to actually get to know the family and everything about that child and communicate regularly. Very important.
And here is a parent talking about the second dimension, right, the dimension about things being related to student learning. “We have to be a team,” she says. “It’s not just the teachers that have to educate the children. We have to be involved.” It’s a reflection coming from a parent saying that as part of this work that they did together in Robla with teachers, this was one of the most important things to her, it was knowing that they are the other teacher, that they along with the schoolteacher, plan together, do together, in order to make sure that students get all the support they need to be prepared every day for school.
So, during this work with Robla, you’re going to notice that what becomes central here is dual capacity development. Many of you are probably very aware of the dual capacity framework that was written by Dr. Karen Mapp in 2013, and then, again, that same document was updated in 2019, that talks about family engagement really being about teachers and family, school and home, learning to work together, learning about each other’s roles, and lifting each other up with capacity, with knowledge, and understanding about how to support learning and help students thrive in school and in life, inside the school and outside the school.
In 2002, a very important study came out that was done by Dr. Karen Mapp and Anne Henderson. It was a meta-analysis of 20 years’ worth of research in family engagement. The study was called “A New Wave of Evidence.” It really transformed our thoughts in the family engagement field. It really helped us understand how important and how much family engagement matters for families and for school. By combing through all of this data and research evidence, there were six areas of benefit that came across loud and clear through this meta-analysis. And that is that when families know how to engage in their children’s learning, the children increase their grades, attend school more regularly, enroll in higher-level programs, graduate and go onto college, are more positive about school and learning, and have fewer discipline issues inside and outside of class.
This is really important because, for the first time, I think, we were faced with evidence about the power of family engagement and how it actually transformed schools when parent and teachers work intentionally and systematically to support learning. All of this will come into being when we talk about Robla and the work they did.
Equally important, and many of us aware of this study done by Anthony Bryk and his colleagues in 2009 in about 100 schools in Chicago, schools that were in school improvement at that time. One of the wonderful things and one of the research basis that we use strongly in family engagement is this study because what they learned out of those 100-plus schools is that, when those schools had strong community ties, when those schools were working together with families, they were absolutely more likely to sustain improvement efforts, improve student attendance, decrease disciplinary issues, develop a positive school climate and culture, and reduce teacher turnover, and improve teacher job satisfaction. So, all of this together, all of this research has really created a foundation for what we know and what we know the impact that family engagement can have. Family engagement does matter. It matters very much for students, families, and teachers.
So, with this, I would like to sum this up within the next slide, and then I’ll hand it over to Annabel to tell her story. To bring it all together, we said that human connections were absolutely the foundation. They’re really important. When teachers and families, when schools and families, become more connected, become caring about one another, then the mutual goals and aspirations for the children are able to be supported both inside and outside of the school. All of this together is what creates effective family engagement: human connections, relationships and trust, and then a focus on the learning goals for the students, and how those play out both inside the classroom and at home and in the community.
With that, I want to introduce you to Annabel. Annabel did all of the work at Robla. She worked closely with all of the teachers there, with the principal, and I can’t wait you for you to hear the amazing things that Robla did with Annabel’s support.
Annabel Lee: Hello, everyone. Welcome. I’m super happy that you have found time in your busy schedule to be here and to listen to this amazing story. I am just super honored to be able to share this with you, and because it’s a story, we’re going to make it fun, right?
Before we get started into the story, where is Robla Preschool? If you are in the Sacramento area, you may have already heard about Robla Elementary School District. Well, Robla Preschool is located just 15 minutes northeast of the state capitol. What you see here on this slide here are the things that they provide for the children ages zero to five, actually. Another thing that I just learned recently is that they also provide a Spanish dual language immersion program to all their preschool students.
So here we have all the kiddos. They have approximately 233 preschool children, and about 40% of the children are English learners. That’s 93 students. There are 13 different languages that are spoken on the school site, and they have a really wonderful multilingual staff. We’ll actually read some of their reflections later.
All right, so as Kenwyn mentioned earlier, this week is Robla’s spring break, and they are not here to join us. But Christie Erhart, who is the Director of Early Learning and also the principal at the preschool, she and I met on Zoom and I was able to record her responses to some of the questions. I just want to share with you that she and I started this work three years ago. She had just recently become the Director of Early Learning and the principal, and family engagement was on her priority list, and I came on board to support her. We’ll go to the next slide and watch her video.
