Family Friendly Schools Forum Garners Interesting Results

SPOTLIGHT on EXCELLENCE December 2015

Family Friendly Schools Community Learning Session Garners Interesting Results

A teacher shares her opinion in one of 13 breakout discussion groups, engaging with parents, families, staff and community partners, while, left to right, Family Engagement Manager Karla Cruz, Board of Education member Craig Stallings, and Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez listen intently.

On December 5, 2015, Hartford Board of Education and Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez hosted a community learning session entitled Building Family Friendly Schools Together. The event, held at Hartford Public High School, was attended by approximately 400 people including parents and families, principals, teachers and school staff, community partners, corporate and funding partners, central office staff, board of education members and other supporters of HPS students. Hartford Public High School students served as greeters and ushers and the school choir performed. Students from the Culinary Arts Academy catered breakfast for all participants.

The day began with opening remarks from Dr. Narvaez, Board of Education members Dr. Shelley Best and Craig Stallings. The session included comments from Michele Brooks, Principal Consultant of Transformative Education Solutions and parent activist, educator, and past Assistant Superintendent of Family and Student Engagement for Boston Public Schools. Facilitated breakout sessions were held where participants shared their thoughts and perspectives on Family Friendly Schools. Below are the summary notes from those sessions. All groups returned from the breakout sessions and reported on major themes. The event concluded with participants making a personal commitment to do one thing to help build strong family and community ties to support student learning. 

 

Click here to read the commitments.

 

Summary of Themes from Breakout Groups

Question 1: Schools play an important part in our young people’s lives. Today we have been talking about developing and nurturing family friendly schools. When you hear the term, “family friendly schools,” what does that mean to you?

The many responses to each question tended to cluster in certain key areas. Those areas are listed below, along with some of the more detailed responses. Many of these responses were repeated in multiple groups.

Environment and Climate

·         Safety – both physical and emotional

·         Is physically attractive, with student work displayed, cheerful colors, evidence of community engagement

·         School buildings are welcoming- bright, clean, inviting, with clear signage

·         Parents are greeted the minute they enter the school building

·         There’s a holistic approach that sees the whole child and the whole community

·         There is a feeling of collaboration between staff and parents, with a shared goal

·         Mutual respect

·         Trust

·         See students in the context of their whole community

·         Safe, comfortable, inviting, warm –a place that feels like home

·         Demonstrate that they want students to succeed

·         Never gives up on families or students

·         Sees parents as a resource

·         Parent involvement should be an expectation

·         A feeling of mutual cooperation

·         Take a differentiated approach to what family friendly looks like at different developmental stages

·         Parents feel a sense of ownership

Communication

·         Communication in many languages

·         Communicate positive things – not just negative

·         Schools provide translation services

·         Develop and communicate ways that families can be engaged even if they can’t be physically present

·         Use parent-friendly language; e.g. in communicating about tests and results

Roles and Relationships

·         Meeting families where they are

·         No intimidation

·         Teachers have time to cultivate relationships with families

·         Teachers have tools and systems to work outside of their contracts for positive engagement

·         Models the idea of a “partnership”

·         Gets to know a family as a whole

·         People really listen to families

·         Parents and staff work together to support children

·         Everyone is clear about their responsibilities

·         Parents and teachers are available to each other

·         Staff members have to understand and accept that they sometimes need to take on roles that may not be in their job descriptions

·         A place where parents can come and share with each other

·         Acknowledge and understand the struggles of many parental situations

·         Teachers build relationships in the community and are visible

·         Schools and staff demonstrate empathy with parents

·         Clear expectations on all sides

·         Staff don’t make assumptions about families

·         Look at each family as unique

Cultural Competency:

·         Justice and lack of bias

·         Cultural competency training at all levels

·         A more diverse staff that reflects the student body

·         Language barriers are effectively addressed

Welcoming Practices

·         Provides transportation and childcare so parents can get involved with the school

·         Promotes observation by parents during school hours

·         Classes for parents in areas where needs have been identified

·         Recognize the differing and often challenging schedules of parents and plan with that in mind

·         Recognize and honor what parents do in the schools

·         Think about incentives to motivate parents who are hard to engage

·         Consistency, so you get the same level of support and communication in every school

·         Have a range of options for families to be part of the school community

·         Respect parents’ comfort zones; e.g., meet in the FRC, not the office, or even out in the community

·         Giving parents tools and training on how to be responsible

·         Great customer service, especially at the front lines (front office staff, security)

·         Provide ways that all parents can weigh in on important decisions

·         SGCs should be representative of the student population

·         Parents, schools and central office have a shared definition around FFS and parent engagement

·         Schools model the courtesy they expect; e.g., responding to parents in a timely manner

Supports and Services

·         A place that is supported with resources and can provide wraparound services

·         The school supports children in all areas of academic and social learning

·         CBOs and businesses should also be involved in the school

·         All schools are linked to community services

·         Provides social and emotional learning supports

·         Referrals when schools can’t provide needed services

 

2. What do you think are the 2 greatest challenges facing HPS and the community as we begin this work together?

Inequity

·         Programs are highly inequitable, and school buildings are unequal in terms of technology, building conditions, resources

·         Inequity of magnet schools vs. neighborhood schools

Issues of Understanding and Communication

·         Language barriers

·         Helping parents understand what we’re doing – especially Common Core

·         Being honest and open about needs and issues

·         Parents bring attitudes shaped by their own bad school experiences

·         Parents don’t feel comfortable talking to staff and are often afraid or intimidated and feel judged

·         Break the pattern of communicating when something negative happens

·         Some subjects, such as math, are taught in an entirely different way than when parent was in school. It’s hard to say “I don’t understand”

·         Lack of consistent and reliable communication

·         Staff don’t have enough understanding of socioeconomic situations of families

·         Not enough teachers can communicate in other languages

·         Lack of trust

·         School cultures

·         Labeling and biases, sometimes triggered by how parents present themselves (clothing, etc.)

