Transcript: The Art of Connecting: Strategies for Authentic Partnerships
I’m pleased to welcome you to our Virtual Learning Session on the Art of Connecting: Strategies for Authentic Partnerships. This session is presented by the California Center for School Climate, which is a California Department of Education initiative operated by WestEd, that provides free support and trainings on school climate and data use to local education agencies in California. So we’re thrilled to have you here and we’re thrilled to be providing this session.
As you continue introducing yourselves in the chat, I’d like to review some housekeeping details to help our session run smoothly. Microphones, we hope will stay muted. You can choose to keep your videos on or off throughout the webinar portion of the session. We do invite you to stay active in the chat. And then, our one-hour webinar will be immediately followed by a discussion session in which we hope that you’ll unmute and have your cameras on, and it’ll be a little bit more engaging for the last portion of this session today. And I’ll explain a little bit more about that in a few slides.
If at this point you’re having trouble hearing presenters, do make sure your speakers are turned up. Make sure you’re connected to computer audio. Captions are also available and can be accessed by clicking the show captions button in your Zoom toolbar. Please do share your questions in the chat. We’ll have time for presenters to respond to participant questions in the 30-minute session that follows the first hour of the webinar. All of the links to the resources shared during the session, they’re already posted on a Padlet that we’ve created, and I believe one of my colleagues will be putting that into the chat. So you can check out the Padlet. There’s also going to be an invitation for you to add to that as things are coming up throughout our time together today.
And for any help with technical issues, please do email us at [email protected]. There is somebody standing by to do their best to help you get connected if you’re having trouble today.
This session is part of our virtual learning series on using participatory approaches to support school climate. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing how to integrate participatory strategies to work collectively with young people, families and communities to support school climate practices. I mentioned that we have a Padlet for this session, and one of the links in that Padlet will take you to the series page to learn more and register for all of the sessions in this series. And also, you can learn about other things that are presented by the California Center for School Climate.
We’ve got a 90-minute session planned for today. The first hour will include presentations and a discussion between our two presenters. This portion will be recorded and will be made available on the CCSC website. And then we’ll have another 30 minutes for anyone who would like to engage in conversation with the presenters and their peers across the state on what we’re talking about today. So we invite you to stay for that last part, to add more resources, and really add your own voice to the conversation. We’ll have some discussion questions and hopefully a really rich conversation to hear from all of you about how you’re engaging partners in authentic ways. And our goals, you can see today we’re going to be discussing the importance of relationships as a foundation for school transformation and also share lots of strategies for establishing and maintaining those relationships with our educational partners.
So very briefly, this is the team presenting today’s session. Rebeca Cerna is our fearless leader. She’s the director of the California Center for School Climate. And on our planning and technical support team, we have myself, Laura Buckner, as well as Antoinette Miller, Carla Guidi, and the wonderful L.A. Nix. You may have heard from some or all of us leading up today’s session, and we’re happy to help you get the most out of your time with us today. So if you have any technical questions, please let us know. And if you have follow-up questions, you can always email us at [email protected]. Again, there’s that link on our Padlet and we always love to hear from folks who are requesting support around their school climate efforts.
Now I’m going to talk a little bit about our presenters for the first part of our webinar. You’ll be hearing from Krystal Wu and Amy Rovai Gregory. Krystal is a colleague here at WestEd in the Resilient and Healthy Schools division. She’s a technical assistance provider for the California Center for School Climate, and has expertise in culturally responsive and sustaining education, co-design and school climate. Krystal centers the voices and experiences of community members in all of her work and especially those who have been kept furthest from opportunity. And Amy is from San Juan Unified School District where she’s worked in a wide range of roles from classroom teacher, instructional coach, English learner specialist, district TOSA for professional learning, vice principal, principal, and is now the director for the district’s family engagement and partnership development. So she’s really done it all. Amy has a passion for building relationships with students, families, colleagues, and community through culturally responsive equity-driven approaches. And we’re so thrilled for you all to hear from both of them today.
I just wanted to start with a bit of background on why we chose this topic for a professional learning session. Back in September, the CCSC hosted a session on participatory systems change for equity, centering community wisdom and collective action to transform child, youth and family serving systems. And there’s this grounding document which is displayed on your screen. It’s also in the Padlet. It’s an inquiry guide on participatory systems change for equity, which really emphasizes the importance of including community partners in decision-making to transform education systems. So those partners include students, families, staff, and those in other organizations who serve the same populations. This document gives tips for conducting systems change work for equity and true and authentic partnership, not just one-off surveys or just giving lip service to the idea, but really grappling with the questions about how we can know and incorporate the experiences of others to design better education systems that are equitable and just.
