-by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director
I was doom-scrolling through LinkedIn (I know. I am really interested in what educators are doing!), and I came across a checklist for family engagement that Dr. Julia Carlson created and gave away to colleagues. The checklist is a promise her school made to families regarding what they could expect the school to do for their students so long as families did their part to “show up” at school. “Show up” means something different for Dr. Carlson, so I encourage you to watch the full video.
As I reflect on our conversation, here are three main points I want to share with school leaders, special educators, classroom teachers, and all caring professionals who depend on family partnerships to achieve good outcomes for those they serve.
Don’t do too much.
Strategic plans for schools and nonprofits often contain dozens of goals. These goals could range from Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, Social and Emotional Learning, curriculum, staff wellness, budget, and everything else imaginable. Whether your school’s plan is a promise or a work of fiction depends on whether 1) the leader in charge wants to do it and 2) resources exist to accomplish the work.
I rarely encounter leaders who are unwilling to set bold goals and work on them. The biggest problem I see when working with schools on action planning is that most leaders need to pay more attention to how much work is involved in making things happen. Hint: It’s usually much more work than most of us anticipate. Dr. Carlson recommends that leaders focus on two or three achievable goals a year, plan backward from them, and make time in their calendars daily to work on a narrow list.
Make it tiny.
Dr. Carlson understood that her school needed to increase student attendance before any other social, emotional, or academic goal was possible. To do this, she and her team decided to visit students who weren’t attending school and ask families how they could help.
However, Dr. Carlson’s team understood that families have many good reasons not to answer the door when a stranger knocks. They may be busy, not even home, or unwilling to open the door to a stranger who knocks in the middle of the day.
To make sure that their visits were still helpful to families, anytime they knocked on a door and no one answered, they left a door hanger on the knob which had the names of the people visiting, what they wanted to talk about, and a direct line to whoever could help at the school. Instantly, families reengaged and reconnected, even if they didn’t answer the door when the team visited.
Small touches like door hangers can dramatically reduce barriers between our schools and those we serve.
Do it every day.
We can’t call something a priority if we’re not working on it daily. Our calendars tell the true story of what is actually the heart of our work. If family engagement (or any other goal) is a priority, then time to work on it needs to be built into our day.
Our calendar is a powerful tool. We may only need 20-30 minutes (or even less), so whatever you’d like to see, think of an action verb that you can incorporate into your daily routine that will make your vision concrete. Then do it.
Let’s share some concrete support for each other. In the comments, let us know what you’re working on and doing daily to better serve your school or nonprofit space!