·         Families need clarity about what their roles are, different ways to be involved and who to contact for what

·         We don’t really understand why some parents aren’t engaged

Climate/Environment

·         Creating the right balance between “safe” and “welcoming”

·         The design of some school buildings – sometimes it’s even hard to tell where the entrance is

·         In some schools, there is a sense of parents vs. teachers

·         Conflicting expectations and policy

·         Not enough opportunities to build community together

 

Obstacles related to teachers/staff

·         Staff don’t always see family engagement as part of their job

·         All staff members need training to support students who have learning needs, language needs, cultural differences

·         Time limits affecting both parents and teachers

·         Not all staff are skillful at building family engagement – they also need training

·         Lack of diversity among teaching staff and administrators

·         Teachers are overwhelmed and dealing with too many changes

·         Lots of expectations placed on teachers who don’t all have the experience needed

·         Lack of support staff

·         Have to acknowledge that teachers need to take ownership of this process

·         Missed opportunities to engage and use staff creatively

·         Hiring people who work hard to know and understand families

·         Frequent turnover of administrators and staff in schools

Obstacles related to families/community

·         Not all students get a strong foundation at home

·         A shortage of opportunities for parents to be involved and engaged

·         The changing role of families at different stages of their children’s education – we need to think about how to engage parents of older students

·         Parents’ work and transportation issues

·         School and after-school schedules that aren’t always supportive

·         Not all parents know how to be involved – need training

·         Schedules are not always parent-friendly

·         Parents need training on how to access services, opportunities and resources

·         Violence, and not knowing how to deal with it when it filters into the schools

·         Transportation and childcare

Practices and Policies

·         Building a culture of high expectations

·         Developing consistency of school practices

·         Need a constant focus on literacy, in the sense of understanding our world

·         Expectations are unclear

·         Building family involvement shouldn’t be one-sided – ask parents how to do it

·         Race is an issue, and we need more training around it

·         PD for staff and families together to hear and share information

·         State and local policies that are not always supportive

·         Extending engagement beyond SGCs and PTOs

3.  If you had a magic wand that could remove obstacles, what would success look like – what would a family and community friendly school look like?

School Climate/Environment:

·         The school would be inviting and welcoming

·         The school is very secure, with respectful but firm discipline

·         Teachers and administrators understand the cultural differences of their children and really believe all children are equal

·         Mutual respect should be demonstrated among all stakeholders in the school, including teachers to students and students to students

·         The school demonstrates that it values parents and families ‘opinions

·         High expectations

·         Facilities and resources communicate that students are valued

·         The school is welcoming and provides wraparound services

·         100% participation

·         Resources are high quality at all schools

·         Students are culturally and globally minded

·         The whole school works as a team

·         Meaningful relationships, trust, knowledge, safety

·         Welcoming schools are recognized as a necessary building block for high-performing schools

·         Everyone feels welcome, and cultures are celebrated and honored

Home and Community

·         Kids would come from secure homes and a safe home environment

·         Communities would be safe and beautiful, with all helping to clean them up

Services/Supports

·         Schools would provide food, clothing, shelter when needed but also foster self-sufficiency

·         Schools would help families with job opportunities

·         All students have food, meds, consistent teachers, restorative justice

·         More ESL opportunities would be available

·         School is a place where the whole family can get help

·         Information on health, safety and services is accessible to all

·         We would have 24-hour school services

·         A community school model, with resources before and after school for families

·         A dedicated space for parents to connect with each other

·         Schools offer mentor programs

·         We know every child, so we can differentiate supports

·         All information about school life is effectively communicated

·         Special services staff are family-friendly and have a good understanding of tests and their purpose

·         Schools have resources to help children with basic needs

Family friendly practices

·         Money would not be an obstacle, and funding would be re-prioritized

·         Parents are in the school all the time

·         Parents would be welcomed at the door and greeted by every staff member they pass

·         There is an open door policy for parents so they can actually see instruction

·         Families’ needs are met starting from the office and going throughout the building

·         Teachers are out in the community, including community agencies

·         Monthly parent forums, parent presentations, open hours for visits, courageous conversations with parents, teachers and administrators

·         All parents and teachers sign up to volunteer

·         Active outreach to parents who are usually not involved

·         Everyone – principal teachers, paras, office staff, community members, neighbors, churches, businesses – is on the same page with the same message, so that students hear it from all sides

·         Individualized learning plans are shared with parents

·         Principals are present and modeling in classrooms

·         There is easy access to the superintendent

·         Administrative support from the top for family-friendly schools

·         Everyone makes time for family engagement

·         Parents and families are engaged as advocates and partners

·         Use the diverse cultures of our families to build capacity at the school

·         We look at what’s working and build on it

·         Build relationships between schools

If you would like to be involved in this crucial movement, please click here to email Deidre Tavera, Engagements and Partnership Officer.

 

Read Kent Ashworth's excellent article here.

Watch the video documentation of the event here.

 

 

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