We know that strong relationships are the foundation of working in partnership with others. So prioritizing the deep interpersonal work required to form relationships that will be resilient to conflict and will be able to weather things like opposing views and issues that come up, it’s so, so important to ensure that people that are being served or impacted by your work have the opportunity to also shape it. And in particular, relationship building is essential in elements one and two of the participatory systems framework. And that includes connecting in community and seeing the systems centering community experiences. And so the strategies included in these elements, things like prioritizing connections, attending to power dynamics, active listening, mapping, community assets and collective sense-making, all of these are practices that you’ll hear threaded through the examples that Krystal and Amy share today.
And then in terms… Oops, I’ll go back one. In terms of school climate improvement, gathering data, understanding what it means, trying to change ideas to improve school climate and working to understand and improve the experiences as students, staff and family, this is all systems change work. We look at the domains of school climate and we can see that relationships are a key aspect to the belonging and connectedness that lead to a strong school climate. But we also know that all of these elements interact and support each other like the legs of a stool. So relationships are hugely impactful to the safety and wellness of students and staff, and it also supports a positive environment for learning and thriving. And all of these elements come together to create that positive school climate.
And so I’m really pleased to hear more from Krystal and Amy who have conducted this relationship building work and have some ideas to share with us that will hopefully spark something that you can take away and use in your own context. And so now, I invite Krystal to the spotlight. Thank you so much for being here today.
Thank you, Laura. Thanks, everyone, and good morning. I’m so excited to be here with all of you. And I’m a little bit nervous, but I think in a good way.
Here’s a photo that I would like to start our time together with, and this is a photo of Forest Park and it is the largest urban forest in the US, and about a 10-minute drive from my house in Portland, Oregon, which is where I’m coming to you from. And it is my favorite place to go in the city, especially when I am in need of some healing. It’s often rainy and muddy, but something about being surrounded by trees just makes me feel small in a good way, which I bet a lot of you know how that feels.
So I invite you all to take a beat right now and bring to mind a space or a place that offers you healing if you are willing to share with us, that helps you reground and reengage in times of stress. And as an invitation, not an obligation, it’s always only if you are willing, I’d invite you to share that space or place in the chat with us. So what is the space or place that brings you healing?
Now, just give us a minute to pause and read those as they come in. Seeing lots of water imagery, the ocean, sounds of the waves, the lake shore, my garden, being outdoors, Torrey Pines, sitting on the sand. These are so sensory. Being on the porch with my dog. Thank you all. Keep them coming. And hopefully, just by naming them and seeing other peoples, you are also starting to feel a little bit more grounded and energized yourself.
So thank you for participating in this, and like I said, keep the comments coming. You might be wondering now what this image and the place that you just added in the chat has to do with building authentic partnerships. This image of the forest and in particular of the forest floor is something that guides me toward what it takes to build rooted grounded relationships with others. Let me explain.
In the fall of 2020, I read this book, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. And actually, two different friends sent it to me in the same week not knowing that the other one was sending it to me. The fall of 2020 for me, as I imagined for potentially many of you, was a really low time. I’m a very relational person and being quarantined at home teaching on Zoom was just not good for my system and I missed people. And this book just was so… I don’t know, it felt like it came a little bit from the heavens. It both comforted and galvanized me. It gave me insight into the natural world, which is a place of solace for me. And it taught me so much about the original peoples of the Great Lakes region because Kimmerer is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and she’s also a professor and a mother.
And in an early chapter, Kimmerer writes about the magnificent underground fungal networks that connect trees in a forest, the fungi forage for mineral nutrients in the soil and then deliver them to the tree in exchange for carbohydrates. And trees then use these fungal networks to distribute resources like sugar and nitrogen and phosphorus to each other. And my favorite example that she gives is that in a heavily shaded understory, there might be a little young seedling that needs some extra resources and that its more robust neighbor trees somewhere else in the forest can actually send those resources to the little tree through the fungal network. And some people have taken to calling this network the wood wide web, which I find very dorky and adorable and I really like thinking of this as the forest version of a mutual aid group.
And as Kimmerer writes, and this quote is one that I keep always in front of my mind, “They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking. And in this way, the trees all act as one because the fungi have connected them. Through unity, survival. All flourishing is mutual.” I’m going to repeat that last sentence. All flourishing is mutual.
So this image of the forest floor and it’s a reminder to us of symbiotic survival and flourishing is the image I want to use today to frame our conversation about building authentic partnerships. I’m a former teacher and instructional and equity coach, and I’m also the oldest sister of four and a new mother. And so I have a lot of practice at being in relationship with others. But as a mere human, I fall far short of weaving relationships like trees and mushrooms do. Today I want to share with you briefly just a few lessons that the forest floor has for us, as well as examples where I have struggled, a few questions to ponder and then some resources that have been instructive for me that I hope will be instructive for you as well.
