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Summer Professional Learning? Don’t Forget Your Families.

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

It’s summertime! Time for much needed rest and relaxation. And time for professional learning and planning. Educators, as you're setting the foundation for the upcoming school year don’t forget about your families if you want a firm foundation. From restorative practice training to curriculum adoption and lesson planning, families are your allies, partners, and co-teachers. Include them in your work this summer and your relationships with them as well as your results will be the better for it!

Let's say you have just finished a professional learning session and you are ready to take action on some of the things you have learned. You have identified how families can play a role in your next steps, you have a couple of families you want to call/email/text, and you're ready to reach out. When working with families, role clarity is paramount. Before you reach out, get clear on the role you'd like a family member to play. Two key roles you can ask family members to play are Consultant and Co-Designer. After you share context and the “why” behind your reaching out, families will probably ask, “So, what do you want me to do? And what does that work entail?” Here’s what it could look like to engage with families in these ways:

1. Asking Families to Engage as Consultants. “I’m working on helping families understand how to help their children at home with grade-level math and I’d love for you to be a consultant. In this role, I’d love for you to give me your input and perspective. Also, I’d appreciate it if you'd share resources or referrals that come to mind. Next year we are going to be teaching from a new math curriculum. If you’re open, I’d like to share with you a family one-pager I'm thinking about sending home and get your feedback on some others ways to better work alongside family members to support our children.”

Considering that families are partners and pedagogical decisions will have an impact on them, when planning, keep families in mind. Don’t just guess at what they will think or need. Ask them. Other questions you may ask are,

  • When it comes to ______, what’s important to you?

  • Tell me 1-2 things you like about…

  • Tell me 1-2 things that you didn’t like about…

  • We were thinking about doing ______. If we did that, what would it mean for your family?

Over time you will have deeper insights into what different families like and how you can set them up to partner with you most successfully. At the same time, families’ situations are constantly changing, so ask for their input and perspective regularly.

2. Asking Families to Engage as Co-Designers: “This summer I’m working on changing the format of my family-teacher conferences, and I’d love for you to be a co-designer and help me create the agenda for the conferences and/or the letter and video I’m thinking about sending home this fall. I’m thinking we’d talk through this ideas on the phone for a bit and then I’d do a first draft based on what we talked about. After that we'd connect for you to give me feedback. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in/have time for?"

Co-Designing can take more time and energy than being a consultant, for an educator and a family member, but it's worth the investment. Partnering in these ways allows educators to benefit from the wealth of knowledge families have and it allows families to chance to better understand what their child is learning and deepen their connection to an educator and the school.

As you think about working with families this summer, anticipate that few families, if any, have been asked to engage in this way. Just as you’re practicing vulnerability by asking, the families of your students are practicing vulnerability by engaging. Lean into that vulnerability, the more you do it the easier it will be. And your collaborative efforts will lead to the best results for our children.

Engaging families as co-designers and consultants are meaningful ways you can strengthen your overall family engagement capacity. To explore other ways, take our free Family Engagement Audit. After responding to questions focusing on four areas: Conditions, Connection, Capacity Building, and Collaboration, you'll receive a free report with scores, descriptions of your family engagement practice, and general recommendations for each area based on your responses.

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