#PrincipalOfficeHours: A Conversation About Family Engagement

As your school community adapts to a new world of online learning structures and socially distant school days, you and your team are providing so much guidance and encouragement for students – and for families, too. Finding ways to bring your learners’ families an ongoing sense of connection and support matters so much to school leaders like you – but in this complicated fall, building those supportive, communicative relationships can be challenging. That’s why your fellow school leaders met recently for a #PrincipalOfficeHours chat on family engagement strategies – and we’ve gathered a collection of their plans and ideas below!

Special thanks to Principals Danielle Davis and Kim Griesbach and Assistant Principal Bethany Hill for moderating the chat! As you browse their insights, we hope you’ll find a bit of inspiration to support your own family outreach plans. Stay tuned for the next #PrincipalOfficeHours by following @PrincipalProj – and share your perspective with your fellow ed leaders!

Questions:

  1. What family engagement strategies have you found successful since the start of the pandemic?
  2. How can you partner with families to address social-emotional needs and make sure every student has what they need to learn?
  3. How would you describe “inclusive” and “equitable” family engagement?
  4. Share one approach your team uses to strive for inclusive and equitable family engagement.
  5. What advice might you give a fellow leader about having tough conversations with families?
  6. What is something you have learned from a conversation or relationship with a students’ family member?
  7. What is the No. 1 message you want to send to students’ families this school year?

Educators

Question 1

What family engagement strategies have you found successful since the start of the pandemic? 

We have done more than a dozen Q&A sessions on Zoom to answer the plethora of questions our families have. There was high stress, and this helped to alleviate it!” —Assistant Principal Michael Horton

Many of our teachers have Facebook Groups for their classrooms, and families love it. Support staff are also added, so families see other staff interacting and engaging. It is powerful!” —Assistant Principal Bethany Hill

We created a ‘genius bar’ for tech support at school. This has not only given teachers more time, it has also really connected our families literally and relationally.” —Assistant Principal Justin Holbrook

We hosted several virtual town halls before school started to share health and safety protocols and discuss instructional delivery. We also held a virtual ‘freshmen first day’ with breakout rooms, @Flipgrid and @GetKahoot.” —Principal Candace Pohl

“It’s not flashy, but I’ve found that the old school phone call is still king when it comes to getting families engaged. Texting works and email does too, but there’s nothing like a voice on a line!” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

One family engagement strategy that I have found successful is virtual Zumba! Families have enjoyed getting physical!” —Principal Alexa Sorden

Question 2

How can you partner with families to address social-emotional needs and make sure every student has what they need to learn?

“Constant check-ins with virtual students and their families, not just for academic purposes but to support with behavior at home, a consistent schedule, and sharing SEL lessons that center around executive function and self-regulation.” —Assistant Principal Bethany Hill

I created a K-12 SEL program that focuses on school culture revitalization, promoting social inclusion, self-awareness and self-care through collaboration with students, counselors, teachers and families.” —Vice Principal Jamie Brown

Our counselors have created multiple platforms to engage families and students. They have a Google Classroom with resources for families; they hold ‘Wellness Wednesday’ events; and they make phone calls to families who may be struggling.” —Principal Michael Williford

Listen, listen, listen. Let them tell you about their problems and the student’s problems. Then, make an achievable plan. Make them feel you’re on their side, and make the kid feel proud to achieve their goals.” —Educator Ana Siqueira

Question 3

How would you describe “inclusive” and “equitable” family engagement?

Inclusive family engagement is to include everyone with the same resources, but equitable family engagement is when you put a laser focus on disrupting the systemic barriers that families in your community face. Creating a community of support for families is key!” —Principal Danielle Davis

These are different, but not separate. Equitable engagement is ongoing and responsive; inclusive is frequent and accessible, and both are honest and caring. Our families need to know that we have their back!” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“We have to know our families’ needs. What can we do as building leaders to use our teams and resources to aid families with the support THEY need? We can’t be rigid in this process as to what support we provide.” —Principal VaShawn Smith

Question 4

Share one approach your team uses to strive for inclusive and equitable family engagement. 

“With our Student Council and PEER Leaders, we host a multicultural celebration for the community to recognize, see and acknowledge ALL students and families within the community.” —Vice Principal Jamie Brown

Our team has worked hard at trying to make sure that students have access to all resources when needed. We are playing around with the idea of a homework hotline for subjects from 5 to 7 p.m., when some students have time and access to complete their work.” —Principal Michael Williford

We offer our family sessions virtually and at different times of the day. We also post our slideshow on @ClassDojo so parents can access later. We make an effort to return every call that comes in for support. It’s a huge lift but it makes a difference!” —Principal Danielle Davis

“Talking Points is an app that allows you to send translated text messages. I speak Spanish and use it all the time anyway! I had a parent text me back to thank me because she hadn’t read French in years!” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

Question 5

What advice might you give a fellow leader about having tough conversations with families? 

Do a heart check for bias. Ask yourself the hard questions about what perceptions or assumptions might impede opportunities to build trust. We all have biases, and we must be true to ourselves in order to recognize them.” —Assistant Principal Bethany Hill

“Be patient. Don’t take anything personally. Be patient again and try to show them you are there to help. You are willing to hear and to find solutions that will work for them. When families see that you’re sincere about helping, defensive attitudes change.” —Educator Ana Siqueira

“If you have reached out intentionally, offered, given and followed through with support … those tough conversations have a better foundation from which to start.” —Assistant Principal Michael Gutierrez

Question 6

What is something you have learned from a conversation or relationship with a students’ family member?

I’ve learned that there are times when I have been wrong. I only learned that from listening and really reflecting without bias. It doesn’t always feel good, but it’s essential for growth and better connections with your families.” —Principal Danielle Davis

The need for quality internet in every household … so many families do not have the resources to support two or three children working online in conjunction with parents doing their own work! It creates a huge equity issue!” —Principal Michael Williford

Family as well as student frustration and stress are at an all-time high at this time. With that, we have to remember education is a ‘service’ industry – so how can I best serve my families during this difficult time for everyone?” —Principal VaShawn Smith

Question 7

What is the No. 1 message you want to send to students’ families this school year?

“We see you, we value you, and we want to support your child with you, alongside you.” —Assistant Principal Bethany Hill

I want students’ families to know that we are all in this together. Nobody asked for this, but everyone is doing the best they can – and no matter what, we are here for you, and we are not going anywhere!” —Principal Michael Williford

I want families to know they are worth all the details and discussions. I want our families to know we are doing our best to stay safe and create rigorous learning experiences. I want them to know we are in this together!” —Principal Alexa Sorden

This is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t be afraid to reach out when you are feeling overwhelmed. We will get through this, and we will be greater because of it!” —Principal VaShawn Smith