All right, so lesson one. The first lesson is that relationships are foundational. Ecosystems teach us that when one part of the system faltered, everything falters, but we forget often how essential symbiosis is for us humans as well. A mistake I imagine many of us have made and that I have been guilty of making, it’s feeling like relationship building takes too much time and moving into the “real work” too quickly.
In schools this can look like doing get to know you exercises or holding welcome events at the beginning of the year with teachers, students, and families, and then never again. As a teacher, for me, this often looked like I had a lot of pressure to get through content and time for state or AP testing, and I felt stressed about pausing the curriculum in order to make time for relationship building, which felt like it was something other. But what I have found and what is always important for me to remember is that the relationships that I did take the time and space to build actually helped me know the strength that we could leverage to support each other’s needs, and I have an example of this.
Early in my teaching career, I taught English 11 at this small school in rural Colorado in the mountains. And we had a really strong college going culture at the school despite the fact that a lot of our students would be the first in their families to attend college. And when we began our personal essay unit in preparation for them to complete the common app, I realized that I could leverage all these relationships I had made in this small town with parents, colleagues and community members to serve as what I called community readers for my students’ essays. Dozens of people signed up to serve as community readers, including local newspaper reporters, district office employees, local business owners and artists. And even my own grandmother who is a former teacher and doesn’t own a computer still to this day signed on to be a reader, and we sent her two essays in a manila envelope.
By asking for outside readers to offer feedback in a structured supported way, my students were that much more prepared for an audience who didn’t know them to read their work. Although setting this process up did take a lot of time and energy, the learning that students were able to engage in was so much richer and deeper, and they built these relationships with adults who they might not have otherwise met. And the adults really loved this opportunity too. They got to be invited into my students’ lives and to learn a little bit about what it was like to be a teenager. It was a true win-win, or as Kimmerer would say, a moment of mutual flourishing.
So when you find yourself struggling to center relationships, just remember that some of the problems that you are facing might actually be solved by spending more time strengthening relational trust. And two great resources in our Padlet that I added for centering relationships throughout the year are Alex Shevrin Venet’s blog post about trauma-informed considerations for relationship building and the 2×10 strategy, which I imagine many of you know. And these are focused on building relationships with students, but I really think they work with colleagues and community members too.
All right, the second lesson we can learn from the forest floor is that differences are strengths. The fungi and trees leverage their distinct skills and resources for their mutual benefit. Humans have a lot to learn too about how we might support each other across lines of differences. The expectations we have for educators and school leaders to be experts actually can often prevent us from building authentic partnerships across lines of difference. I know for me as a new teacher, as a young biracial Asian woman, I often felt like I had to pretend expertise to be taken seriously by my students when I was first starting out. But I know that presenting ourselves as experts can actually mean that we may be less willing to ask questions and be vulnerable or to be honest about what we don’t know. Building relationships really requires this openness to being a learner again, which means that we have to be willing to not always show up as an expert. And I have a silly example for this one too, that is something that has really stuck with me.
At the last school where I taught a couple of years ago, I had several students in my classes that were so passionate about robotics. I mean, they would spend dozens and dozens of hours in the lab a week, so much so that they would have a hard time doing their homework or doing other things because they were so focused on robotics. And I just had the hardest time connecting with some of these students because I wasn’t a STEM focused student. I still have a hard time with math. So I was like, how? And I’m a former English teacher, I should have named that. And then I just realized that one moment when I was having this mental block where I was like, I am getting in my way here. I was like, my cultural frame of reference doesn’t include being really into robotics. And so I’m not really understanding where my students are coming from. And so I was like, I need to go to robotics tournament.
And so at one point I heard them all in a group talking about this big tournament they had coming up in Wilsonville, which is a neighboring town. And I was like, I’m going to go. I’m going to spend my Saturday, hanging out in the stands and cheering for the team, which is called the Flaming Chickens. And I loved it, y’all. I am a robotics person now. I couldn’t believe how huge and complex these robots were and what they could do. And I got to see my students just totally lit up and inspired and connected in this way that I couldn’t always see in my classroom. And it was just this moment where I was like, Krystal, you thought you knew who your students were and you really didn’t? I just had this new insight into their world.
And so I share this example. I know it’s a little bit silly, but to me it felt powerful because I think that when we are struggling to build relationships or connections with folks, it’s really helpful to pause and to ask yourself, how might we learn about their world? Where might we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and not be the expert? And this is an especially important consideration when we’re working to build relationships across power difference, right?