Christie Erhart (via pre-recorded video): When I became the director here, I knew that our teachers and the school had relationships with families, but I didn’t really know how deep they were. And as a kindergarten teacher, I always felt it was important to have really close relationships to my families, because then I could ask them to do things for me and to help me. And so I wanted to build on this relationship at preschool that they had already established and see if we could not encourage more families to participate with us here at school to support kindergarten readiness, relationship-building, and also a connection between families as part of our goal of building a school community and getting children and families familiar with each other as they move into the elementary school that we serve.
Annabel Lee: Okay, so Christie mentioned her goals. I also have it here so we can refer to it, because we’re going to come back to these goals later on in this presentation here. I think the most important one that she mentioned as we talked was really focused on getting the kids prepared and ready for kindergarten. That kindergarten readiness was so important. The other thing that she mentioned was that they wanted to improve relationships and trust between their teachers and families. In order to do this work, we needed to really have that trust, because a lot of this work really entails working together as a team. Part of that is to build and strengthen the teacher’s capacity to really believe that the families are equal partners, right, that the families are assets in this collaboration. And finally, as we do all this work here, our families are then able to monitor their students’ learning and support thought learning at home.
All right, a little bit of background knowledge about Academic Parent-Teacher Teams, or APTT for short, so that you have this as we go into the story. APTT is a model of family engagement. If I had to say in a nutshell what this is all about, it is about teamwork, collaboration, supporting the learning that’s happening in the classroom, and supporting that learning outside of the classroom. So, helping our families understand what these skills, what the data says. How do we help our families be able to do that? And in doing this work here, right, families being able to do this work here, it’s really focusing on that relationship. Because when we build relationships with our families, when they trust us, when they know how important this is, that teamwork, that collaboration, it happens. All right?
So, what is the model, APTT? Well, this is what it looks like. It’s three team meetings in a school year, and it’s spread out, as you can see here in this example, early fall, we have a winter, and we have a spring. And then there is an individual session, like a parent-teacher conference. The APTT meetings consist of the teacher and her students’ families. They all meet together for 75 minutes. And in that meeting, there are six elements, what we call essential elements, that happens that makes this a really effective, engaging meeting. When families walk out of an APTT meeting, they know exactly what they need to do to help support their child. I will go in later and talk a little bit more about these essential elements, what they are and how teachers do this.
To help the teachers actually do this, because teachers facilitate the meetings, right, teachers facilitate their own meeting. I don’t go in and do that part. But how do I help prepare the teachers? How do I help prepare the principal and everybody at the school to get them ready for this? We first have an initial professional development. It’s a one-day training. I train everybody who’s going to implement APTT. At Robla, we did this later part of August, right before school started. It was one day. The teachers, some of the instructional assistants were there, the principal was there. I train the teachers on and I model how an actual meeting is run.
Then after that initial planning, there is the teacher planning. Teachers need time to actually put all the stuff together. We provide a lot of the resources to get teachers ready. For example, we provide a template for the PowerPoint and in the PowerPoint, it shows, and it walks through exactly what teachers need to do in order to meet those six elements. We also provide resources for outreach such as flyers and newsletters that teachers can send out to families to invite them to their meetings. We provide templates for how to take their data and create a class data graph. So, we provide a lot of resources, and we help the teachers during teacher planning to make a lot of decisions on what they want to share with their families.
After the teacher planning, I meet with the leadership team, which is the principal at Robla, Christie, and her APTT champion. That’s a teacher that was chosen by Christie to help support this work. I meet with them, and we talk about what was accomplished during teacher planning and then what are the next steps. What do they have to do before the actual meetings? Then the meeting happens. For Robla Preschool, they had their meetings in the evenings, and so I was there for the meeting, I observed their meetings. They also sat in and observed the meetings. Then we debrief after the meetings, and we talked about all the great things that went really well and we talked about the areas where they could grow and get better at. This is how I support them. Later after the leadership debrief, the principal also meets with the teachers so that the teachers also get an opportunity to debrief.
Well, what happened was, after the first couple of meetings in the first year, we realized, the whole team, that, “You know what? We’re doing a really great job with facilitating the meeting, but we’re not really getting the message across why we’re doing this. Parents are not sure why we’re sitting at this meeting for 75 minutes.” This was prior to COVID, so we were actually in person. And so, the school, we came together and decided we need a graphic so that all the teachers could better explain why family and school partnership was so important, why we need you.
