Author: Kelsey Hodge
Teachers and parents/families are the most important stakeholders in a student’s learning journey. A student’s success is dependent on both teachers and families being equipped with the information and tools they need to provide support. Consistent communication between teachers and families, that is learning-focused, can activate a powerful partnership that makes the most of classroom instruction and opportunities to reinforce learning at home.
As FEL’s Partner Success Manager, I am responsible for helping teachers implement high-quality family engagement strategies through FASTalk - our parent-teacher communication platform. As a former teacher, I have firsthand experience with implementing family engagement strategies in the classroom. My experience balancing the needs of students with complex instructional material, and prioritizing family communication, makes me uniquely positioned to help other practitioners in the field.
I recently co-facilitated focus groups with families in DeSoto Parish Public Schools, where they shared more about their experiences receiving learning-focused communication from their child’s teacher. Below I share some reflections based on their feedback and how this shapes our work sharing effective strategies with FASTalk Teachers.
What family engagement strategies have you implemented as a former teacher? What were some of the challenges you faced?
My first school emphasized the importance of building learning-centered relationships with families by prioritizing regular, on-going communication about what students were learning and their areas of strength and weakness. That experience fueled my interactions with my students’ caregivers when I entered the classroom as a secondary social studies teacher in Dallas. With more students and complex instructional material, I struggled to provide accessible snapshots of our learning goals and consistent insights into students’ academic growth. Each year in the classroom provided me with the opportunity to build that muscle, but I still found it challenging to balance many competing priorities.
FASTalk reduces the burden on teachers by working alongside schools to create playlists of messages aligned to student learning that are sent automatically to families each week on the teacher’s behalf.
What stood out most to you from the focus groups in DeSoto? How will this shape your work and the touchpoints you have with FASTalk teachers?
I found it striking how much families across grade-levels appreciated the conversations and interactions that the FASTalk messages prompted for them. Each caregiver revealed moments of connection that grew from FASTalk texts, from prompts that encouraged the hands-on measuring of items around the house to prompts that sparked dialogue on real-world questions at the heart of classroom novels. It was heartening to hear caregivers with students in different grade-levels share how the FASTalk texts led their children to connect with one another around learning. After posing a FASTalk question on a novel being read in class, one mother listened to her older child who’d previously read the book discuss it with his younger sibling. Another mother shared how much her younger child looked forward to hearing her older sibling’s FASTalk texts and engaging in the conversation as well.
The focus groups in Desoto highlighted for me the importance of elevating family feedback and stories for teachers. Stories like the ones that Megan and I heard provide a really essential window into the impact of the FASTalk messages that teachers may not regularly see. I’ll be using future touchpoints and communication with teachers to highlight stories from families in their districts.
Was any of the feedback surprising? In what ways?
There were notable differences in how families hoped to engage with their child’s learning at the elementary and secondary levels. The two sessions reinforced for me that just as the needs of families change depending on grade level, so does the support that teachers need to engage families in learning-focused relationships. It’s not only important for our team to elevate family feedback for teachers but also for us to provide ideas for ways in which FASTalk can facilitate on-going dialogue around information desired by families and information shared by teachers. It’s essential for our team to hear from teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels to better understand their needs in order to tailor the support we provide.
At Family Engagement Lab, we are committed to helping districts, schools, and educators implement best practices in family engagement that invite parents and families to support student learning. When family engagement is done well, teachers feel supported, families feel connected and purposeful, and students thrive.