In the case of my students, as their teacher, as the one who was grading them, I held a lot of power. And so I got to be the learner, and they were showing me how the robot works and they were so excited to be the expert and to share their knowledge with me. And so I felt like that flipping or shifting of the power dynamic for that weekend just helped build relationships immensely for us and really helped me see the ways in which I had blind spots.
One resource that I want to share with all of you that I imagine a lot of you know about, but I just always want to share it when I can, and this has helped me surface my own cultural frames of reference, is Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain. So really recommend that text.
All right, my last little lesson for us from the forest floor is that each of us is part of our own ecosystem in our different contexts. And that means that you are just as important as the other individuals and groups that you are working to build relationships with. If you overextend yourself or are not honest consciously or not about your own capacity, then that doesn’t lead to an authentic trusting relationship. And it can be so hard with all of the pressure and stress around us, it can be really hard to know how to connect with others from a grounded place. And that can make it really difficult to engage in relationships authentically as opposed to just transactionally. And I think that urgency that we work in schools also compounds this.
So this is where I’m going to ask you to return now to that healing space or place that you identified earlier and that some of you graciously shared with us in the chat. Is there a lesson there about what you need to stay grounded and connected to yourself?
When I think about the forest and what it means to me, a few things come to mind that are helpful for me to remember and just hold onto. It’s outside, I’m moving my body, and I’m often walking along someone else, even if it’s just my dog. So when I’m not sure what to do or if I’m just fed up or feeling at capacity, I know that any of those elements, even if I can’t make it across town to go to Forest Park, one of those will help me connect back to myself in order to connect with others. And I think that this is hard for us to practice in education for all of you that are in schools and working, but it’s true that staying resourced ourselves allows us to continue contributing to and receiving from the larger ecosystem around me, right? If the fungi didn’t have the nutrients that they were foraging, they couldn’t offer those to the tree. And if the trees are depleted and don’t have carbohydrates, they can’t offer those to the fungi and it all falters.
One resource that I really love that has helped me stay rooted in my core values and that is a great tool for community building and team building is Deepa Iyer’s Social Change Now book, and it has these incredible core value exercises and lots of lovely discussion prompts. So that is also shared in our
Padlet. Obviously, there are lots more important lessons that we could learn from the forest floor, but those are just a few to get us started and frame our conversation today. Thanks for listening. And really, what I am here to do today is get you excited for and inspired by our next presenter who I’m just thrilled to introduce to you. Amy Rovai Gregory is the director of Family and Community Engagement at San Juan Unified in Sacramento. And she, over those weeks that we’ve been getting to know each other, she’s just truly committed to building deep trusting relationships in her community and she has this treasure trove of wisdom to share with us today and I can’t wait to hear from you. So let’s give a warm welcome to Amy, and I can’t wait to hear what you have to share, Amy.
Amy Rovai Gregory:
Oh, thank you so much, Krystal, and thank you for your really great presentation. Hi, everyone, I’m Amy Rovai Gregory, I am the director of our Family and Community Engagement team and partnership development in San Juan Unified School District. And I’m really excited to be here today with you all.
And so as we get started, I wanted to build on this because we’ve been learning all about ways to build authentic partnerships and you just heard some really great lessons from Krystal. Those same lessons will be expanded upon now as I share with you ways that our Family and Community Engagement team has been leveraging the positive since the pandemic, and how using three key strategies of reflecting, refining and re-imagining can completely change the ways in which we build authentic relationships with families and community.
Research shows that meaningful family engagement positively impacts student outcomes, including improved child and student achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, improved parent teacher and teacher student relationships, and improved school environment, all of which help close the achievement and the opportunity gap and build important partnerships between home and school. But we also know that many challenges have come with the COVID-19 pandemic and the tremendous effects that it’s had on every aspect of education, including the ways in which we involve our families and community.
The pandemic forced us all to shift, to transform the ways in which we do things including Family and Community Engagement. But we also know that in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity. And instead of dwelling on the challenges that the pandemic has brought these past few years, our team has really been focusing on what we call the pandemic positives. One huge one being that distance learning really provided an opportunity for families to be even more engaged in their children’s learning. So our team has been leveraging the positives and launching ahead as we continue to focus on reconnecting with families and community, redefining the ways in which we engage, and re-imagining all of the exciting and innovative possibilities that lie ahead in the world of Family and Community Engagement.