The pie graph here actually came from a study as part of our training here. And so, we wanted the parents to understand that the teachers really believed that learning should happen anywhere, anytime with anyone, right, outside of that 12%. Where do we get that 12%? Well, we’re taking this from one whole year, 365 days and if the child comes to school 180 days, no absences, no tardies, they’re seated in their chair and they’re learning, that’s the 12%. The 33% is if they get eight hours of sleep every night for the entire year. The 55% is when they’re not in school and they’re not asleep. They’re away from school. Who are they with? What are they doing? And how can families support their learning that’s happening in the 12% out there in the 55%? How can families support what’s happening? Doesn’t have to be the whole 55%. Actually, we don’t want it to be the full 55%, but we want it to be where families knew that they had opportunities that they could support that learning. So, then the teachers explain that. And then how do you do this? How do we actually build that bridge between 12% and 55%? Well, you come to our APTT meetings, right, 75-minute meetings. We show you, we tell you, we model everything for you. You set a goal, you walk away from the meeting, you know what to do, you know how to help your child. And you come back and you find out how much growth your child has made on that specific skill you worked on. What are the positive outcomes when we do this, when we are partnering together, when we are working together? Well, the Robla teachers told me that the children are socially, emotionally, and academically successful, and that teachers, children, and families form collaborative relationships. That’s their outcome.
All right, so now I want to talk a little bit about what are these essential elements, because you got to have to know a little bit about an APTT meeting so that when you listen to Christie talk a little bit later, you’re like, “Ah, that’s what they’re talking about.” In an APTT meeting, there are six elements. The very first element, it’s not on here, but it’s the welcome and it’s team building. You welcome the families. There’s a team builder and an icebreaker. It’s basically to get everybody comfortable with everybody. It used to be that in the past, right… well, not used to be because we still do it, parent-teacher conferences, it’s just the parent and the teacher, just the one parent, one child, and the teacher. Here we’ve got all the families of the students in that class. And they’re all meeting together, so they’re getting to know each other.
We set the stage for the idea that this is about teamwork, this is about collaboration. After essential element one, we go into element two, which is, “We are here today to discuss about this skill. The skill is… ” And here’s a picture of a skill that they chose using objects to add within five. So, the teachers explain what the skill is, they talk about why this skill is important, and they provide opportunities for families to generate ideas about why they think this skill is also important, right, to support that learning at home.
Then element three, the teacher shares with the parent, “Here’s how your child is performing on this specific skill.” Now, what you are seeing here is a class data graph, and it’s from APTT number two. The blue bar was APTT one, and the green bar shows the growth that was made from APTT one to two. These parents come back and they see, “Wow, look at my child. Look how my child has grown.” And they get to see how other kids in the class are growing. The pink line at the top tells the families that this is the end-of-the-year goal, and we can get there. This is all confidential. There are numbers at the bottom that represents the students in the class. The teachers explain to the parents and model to the parents how to read the graph.
Here, I want to show you that in an actual APTT meeting, teachers will then model the activity, so parents know what to do. What I’m showing you is a video that they put together during COVID because their meetings had to be virtual. We’ll watch a short little snippet here so you can see what they did.
Robla Preschool Teachers (via pre-recorded video): Hi, parents. Today’s game is called bugs in a bug jar. These are the materials you will be having. You will have three different representations of numbers. We have the fingers, we have numerals, and we have the dots to count. We will also be having a place mat and a bag of bugs. Alright, let’s get started. We’re going to go ahead and start with the easiest representation of numbers, which is fingers. So, we’re going to go ahead and flip these over. Oops, thank you. Uh-oh. All right. And now I’m going to go ahead and pick one. I’m going to turn it over, and I’m going to say the number out loud. That is number 1, 2, 3. That is number three. All right, now I’m going to take three bugs and I’m going to catch them in my net, 1, 2 and 3. The main objective in this game is addition, so make sure you are counting all of the bugs at the end with your child. If you feel like your child needs more of a challenge, you may go ahead and mix up all of the number representation cards together and have them pick from that pile. Another challenge you may ask your child to do is to create a mathematical sentence like we did in the last video, such as, “One bug plus three bugs equals four bugs.” Thank you for playing.
