These are the type of roles that we want to have at each of our early learning programs to ensure strong family partnerships. Each of the roles is listed below in greater detail:
- Collaborators: Family members participating in focus groups, program clean ups, or participating in pilot processes that come forward from families’ feedback.
- Decision-makers & choosers: Family members can be representatives in Parent Advisory Councils, School Site Council, and/or parent leadership groups. Groups like these can serve as spaces for family partners to dissect data and feedback from families’ and from there, rank the priority of, and co-design potential solutions.
- Advocates & Activists: Family members can lead informational or advocacy campaigns for program changes or wider policy issues, particularly in settings like Town Hall Meetings or District meetings.
- Models: Family members can share their love of learning by volunteering for read-alouds, chaperoning trips or activities, or presenting a show-and-tell on their favorite topic!
- Monitors: Each family member already takes on this role for their child; intentional communicating information between home and early learning programs to best support early learning so family and educator are on the same page.
- Encouragers: Consider family members who can encourage and uplift other families to participate in different ways based on their strengths. As an example, encouragers can also volunteer to do themed read-alouds focusing on positive self-image (through topics such as heritage or emotional identity).
- Supporters: Family members who feel engaged in a program, use their strengths and skills to support their early learning program. This ultimately supports the needs of their own child.
Note: Families may exemplify many of these roles during their time at your program. We want to encourage and provide opportunities for families to fulfill these different engagement roles to ensure everyone has a chance to engage in a way that feels comfortable and meaningful.
- Make participation as approachable and convenient as possible.
Our programs can be welcoming and flexible for family partners that have signed onto these roles. Build empathy and trust from the beginning of the relationship; this can mean including ice breakers and other interactive opportunities to get to know other family partners, teachers, admin, etc.
Reach out to family members individually (in person or by phone), particularly making the effort to acknowledge their personal experiences as valuable. This personalized approach highlights the faith we have in family members as key players, especially when we invite them to discuss program and family engagement matters.
As for convenience, consider these ideas:
- Meeting Times: Hosting in-person meetings outside of regular work hours to help with attendance barriers. We can use data from surveys to schedule meeting times and formats that are most convenient.
- Meeting location: On a related note, programs and family partners can decide if virtual vs in-person meetings are most accessible for everyone.
- Child Care: Providing child care during in-person meetings.
- Alternative Participation Options: Our teams can also consider engagement opportunities that don’t require in-person attendance, such as 1) meetings that family members can call into, 2) surveys and questionnaires, and 3) helping promote events and sharing information.
- Communication & Calendars: Whether these engagement opportunities are in-person or remote, our programs can strongly benefit from giving family members ample notice when possible; consider a shared family engagement calendar for specific projects over several months. Send plenty of reminders in multiple formats including personal invitations. Share agendas before events as well as key questions to discuss so family members can come prepared.
- Language/Access and Inclusion: Engaging families who speak different languages or low literacy levels means our programs are better prepared when we have copies of translated documents or visuals ready to go ahead of time. Following up by checking in with family partners is a great way to ensure we are on the same page.
- Leverage existing community groups and partnerships.
As mentioned before, including strengths-based questions in our needs assessment allows families to open up about their funds of knowledge. Community groups and family social networks can open up opportunities for creative collaboration between programs, families, and community groups. Families can share insight as to what community groups exist, their offerings, and background with supporting families.
- Empower family voices.
Family partners’ voices play an integral role in the success of family engagement. Not only can our programs offer environments where their voices are valued, but we can also offer information and background knowledge for more niche family engagement opportunities. Some of those environments include:
- Leadership committees like: Parent Advisory Committees (PAC), Curriculum Committees, Hiring Committees, Beautification Committees, Family Event Committees, etc.
- Parent-Educator Conferences
- Town Hall Meetings & District Meetings
Note for FCCs: While FCCS are not centers, and may not need or have capacity for a variety of committees, there is still much value in partnering with families for decision making and program improvements. Creating a more loosely structured Parent Advisory Committee to support with decision making, best ways to meet needs of new families, etc. can work out for everyone’s best interest while meeting only once a month!
Skill-building opportunities can also help family partners develop their voice. Letting family partners build a meeting agenda and run meetings, bringing them to district meetings, and giving them opportunities to participate in program leadership programs all help empower them in their capacities as leaders.
Collaborating shoulder-to-shoulder with families not only emphasizes their strengths, but also has the added benefit of building that family’s parental resilience; this key Protective Factor is foundational for building strong families.