So as I mentioned, we’re going to be focusing today on three key strategies that each one of you can use right away to improve your engagement with families and community. These are what our team calls the three Rs, reflect, refine, and reimagine. You’ll be hearing the ways we’ve used these strategies the past few pandemic years to respond to the needs of our families while positively building partnerships within our school communities and increasing family engagement. You’ve also got a template tool that’s been loaded in the Padlet as well with these three strategies placed in the chat for you as well there so you can use them with your own teams after today.
All right, the first strategy that we’re going to talk about is reflection. The first step to building those authentic partnerships is really to take time to reflect. As I think back to my time as an elementary school principal after school on Friday, March 13th, 2020, when we got that notification that all school campuses would need to close indefinitely while we determined exactly what COVID-19 was and how we could eventually safely be back together at school. I thought about all the challenges this was going to bring for my students, 98% of whom qualified for free meals each day due to their socioeconomic status. I thought about the 23 different languages spoken at my school by my families, some of whom were recent refugees to our school within the past 30 days. I thought about the fact that we didn’t have Chromebooks for our students to use at home, and nearly one in five of my students were considered McKinney-Vento and didn’t actually have a home to go to, let alone phones or wifi to attempt distance learning.
And so the current situation that we were embarking on was foreign to all of us, and we had no map to know where to go and how to do it. But what we did have going for us was the relationships that we had built with students, families and community partners. We had partnerships with our local food banks and resource agencies, as well as our neighborhood apartment complexes and the families that were within them. We had extremely dedicated staff who already were used to doing home visits and knew who we could reach out to within the apartment complexes and neighborhoods for assistance. By thinking through the strengths and the barriers our families were now facing, we were able to determine the opportunities ahead that would be available to help us better help them.
This is precisely why community asset mapping is such an important step to building authentic partnerships. Asset mapping is a strengths-based way to look within your community and think about all the opportunities that exist. This template for you here has also been uploaded to the Padlet as well, and it’s a really great opportunity for you as you practice reflecting to think through, what are those community assets that you have?
For example, the individuals within the community. Who are the students, the parents, the volunteers with gifts, skills, and knowledge? Because every single one of the parents and students within your community have something that’s an asset that they can offer and help provide. What are the associations, the cultural ones, the health associations, education, social areas, even fitness associations, mentoring, family support? What are your physical assets within your community? Are there parks and gardens? What are the walking paths like? What are the public spaces that could be utilized?
Thinking through the institutional assets, the schools, the colleges, the hospitals, libraries, museums, faith-based organizations, agencies and nonprofits. What’s the local economy like within your school community? Who are the local businesses, the banks, the corporations and the foundations? And lastly, thinking about the culture and the stories from your community. What are the interests that exist there? What current events have been happening? What are the values, traditions, the skills and capacities that lie within your local community?
Now that we’ve had an opportunity to reflect, the next step is to refine. And this really is about thinking about what improvements can we make. Knowing district and community partnerships was a strength for our district and that families really needed to access those emergency supports while campuses were closed during the pandemic, we thought of ways that we could refine our past process and safely provide resources to families. We started to provide drive-up and walk-up popup events at different school sites across our district. And this gave the families an opportunity in a safe and easy way to access immediate resources such as food, school supplies, technology support, healthcare and housing supports and more. Building on our prior strengths of district and community partnerships, partners in other community groups were immediately ready to join us to serve families, even in capacities that they hadn’t done so before.
This is when you really refine your efforts by using the available resources you have. These popups not only provided those instant supports to families, but they gave us an opportunity to continually seek feedback from families so we could continue to refine our process and help to mitigate the barriers that they were experiencing due to the challenging time. The feedback helped us to become even more responsive to the needs of our families and community, and it allowed us to provide targeted outreach support using district and community resources to meet those needs.
For example, living in Sacramento, every block is very different and so there’s different demographics, there’s different needs within each of those. So knowing the assets within the community, knowing the demographics of our community and the resources that are needed, we were able to partner with different organizations. And so with that, that had helped us bring on additional pieces. For example, one of the neighborhoods around my school, nearly a hundred percent of the students and families that resided within a particular apartment complex were refugees. And so knowing that, I was able to then make sure that we brought in international rescue committee. And we brought in some of the additional resettlement agencies when we did these popups because they could provide immediate support that those families needed.
Building on the assets of our school communities and even more so during the challenges we were facing with the pandemic, helped us successfully launch another culturally responsive family engagement initiative called the Neighborhood Learning Project. The Neighborhood Learning Project is an outreach initiative that builds capacity within neighborhoods by helping school sites not only asset map their communities by identifying all the strengths and opportunities that lie within their neighborhoods, but it gets school staff into the community outside of the walls of the traditional classrooms and schools so that they can meet families where they’re at. School and district staff, partner with apartment complexes, parks and recreation and community centers, businesses, organizations and more, providing learning opportunities through the use of make and take learning games for home, children’s books, social emotional learning supports, arts and crafts and more.