Annabel Lee: All right. Wow, they did such an awesome job. I got to tell you, it was not easy filming those videos because we had to really think about how can we show this so that families know exactly what to do when they get the supplies. What you see here on the next slide here is after the teacher models, element five is that families get to practice the activities. The activities are in front of them, they get to practice with each other, and they really get an opportunity to discuss what are other ways, how can you differentiate the games, right, and also, what are other ways to practice a skill if I don’t have these games or maybe I’ve lost the pieces. How else can I practice the skill outside of the games themselves?
And then element six, the final thing before the meeting is over, is the families write a S.M.A.R.T. goal. They set a very clear goal on how they will support this learning at home.
Okay, so now, Christie and I sat down, like I said, and I recorded her on Zoom to talk about her three-year journey working, she and I worked alongside each other, and I supported the school with implementation of APTT. So, we are going to watch her talk a little bit about year one and their challenges.
Christie Erhart (via pre-recorded video): So, in year one, we started to implement APTT. Teachers previously, in the past, had not had to present information to parents other than at report card time, and so this idea of actually presenting a structured piece of information, a presentation to families, scared teachers a little bit. They were not very confident in their ability in talking to adults, which sometimes happens with teachers. We talk to children all day, but we hardly ever talk to adults and present information. Teachers had to have professional development for the purpose and the reason why it was important to do this work. They needed to develop skills and activities, which was another thing that they weren’t really confident at because they had never been asked to do that kind of work. And so, these were all challenges that we had to work through in year one. Luckily enough, the teachers saw value after the first meeting and were continuing to want to do this work. It’s the amount of manipulatives. What skill are we going to choose? What assessment are we going to do to gather data to show to parents? What kind of activity are we going to provide? Who’s going to put all the things together in order to give them a nice package in the presentation for them to use at home? So, these were all really big asks for a group of educators who had not been asked to do this kind of work before. But because they’re hard workers and they saw value, they’ve stuck it out and actually enjoy the work.
Annabel Lee: Yeah, so true. I remember year one. Year one was a lot of handholding, yeah. So, in year two, Christie talks about what happened during COVID, and how they had to re-think about, because we can’t have the meetings in person, right, what they were going to do to make sure that the meetings were successful for parents. So go ahead and play the video.
Christie Erhart (via pre-recorded video): So, in year two, we had COVID, and so that really put a change into how we delivered our message and how we provided information to families. We had to be very creative, and so, like everyone else pretty much, we used Zoom and were able to be much more flexible in providing the presentations to families. Getting the teachers to move to that digital platform was a little bit of work because, again, in preschool we don’t use technology. Many of us were not very skilled in how to use all the different platforms. We had to do Google Slides and Google Classroom and Zoom, so it took a lot of trial and error and work, but it worked. Actually, it opened some doors to more flexibility. Parents did not, this time, have to come to us, we were able to come to them. And actually, more parents participated through Zoom during the second year than we had people participate in the first year. So, teachers were on board with creating these activities and finding different ways to assess children through a computer monitor. We changed up activities and really landed on something that, I don’t know if it was innovative or not, but we did instructional videos using our instructional assistants. That seemed to work really good as ways to describe how the activities would be played in your home with your children.
Annabel Lee: So, Christie talks about the instructional videos, it’s the video that you just saw earlier that the two gals were modeling how to play the game. I want to tell you guys how amazing the teachers and staff at Robla Preschool are, what they were able to accomplish in just one year. I remember them being so fearful of Excel, creating the class data graph, and not even sure, “Where do I put my numbers? And how do I get the graph up?” And in year two, because everything is virtual, they became this master at it. They had their meetings online. I attended their meetings in their virtual rooms, and they were going through their PowerPoint. They knew exactly the technology, what buttons to press. It was amazing to see in just a short time the buy-in and how much that they have grown in the use of technology. It was kudos to all the people who worked and helped the teachers there. In year three, Christie shares their success. I’m so happy that she’s talking about this, so let’s play the video.
