FAMILY ENGAGEMENT IN EARLY CHILDHOOD: building a Foundation for Long-Lasting Parent-Teacher Partnerships
While family engagement plays a critical role in supporting positive learning outcomes for children across their educational journeys, family engagement in early childhood offers unique potential and opportunity for children, families, and educators. By setting the expectation that parents are key partners in supporting learning from their first interactions with the educational system, early childhood educators can lay the foundation for long-lasting, meaningful parent-teacher partnerships. Further, engaging families in their children’s early learning and development helps initiate patterns of parental behaviors that can endure to promote long-term, positive student outcomes. Children are best positioned to develop the key early learning skills needed to be successful learners when their teachers and families work collaboratively to support their needs.
This month, we’re shining a spotlight on the exciting recent work that our Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) partners are doing to advance high-impact, equitable family engagement starting in early childhood. Our interview with LDOE’s Amanda Colon, Manager of Family Support and Coordinated Enrollment for Louisiana’s Office of Early Childhood, provides an up close look at the development of Louisiana's new Be Engaged Birth-12 Framework and the importance of a comprehensive family engagement framework for Louisiana families and children from birth through high school.
As Amanda notes, the field of early childhood education has always been “whole family” focused, recognizing that to effectively foster children’s learning and development, families must be engaged as the valuable partners they are. This asset-based lens acknowledges the many strengths of families — a critical perspective that drives our work at Family Engagement Lab and that is essential in early childhood and beyond. Read our interview below to learn more!
How was the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) Early Childhood Family Engagement Framework created?
When the LDOE undertook the development of a birth-grade 12 framework, Amanda immediately thought about an early childhood version. To supplement the work of the recently created LDOE parent council, Amanda organized a workgroup of community members to participate in the process of developing a framework targeted for early childhood. Members of this workgroup included those from Department of Health and its Behavioral, Family and Public Health units, Department of Children and Family Services as well as the City of New Orleans Parent Leadership Training Institute and families who had been served through LDOE’s Child Care Assistance Program. Amanda secured support from over 40 volunteers who formed an active working group for the state’s framework.
As work began, Amanda and her working group reviewed two existing frameworks that offered effective, strong models: the state of Kansas' family engagement framework based on the National PTA Standards and the Head Start Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework. While the Kansas framework ultimately was adopted for Louisiana, grades K-12, the working group felt that its early childhood model didn't fully reflect the demographics and communities in Louisiana. The Head Start model did resonate and the working group collaboratively determined the 7 Early Childhood Goals that map to the LDOE's K-12 Be Engaged Standards.
Amanda shared, “We’re creating a framework that is more than just a welcome sign, it will prepare all families for their child’s learning journey.”
What are the anchors in the framework and how might these differ from those in K-12?
The working group realized that in early childhood, the focus needed to be on the “whole family,” and not just the “whole child.” Amanda explained that in thinking about the whole child, what really can help the youngest learners is to think about what a parent can do and how our educational system can work with families and not just for them. By working alongside and with families, Louisiana aims to build stronger, more trusted relationships that can support child learning. Amanda noted, “It doesn’t have to be a “big event,” we can do regular, easy things, like sharing a small daily victory to build that crucial trust we need.”
What are some of the ways this framework can help reach those families most in need of support?
The Louisiana’s Be Engaged B-12 Framework is organized under the umbrella of six themes for parent, family, and community engagement that are universal to early childhood and K-12. These themes serve as an alignment illustrating how Louisiana’s educational communities provide consistent family engagement opportunities throughout a child’s progression from early childhood to formalized school settings. Because the framework focuses on action, educators can identify barriers earlier in a child’s education journey and put a plan in place to address them. Amanda shares that, “...family engagement can be tricky because it’s a personal space. We don’t want to ever infringe on parenting rights or skills. It’s our goal with this framework to support our educators in working with families.” She noted that their communications approach to parents and the community is a key strategy and that resources from the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement have been very helpful.
What are you excited/hopeful about most coming out of this process?
Amanda concluded, “I am super excited that the Louisiana Department of Education and the Division of Early Childhood is putting a strong focus on supporting families. I am most excited to help elevate the message that families and children have unique strengths and including family contributions will impact meaningful change for children. Engaging families is a long game; it's about the journey and not the destination.”