Additionally, the school site works closely to identify locations where families are experiencing the greatest barriers to supporting their children’s education, whether it be chronic absenteeism, transportation, language barriers, homelessness and more. And then, the sites then partner with district departments and community agencies who can best assist those families with the barriers that they’re experiencing.
The initiative has been such a wonderful way for our sites to build community within their schools and across neighborhoods, rebuild the trust and connection with families, and help continue to build capacity and authentic partnerships with the staff, the families, and our amazing village of community organizations.
All right, so the final strategy is to reimagine. We’ve reflected, we refined, we focused on what worked, but how can we scale this and who can we ask to assist us? We knew how impactful it was to meet families where they were at during the pandemic and how that truly was what helped us continue to build trusting relationships with our families and authentic partnerships within our community. And so based off of that, we asked ourselves… As we returned back from the pandemic, we got an idea, why not create a mobile family resource center that could travel all across our district and into the neighborhoods of our students and families? And here is the power of the ASK at work. This is our before picture of our mobile Family and Community Engagement Resource center, which we named the FACE Mobile.
The COVID pandemic illuminated so many barriers that our families were facing, from the huge digital divide, a lack of access to food and basic necessities, academic supports, health care, transportation to unemployment, housing challenges, inflation and more. Many of our families have deeply struggled during these past few pandemic years and don’t always have the means to access and navigate the systems of support. Well, they say necessity is the mother of invention and those necessities and many families lack of access to them during the pandemic helped lead us to our brand new invention, which you see here, the FACE Mobile. So this Mobile Family Resource Center on wheels, it travels all across our district now. It meets families where they’re at, provides access to the resources, supplies, and knowledge, all while building relationships and bridges between our families, schools, and community.
As you can see from the photos, we gutted the whole mobile resource center and we designed it now so that it really could be a one-stop shop for families where they can receive a warm welcome, a one-on-one intake of supports needed. They can meet with someone who can connect them with district and community resources. They can walk on board the bus to receive emergency food, diapers and wipes, school supplies, bus passes, technology access, printing services, health and wellness supports, free books for their children in primary languages, learning tools and more. It’s been such an exciting successful initiative for our team and it truly is helping build a capacity with families and schools. We’re excited for the continued opportunities to build on this innovative community outreach and seeing all the great things still to come from it.
In addition to the plethora of supplies and resources that the FACE Mobile provides to families, it’s also helping not only rebuild those connections and trust with families that we noticed were lacking during the pandemic, but it’s also helping build the capacity for families, schools, students and community organizations one FACE Mobile visit at a time.
I’ll share a little quick story here in the center picture there. That parent wasn’t aware of the FACE Mobile. She was new to our school district and we were visiting at a local high school and she had a newer student that had just started there. They had just moved here less than three months prior. And so she stopped by. She saw this big blue bus. She came over and she learned all about different resources, including some family education workshops that we had coming up. And so she then attended one of the workshops. And from there, she was inspired to then join her local school around… They needed a committee member at their local school site council. And so she joined that. And then, from there, she ended up joining our district committee for LCAP. And it just started because of that one little visit that she had and the time that Clarissa here—and I sent her picture—took to really meet her, talk to her about her needs and help provide supports.
And this little seed of innovation has continued to grow. It’s been featured on TV, in a newspaper, magazine articles, across social media, and it recently had the opportunity to host Governor Newsom and first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. So we’re thrilled to be working with other districts all across the country now to help them with ways that they can create something similar and expand supports for families all across the state and beyond.
And you can see a picture there of an ambulance at the bottom. That was a local ambulance that had been donated to a high school as part of a CTE Pathway program, and it was no longer able to be accessed at that point. And so what we ended up doing is using that and the FACE Mobile became a big sister this year. And so our student support services department, actually based off of the success with the FACE Mobile, they launched a second mobile unit here by taking the ambulance. And they now bring it out to help address chronic absenteeism, which is something that I know many of you are also experiencing as we’ve come back from the pandemic.
So it goes all across the district. It joins us many times with our FACE Mobile and it helps provide attendance awareness opportunities for families. It also goes out to help provide McKinney-Vento support. So it travels to the shelters, it travels to our unhoused families, and really helps provide anything additional that they might need.
And so whether it’s FACE Mobile or neighborhood learning project or a single resource table at a popup event, we always make sure that we’re using our equity lens. We define our beliefs and we ask if we believe this, what can we put in place to support it? What can we see and hear to know it’s really happening? Are we responsive to the needs of our community while also planning long-term goals? We focus on equity. Who will be affected by this decision? Who is left out? Who are we not hearing from? What are the impacts? Could there be unintended consequences? Are we truly being intentional?