Christie Erhart (via pre-recorded video): So, in year three, teachers have become very confident. They can present in person. They can present through Zoom. Like Dr. Seuss, “I can do it here. I can do it there. I can do it anywhere.” That’s kind of their attitude. They are ready to go. They are no longer afraid to talk to their parents. They have developed relationships. They’ve actually learned how to be more collaborative themselves with each other in planning and things like that. So, this year, I think our model has been more of a, I want to say, we took things from the first year and we sprinkled in some of the things that we learned in the second year and have made modifications. And it has been beneficial because parents have really enjoyed the connections with their teachers. They see their teachers in person daily at arrival and departure, but the flexibility of the meeting is still flexible because it’s still through Zoom and it’s done at hours that are more convenient for parents. So that, I think, has been the best thing that’s happened, that hybrid model of flexibility, and the staff really collaborating and deciding on activities and working together to support students.
Annabel Lee: And in a little bit, we’re going to take a look at all the hard work that has paid off because of this success here. But the next slide here, we want to hear from you. So, what do you do to support families with learning at home? What do you do to support families with learning at home? You can use the QR code, or you can use the link that’s in the chat.
Kenwyn Derby (off screen): In just a minute, I will share my screen, Annabel, and you’ll be able to see what people are typing in, so we can see everyone’s responses.
Annabel Lee: Oh, yeah.
Kenwyn Derby: And then remember, it’s not in the chat. You go to that link in the chat, or you can be modern with that QR code.
Annabel Lee: Go ahead and share, what do you do to support families with learning at home? Yay, I see some right there. Awesome. Yeah. Provide resources. Provide parent workshops at the school site. Yeah. Multilingual access to documents. Refer parents to outside organization. Yes. Checking in with family to see if they need support. Meeting their basic needs first. Share short videos at the start of a unit explaining what we are doing in class and how they can extend activities at home. Yeah, totally right. And building connections. All of these are wonderful ideas. Partnering with our PTA [Parent Teacher Association]. Definitely. Oh yes. Providing updates through emails. Wonderful, you guys. Love it. Love it. A lot of great things happening out there. Thank you so much for participating with us on this one. We just wanted to give you an opportunity to also share what you do.
All right. So, we’re going to keep going. I wanted to introduce the two lovely ladies from Robla Preschool. These two teachers I’ve worked with for three years, Lorena Poon and Vang Thao. Vang Thao is actually the APTT champion, so she and I work closely to help support the teachers when I wasn’t on site. All right, so let’s go to the next slide here, and Kenwyn is going to read the quotes to you.
Kenwyn Derby (off screen): Yes, I will pretend to use a teacher voice, which I don’t have, but here we go. One of the teachers said, “What I have learned is the importance of having parent involvement. Parents who are involved in their children’s education throughout the year find it rewarding because they become invested in their children’s learning and well-being. When teachers work with the parents, the teachers are able to learn more about the individual student and the family dynamics, and, working together, we’re able to find different strategies to best help the student, not only in the classroom but at home.” Yeah.
Annabel Lee: Yeah.
Kenwyn Derby: Okay. The next teacher said, “Before the training, we were committed to include parents in multiple activities and events. Now I have learned that family engagement is vital to the children’s learning. FE [family engagement] should not just be about attending assemblies and holiday functions, but also learning about what is happening in the classroom. Our families are given knowledge about student academic skills and tools that they can use to help their children at home. I’m more confident when I talk with families about how their children are performing in class. I [learned] how to communicate, equip, and connect with families.”
Annabel Lee: I don’t know how you guys feel, but I am just super excited when I read these quotes here, when I talk to the teachers, because I’ve seen huge growth, difference from year one to year three, and so much confidence in the teachers and their ability to work with their families, to collaborate, to share what they need to do in order to help the families support that learning at home.
Okay, so now we’ve heard from Christie, we’ve seen some of the reflections from the teachers, we want to share with you the impact data from our families. How did this impact the families? All right, so now we have to go back and think about those goals. Remember, the four goals? Kindergarten readiness, equipping teachers and families, to build those relationship and collaboration, right, making sure that families can support the learning at home. So here, “APTT helped me support my child’s learning at home,” you guys. Oh my gosh, take a look at that. Almost all the families strongly agreed or agreed with this statement here. I mean, think about what I shared with you, the video, what they did to help support the families so that they can do this at home. And then because the families wrote a S.M.A.R.T. goal, the school wanted to know like, “How often are you practicing?” And so they asked this question here, and as you can see here, we have close to over 80% of families practice weekly. So, this says a lot about what our families are doing, when they know that this is important, and that they know it benefits their child.
