“Is Talia paying attention?”
As we kick off a unique school year, teachers, students, and families are transitioning into new roles, taking on new responsibilities, and establishing new routines. And, as we witnessed in the spring (and will continue to witness this fall and beyond), the roles and responsibilities that teachers and parents are taking on in support of students’ education have never been more intertwined. Questions like, “Is Talia paying attention? What does first grade writing look like? Is Devon confused? Is the lesson going too fast? Too slow? Is Tia falling behind?” are just as likely to be on teachers’ minds as parents’ minds as instruction extends beyond the classroom into families’ homes.
Summer 2020 brought to our national attention the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the continuing injustices of racism and, in particular, anti-Black racism. It is critical for Family Engagement Lab to affirm and support Black lives and the community beyond taking a moral stand, as combating racism in schools is key to fulfilling our mission of promoting equitable family engagement.
At Family Engagement Lab, a key area of focus for us is ensuring that all families have access to information about what their child is learning in class and how they can help at home. To that end, we are examining our content with a lens toward ensuring its continued applicability for all families and its relevance across race, economic status, and language. In addition to internal edits and regular feedback from educator and family stakeholders, we are enhancing our content through a number of activities, including 1) working closely with district partners (e.g., OUSD’s English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement team), 2) expanding our alignment with Benchmark’s Adelante curriculum, used in OUSD’s dual language programs, and 3) hiring new content writers with backgrounds and experience that support our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
To all of you who work in education, we know you are working day and night right now to figure out how to help our kids feel a sense of security, connectedness, and stability so they are ready to learn this fall.
No matter where you are in the world, this fall will be unusual. Many of the rituals of fall that provide families, students, teachers and school staff an important touchpoint during the start of the school year are going to have to be reimagined. “Back to School Nights,” welcome events, and home visits are being adapted as I type this to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to heal from trauma together, while forging the important new bonds needed between teachers, students, and parents.
At Family Engagement Lab, we are committed to supporting and studying schools’ efforts to equitably engage families in their child’s learning. Our commitment extends to combating racism in this area. There is ample evidence that, despite the best intentions of schools and educators, families and children of color experience multiple layers of racism.
At a time when discussions of the “COVID Slide” and significant projected learning loss are ubiquitous, evidence-based approaches where families accelerate student learning are a bright spot. They are a sign of hope for school systems that are engaged in the challenging process of planning for an unprecedented school year. And while families are getting extra attention now due to school closures, it is important to remember that parents play an impactful role when students are in and out of the classroom by reinforcing student learning. Indeed, families have always played a critical role in their child’s learning journey.
Eight weeks ago, my son Scott’s preschool teacher handed me a brown paper lunch bag full of art supplies and project ideas that she hoped would help keep him busy for the (intended) 2-week school closure.
On behalf of the Family Engagement Lab team, we would like to extend our appreciation for the educators and families that are working tirelessly to rethink how we all support the needs of our children through the COVID-19 crisis. Families are now on the front line of our education system, especially for our younger learners. Parent-teacher collaboration in learning is needed now more than ever.
To support our partners during the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures, we are offering FASTalk to teachers across PK-5, along with a new service, FASTalk Direct. In addition, we have created new at-home learning activities and tips to help families support healthy emotional response during the crisis and provide a strong foundation for continued learning.
We have appreciated the opportunity to connect with many of you over the past few weeks to learn more about how you have been affected by COVID-19. If we have not yet connected, we would love to chat with you. In the meantime, please stay safe, healthy, and hopeful.
Vidya Sundaram and Elisabeth O'Bryon
Co-Founders, Family Engagement Lab
Your team may be confronting virtual collaboration for the first time. As the CEO of a company with a distributed team from the start (Elisabeth is in Maryland and I am in California), I know we are not the only “virtual company” but definitely not the norm. Perhaps more companies are used to having a few remote employees while most are on-site. If you’re temporarily shifting to all remote, take heart. I’ve found it’s easier. Here are some tips that we’ve found to be helpful:
In this month’s Learning Series, we’ll be sharing information on early literacy development and how families can help build these critical foundational skills. It’s a timely subject! The ongoing debate regarding how children acquire literacy skills seems to have reached a new plateau, prompted in part by last fall’s NAEP scores showing declines in reading achievement for students in most of the country.
Across the country, parents are eager for more information about what happens inside the schools and classrooms where their children spend a significant amount of time each week.
Limited time, resources, and language barriers can all inhibit regular two-way communication between schools and families, and relying on children to be the key messengers for school-related information can introduce other challenges. I know my three-year-old is unlikely to give me a detailed response to a very specific question about his day, much less a comprehensive recounting of all the week’s events!