We make sure to look at data. What are the languages spoken? What are the demographics? Are there special education programs? Title one, high density needs? We look at what support staff is already connected within the school community because we really want to make sure that we’re building those bridges between families and schools. We ask school staff what their goals are, what needs do they see and what school resources should we highlight when we go out to support their work? We encourage sites to look at school site plans. We help families understand how to look at school site plans. We have informal conversations and we offer supports.
We ask about cultural responsiveness. That’s a huge focus. How are we being culturally responsive? Are we making assumptions? Are we asking families what they need or are we saying what families need? Are we connecting them to the resources within their community? We use a lot of technology now, apps and websites, but a few things that we’ve discovered is that, for many of our families, they’re not able to access all of that. And so making sure that we have a varied way to help communicate with our families is really important.
And the final key with this is follow-up, connect back with families, schools and partners. After the FACE Mobile visits and outreach table visits, we ensure that families have a way not only through a survey that they can quickly complete, but they also have an opportunity to just let us know what additional follow-up they need, and then we make sure to do that. Create those feedback loops for ongoing reflection, improvement and responsiveness for families.
And lastly, if you’ve never seen or used Dr. Karen Mapp’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, it really is an essential tool to helping you and your teams reflect, refine, and reimagine your family engagement and the ways in which you’re building authentic sustainable partnerships. We’ve placed that framework in the Padlet for you as well.
And so in closing, I wanted to end with one of my very favorite quotes by Arthur Ashe that serves as such a great reminder as we build authentic relationships. “No matter where you’re at, start there. Use what you have and do what you can.” And on that, I have my contact info as well. And I really appreciate you joining us today for this piece, learning more about building sustainable authentic partnerships. And I will turn that back over now. Thank you.
Wonderful. Thank you so much, Amy. As you were speaking, I was noticing in the chat a lot of people we’re thrilled to hear about the FACE Mobile, and I’m sure are wondering how they can do something similar at their own sites. So thank you for inspiring us, Krystal and Amy, and giving us lots and lots to think about.
I’m going to stop sharing my screen right now and we are going to invite Krystal and Amy to engage in a bit of a discussion together. It’s always wonderful when we have these presenters to spend some time where they can get into a conversation, but I wanted to share that as we’re coming to the end of the webinar portion, we do have the next 30 minutes after the top of the hour reserved for all of you to join in. And so this is just an open invitation to start typing any questions or thoughts you have into the chat. We invite you to use the Q&A feature if you have something specific that you want to ask Krystal or Amy.
I mentioned we are recording today and we’re going to stop recording at the top of the hour. So we hope to have something a little bit more informal, but for those of you who’d like to go back and share anything from what Krystal and Amy just spoke about, that will be made available very soon to you all.
Okay, so just wanted to give a little bit of a preview about what’s coming next. And now I’d like to return back to Krystal and Amy and have a bit of a discussion between both of you. And one thing, as we were preparing for this session, we found it interesting that you both speak about the pandemic and its impacts and also just the inspiring pieces of really looking at as an opportunity to reframe how we do things rather than just trying to get back to how things were. And I was wondering, for the first little bit, if you could both elaborate a little bit and talk about the then versus now, and what’s really different about how we should be approaching the work of building relationships? So I’ll just open it up for either of you to respond to.
Amy Rovai Gregory:
Yeah, thank you for that. Yeah, I think when we think about pre-pandemic to now, really, the idea of things are different. We’re not able to go back to what we thought education was prior to the pandemic. And I think that is a shift that a lot of people really need to reflect on because we were put in these situations where we were quickly pivoting and thinking of new things and then, when are we getting back? When are we getting back and what are we doing? And wanting to go back to the way things had been. But there isn’t any, going back to the way things had been. This is our new normal. And I think looking at how we can focus on the positives that did come from that. The pandemic really did illuminate so many barriers for us. So we were able to see that. And from there, that is our job then is to be responsive to that and refine so that hopefully we can mitigate those barriers as we move forward.
And so for us, it’s really been about getting out into the community and meeting families where they’re at, changing the ways in which we traditionally had engaged with families where families had to come to campus for knowledge and learning and things that were going on to feel connected. That community partners were something that every now and then we would be able to have on campus, but families didn’t always get to experience that. And so, for us, it’s been about how do we help sites understand the assets that exist within their community, building on those strengths and leveraging those opportunities and really helping connect that triangular piece of school home community to be an authentic partnership.