Another question that was asked was, “The APTT meetings helped me feel more connected to my child’s teacher.” This had to do with one of the goals about relationships, right, building trust. And here you see in year one and then in year three, we’re still very high. Almost all parents agree that meeting with the teachers in the meeting helped build that connection. I got to know the teachers more, and they really had stronger relationships because of that. The other piece was these meetings helped prepare the parent to support their child for kindergarten. Again, we have almost all parents strongly agreeing that when they attended meetings, they leave the meetings knowing what they have to do to help their child.
So, here’s a parent, she’s just reflecting. So, the parent says that, “The reading that the teacher did really helped me set a better expectation on how to read to my child.” I just want to impress upon you that a lot of the times we think, as educators, that “They know how to do that.” But really, when it comes right down to it, you know what? Parents need that. They need to see what we mean by reading a book to our child, asking questions. And these little things are the strategies, the tools that they need to help their child at home.
One of the questions I asked the principal and the teachers was, “If you had to give out pieces of advice or piece of wisdom to schools who are doing this work, or maybe implementing something, a family engagement initiative, what would you say?” I can let you read this, but in a nutshell, for Christie, what she shared, really truly, and I think you guys would agree too, is that teacher and parent buy-in is super, super important. The people who are doing the work, the people who are going to be involved, they need to know what it is from the get-go and want to do this. And then training and all that stuff is provided so that people can do it.
“Teacher and parent buy-in has made the difference. It is a lot of work, but when children are making gains in skills, as seen by data, and parents are partnering with teachers in this endeavor, it is well worth the work.”—Christie Erhart
The Robla teacher who shared her challenge, and then really her wisdom, is that an area here is that we have to be flexible as educators. We can’t just pick our meeting times that works for us, because most of the time it doesn’t work for our families. And if we want our families there at our meetings, we’re going to have to ask our families, “What’s a good time?” and we’re going to have to be flexible and figure out a way so that our families can get to our meetings.
“One challenging area that we teachers have to be conscious of is when parent-teacher meetings are held—as teachers, we must be flexible with the times. Parents have busy schedules, and we may need to hold meetings outside of our work hours in order to have more parent attendance.”—Robla Teacher
So finally, as Christie and I are wrapping up our conversation at the end of our Zoom call here, I ask Christie, “Three years, what’s a recommendation that you have that you can share with the group who’s going to be watching this video?” And so, we’ll go ahead and play the video.
Christie Erhart (via pre-recorded video): Well, I would like to recommend that this is not something that’s just done at a preschool level, but across an elementary school or an elementary district. I wish I were a kindergarten teacher, and this was something I was doing in my classroom, because the skills are very specific, it’s something parents can understand, and we’re only asking them and showing them that it’s only a few minutes of their time every day. And when we assess them as teachers or educators at the end, the impact of seeing children’s growth over a short amount of time is very powerful.
Annabel Lee: Wow. Wow, I totally, totally agree. And I want to let you guys all know that I supported Robla Preschool for three years, but it’s not the only school I supported. I worked across the country at different grade levels. I’ve done APTT here, obviously in preschool, in elementary school, middle school, and even high school. Up next is Maria, and she’s going to talk more about how does that happen, how do you do that? Okay.
Maria Paredes: So here we go, we just listened to the story of Robla and all the work they did. But in reality, this is an example of a California preschool and all the success they had because they really bought into the practices that they were implementing. They bought into the fact that they really needed to establish those relationships with families. They needed to make sure that all their interactions and all their work together, the activities that they did with families, were really, truly focused on lifting the learning of the children, and parents felt equipped to go home and do the activities and expand the activities and be able to understand how during everyday life they can actually be fostering a love of learning. So that was really important.
I can assure you that all of these strategies that Annabel shared with you — the building a team with your families, sharing data, sharing foundational skills, practicing activities, setting goals — that this is relevant really at all the grade levels. That all families need those relationships with their families, with their teachers. That they need to be in the know in order to really play the role of parent and education the best way that they know how, with support from the school, and the teachers are being intentional in how they meet the needs of families, and how families meet the needs of teachers. So, as you plan for your own family engagement in your classrooms, in your schools, just make sure that those that are implementing family engagement really do have the support and the ability to come together with families, that teachers and educators across the school feel like they have the capacity to really work closely and help support families in their work with their children.
