The Foundation: Connecticut’s Definition and Framework for Family Engagement
Collaboration is most effective when it is informed by both evidence-based practices and partners’ perspectives. Connecticut’s Definition and Framework for Family Engagement is a resource for districts that is based on current research and best practices, as well as information collected from many focus groups with families, educators, and community providers from across the state. The consensus from all sources was clear:
Family engagement is a full, equal and equitable partnership among families, educators and community partners to promote children’s learning and development, from birth through college and career.
Effective partnerships view families as full partners that bring valuable knowledge to planning and decision-making. Families are empowered to work with professionals to remove systemic, structural, and organizational barriers that perpetuate inequities and injustice.
In addition to establishing a definition for family engagement, the Framework also identifies guiding principles that underlie high-impact family engagement:
- Build collaborative, trusting relationships focused on learning.
- Listen to what families say about their children’s interests and challenges.
- Model high-quality learning practices.
- Share information frequently with families about how their children are doing.
- Engage students in conversations about how they want teachers and families to support their learning.
- Co-develop cultural competence among staff and families.
- Support parents to become effective leaders and advocates for children.
Taken together, Connecticut’s definition and guiding principles frame a productive approach to building partnerships with families. To implement this approach requires leadership, capacity building, and connections with the community, supported by a district infrastructure.
The Structure: District Systems of Support for Partnerships
District Leadership: District leadership can support strong partnership programs by ensuring that they are coherent and aligned with educational improvement goals, sustained over time and spread across the organization. Without district leadership for family and community involvement, only some schools will strengthen and sustain their partnership programs and practices. With strong leadership, every school can welcome, inform, and engage parents in their children’s education.
Building Capacity of School Staff and Families: The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships identifies the key competencies for school and program staff for collaborating with families: honoring and recognizing families’ funds of knowledge; connecting family engagement to student learning; and creating welcoming, inviting cultures. Families manage multiple roles in order to support their children’s learning, including: supporter, monitor, advocate and decision maker. Without attention to training and building staff and families’ capacity, partnership efforts are not likely to be effective or long lasting.
Working with Community Partners: Community partners have proven to be of great benefit for many school districts during the pandemic. Partnerships with community organizations have allowed schools to leverage key resources to support families basic needs, technology access, and child care. The evidence-based models suggested below for school-community partnerships demonstrate that community-based assets are most effectively deployed to school and family needs and sustained over time when there is a system-level coordinating infrastructure in place.