So one example that I would give is, recently, we were helping one of our K-8 schools tackle… I mean, chronic absenteeism has just been a huge, huge barrier since sites have come back to in-person. And so with that, we help them really look at their data. And from there, we did a heat map within their neighborhood to see where is the largest group of chronically absent students, and have you thought about getting out to that area and bringing resources and supports there?
And so, similarly to the neighborhood learning project, we brought staff out. We identified an apartment complex where nearly 90% of the students that attended there were chronically absent. And by looking at the demographics, we realized that the majority of those students were recent refugees from Afghanistan. And so we not only went out there to help provide some supports, but we then brought our cultural brokers, the people within the community that are also from Afghanistan, some of our resettlement agencies, our school community resource assistance that spoke Dari, and Farsi, and Pashto, and we brought them out and we invited all the families to come out. We had music, we had activities. It was like a meet and greet so that the families understood who the staff was at their school that they were sending students to, but most importantly, understanding that the culture of the US system for school is very different from that of Afghanistan.
And so we were able to focus on the fact that here in the US, having your daughters and sons come to school is important. Back in Afghanistan, many of the families then shared like, “Oh, our daughters often stayed home. We didn’t always send them. The priority was sending our sons to school.” And so we talked with them through that. We had our cultural brokers there to explain the differences, talk about time and attendance. And we then started monitoring how attendance was going for those students. And after six weeks, we ended up realizing that 85% of those students no longer were chronically absent. They actually were having perfect attendance from that point forward heading to school. And many of the families just shared, they just didn’t know.
And so I think it’s that idea of, how do we take the pieces of school and make that visible to our families? How do we connect with them? How are we creating those inclusive environments not only at school but also out of school? How are we going and meeting families where they’re at and providing those strategies and partnerships to rebuild trust? And that has been one of the ways in which we have found some great success.
I love that example so much, Amy. Laura, is it okay that I’m just jumping in? I just find it so powerful and the part when you were talking about the triangle between school and home and community. I am just really struck by how that example is so much about practicing cultural humility and not assuming that you know what’s going on, but really taking the time and leveraging the partnerships that you had to actually learn about what might be going on and bringing some curiosity. And then, to have that approach be so effective, it’s really inspiring.
When I think about that question, and I think about, Amy, your triangle of school and home and community, I was thinking about it through the lens of having been a teacher who taught through the pandemic and then also taught and did coaching on the other side of it and was thinking about, how do we bring… If we can’t go to them… Amy, you’re talking about going to people’s homes and communities. How can we bring the homes and communities into school? Because I think something that I learned from teaching and coaching through the pandemic and being on Zoom is that we had these insights into people’s homes and family lives and communities through the screen that we didn’t necessarily before. And there were lots of things that were tricky and complicating to navigate through that time. And there was all this amazing richness that we had.
I mean, I remember meeting with… At the time, I was teaching ninth grade, which is secretly my favorite age to teach. And the ninth graders would bring their pets on camera or could share parts of their lives and what was going on for them that they couldn’t or might have felt uncomfortable or nervous to do previously. And then I felt like when we returned back on campus. There was this way in which I think we started to forget that students and families have so many assets that they’re bringing from their home and community lives, that when they come to school, sometimes we ask them to leave at the door. And so how can we really invite them to share those parts of themselves in a trauma-informed, culturally humble way so that we can be leveraging those as part of our environment?
And I would say the same is true for teachers and staff members. I think part of what happened for me during the pandemic is I also got to be home a lot, which, like I named, was challenging. And there was something about which I learned a lot about, like, oh, what my body needs to take care of itself. Because as a teacher in a normal school day, you don’t get to use the bathroom very many times. And just it’s so hard to drink enough water. I mean, just take care of your basic bio needs. And so part of what I have learned is actually like, oh, there are rhythms to what I need during the day, how to take care of myself, having my animal mammal body that we all do, and how can we be responsive to that as school leaders as well and system leaders as we’re supporting the very human people that are working for us.
I think the pandemic just highlighted the ways in which systems and institutions were not designed for our wellbeing. And so how can we then take steps to design our classrooms for people’s whole wellbeing, our schools for adult wellbeing as well? And so, yeah, those are a few, but I just love the triangle, just from school home, community, how can we both go to people’s homes and communities and also bring those and center them in our schooling environments as well? So thank you so much, Amy. I’m so inspired by your work.
Yeah, thank you both. And you’re both making me realize that we talk about relationships as foundational, but really it’s recognizing people’s humanity. That is maybe the very first step. We’re all humans, we all bring our things, and if we can look at it as assets and really see each other, that’s really the heart of it all. So thank you both so much.
And just wanted to say thank you to everyone.