So, as you plan your family engagement activities and efforts for your school, ask some of these questions. “What are the needs and the opportunities in your school for engaging families? What do we need to change in order to be facilitators of learning with families? What do we have to do to share data with families, to share what’s happening, the skills in the classroom, all of that, so that families can have access to that very important information?” So, all of the areas that you can read here that need to be developed, that need to be supported for educators in the school, so think really thoughtfully and be intentional about how educators’ capacity is being built and supported.
And process. When I talk about process, I talk about, what are the practices and the strategies that we are going to implement in our school or in our district that can help us get to those really important, high-leverage strategies that work for schools and families? Those are the processes. What are we going to put in place? What are we going to ask teachers to be able to do? And how and when are we going to do these activities? So very important. There is a link in the chat. There’s a framework that we built together with the State of Delaware that really helps support schools in “What are the areas that we need to prepare for, that we need to plan for when we want to implement effective family engagement strategies and practices?”
With that, I want to close our portion of our session. Now it’s time for questions and answers, but I just want to leave you with a thank you for joining us. And I hope that you have some great questions that we can address here together.
Kenwyn Derby: Thank you. Thank you guys so much, Maria and Annabel, for sharing that story. I have a question to start with. I have a couple, but I have one that’s been shared with me. This person’s wondering if you can talk a little bit more about why working across multiple years is so important and what helped Robla make that commitment. They noted that many programs and new things are tried in schools, and they got left by the wayside when there aren’t immediate results. So how do you work with folks over time to build that confidence and capacity that you saw happen at Robla?
Annabel Lee: I can answer that. I think most important is, being a coach, a consultant trainer, you have to also build relationships with your teachers, with your principals. You have to build a really good relationship and really be there to support them. And knowing that I know what end goal looks like. For them, it’s just starting out and you’re scared and you’re not sure, and you’re telling them, “Just trust the process.” “Well, how can I trust the process? I don’t know what it even looks like.” Right? So, building that relationship, that trust so that they know that you’re going to be there for them. We took baby steps. So, every year we had something, a goal, that they would just work on. In year one, we said, “Okay, just facilitate the meeting. Don’t worry about this, this, and this. Be the facilitator that you…the best that you can be. Engage your families.” And they did it. And then the next year it was, “Now, we’ll add this piece in here.” And we’re there to support them. And by the third year it was like, “Gosh, it’s nothing, right?” because they’ve seen the power of this. And like Christie said in her video, they just bought into it. They were just like, “Okay, we want more of this,” because the families were also asking for it.
Kenwyn Derby: Yeah. What if a school doesn’t have the support that you provide? Let’s say someone is on this webinar right now and they’re a principal or they’re a teacher, and they can see online, they can go to the APTT website, or they go to the resources, we’ll send them from other folks, and they say, “Okay, we are bought into these principles. We’re not sure. We’re used to doing parent-teacher conferences, we’re used to sending emails, but we’re not sure exactly where to start with this.” I heard you just say, “Start with one thing. Start small. Build on that confidence and grow it over time, once you start seeing the payoff and get comfortable.” Do you have any advice for schools that might not have any outside support where they might start with shifting the way they build partnerships with families?
Maria Paredes: I could probably address that. I would say that even with schools that do have the means and the resources, we always encourage that schools spend time thinking and planning about building relationships. And it’s really important to dig into what that means. Read articles together, discuss the purpose of relationships, that relationships are not just transactional, that we don’t build relationships so that families do what we want. Instead, we build relationships so that we can understand and get to know them and, ideally, be able to walk in their shoes just a little bit so that we can have the empathy and the knowledge of what they need, how they need it, when they need it. If we can focus on making our events that we already have, and the things that we already do, if we can make it relationship-rich, that’s really important. Get to know your parents by name. Get to know the family that lives in the home of a child. Who are the grandparents? What do they love to do? All of those things, when families feel that teachers care deeply about them as people, other things start falling into place. But when parents know that I’m always being invited, but it’s because it’s just a means to an end, it’s not really necessarily for the purpose of caring, and the hope of building trust. So that’s what I would say to a school principal, start there.
Kenwyn Derby: Yeah. Relationships are key in all parts of our life. As a parent that comes from the field of education in my career, I’m still amazed at how little I feel ready to help my children learn the academic part. And so, as I listen to you both, I look back and I think, “Yes, I needed the skills to help them with their homework and really understand what’s going on in the school.” And when I knew a teacher a little more closely, when I felt more connected, I knew who to go to if I didn’t understand what to do. So, there’s the relationships and the skills that don’t come that naturally to most of us. Yeah. And Annabel, you talked about teachers feeling a little bit shy to teach adults. I’d love to hear maybe a little more from either of you, when you’re working with staff in a school, maybe we think, “Oh, sure, preschool teachers, they’re used to working with little kids.” What about elementary and secondary school teachers and their comfort level with really being a teacher to the families as well in these meetings?
Annabel Lee: Well, I think that as educators sometimes we forget, right, that the families that we’re working with, they don’t come with all the necessary strategies and tools or the knowledge that we have. And so, how do we help overcome if we’re shy or if we’re not comfortable talking to adults at any level? At any level, there is that fear. And I’m not saying all teachers, because you have some wonderful, great teachers out there who are brilliant. They have no trouble connecting with their families. But I’m talking about teachers who are, just like me too, I have a hard time connecting with people, is how do you begin to do that? Normally, with schools or when we talk to principals to help them with their teachers, we actually have the principal provide time to talk about this, provide opportunities for families to share the great things that have happened because we have this relationship, so that teachers can hear from the parent side, but also provide teachers the opportunities to get better at something that they’re probably struggling at. Maybe if they have a family engagement goal, maybe make this one of their goals.
And how do we support this? Sometimes we provide scripts. Making phone calls, right, that’s scary. “I’m not even in person but I have to call somebody?” That’s scary, right? Instead of just saying, “You have to make some phone calls here to five of your parents,” say, “You know what? Here’s a script that you can actually use, right, that’s friendly. It’s about the families, of connecting with you.” So that the teachers feel comfortable. And sometimes I say, “You know what? It’s okay to have somebody right there with you and they’re on the call with you as well. We’re both calling you.” So, a lot of this is just, how are we supporting each other, really?
Kenwyn Derby: Yeah. Maria, I thought you might have something to add to that. I want to remind everyone, we have one or two more minutes if you want to type a question into the Q&A that’s at the bottom of the screen. You just hit the Q&A button, if you hover your cursor over the screen, that should pop up, and I will read that aloud to Maria and Annabel. But Maria, did you have anything to add?
Maria Paredes: Yeah, your question reminds me of the responses. It’s a national MetLife survey that was done across the nation to thousands and thousands of teachers. And one of the things that was salient about the results of this survey was that teachers felt that the support of families, that family engagement, was probably one of the most important things that schools could do to improve learning, but that they personally felt insecure and not ready to engage families. So here is what I think educators can take from this, and it’s that teachers do want and value what families have to offer and wish families were more engaged, but they really don’t know necessarily where to start and how to do it. For some teachers, who lean into relationships naturally already, that’s not a problem, but for teachers that are more shy or struggle with that part of outreach in connecting and building relationships, that we give them the grace to allow them the time to practice and to learn from their peers, and to make mistakes if necessary, but start getting comfortable and give the space for teachers and for educators across the district to do this and to get started. I would also add that for all of these wonderful practices in family engagement that you can’t substitute district support. The district has to be behind 100% the improvement and the implementation and the support of practices that work, practices that we know from research make a difference and develop dual capacity. So that’s going to be really important. How are districts building up schools and providing resources and support so that anything they do well, they do it district-wide and everyone feels that it’s a priority and it’s being supported by the higher ups?
Kenwyn Derby: That makes a lot of sense. And as you build the culture in a district, families and teachers and administrators at all levels get used to this idea of deep partnerships, and you go from one school to the next and it’s, “Yes, we’re all on this game together, and we’ve all been on this journey to deepen that kind of learning and partnership.” Yeah. So, from the classroom to the district, from the home to the school.
Maria Paredes: Yes.
Kenwyn Derby: Well, I thank you so much for joining us. You shared so much experience, wisdom, stories. We very much appreciate you. We will allow you to go off screen and take a breath and appreciate the great job you did really bringing us along on this journey with Robla and showing us how we can connect those lessons to K-12 education as well. Thank you to all of you for joining us. We have a few more slides, so I will share a little bit more about the center and the rest of this event. But one more time, just want to thank Maria and Annabel and the whole Robla team for sharing with us today.