Volume 11|September 1, 2020
Founder's Focus: Partnership in a Pandemic and Beyond
“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.

While the parent-teacher role “convergence” prompted by distance learning sheds light on a number of challenges (e.g., parents aren’t trained teachers, teachers aren’t trained virtual facilitators, to name a few), it also highlights an opportunity for authentic academic partnership and underscores how truly critical it is that parents and teachers regularly share information with one another. To most effectively support their children, parents need ongoing insights from teachers: what areas need support, what strengths need cultivating, what strategies will work best for specific children. Teachers also need this information regularly from families. 

It is my hope that new patterns of behavior that are initiated to address today’s acute needs carry on long after the pandemic. Because the reality is that although the current educational reality has precipitated more urgency around collaboration and information sharing, parents and teachers have always shared roles and responsibilities related to supporting student success and helping children thrive. 

What new parent-teacher partnership activities have you recently initiated that you intend to continue long after the 2020-2021 school year? We’d love to know tweet us @FamilyELab or use the hashtag #PartnershipPostPandemic.

Elisabeth O'Bryon
Co-Founder, Family Engagement Lab
Hurricane Laura Recovery
Last week Hurricane Laura made landfall on the Texas/Louisiana border as a Category 4 hurricane, devastating southwest Louisiana as well as parts of north and central Louisiana and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate. Many Louisiana and Texas residents continue to face loss of electricity, running water, and structures — leaving many businesses and homes destroyed. Recovery will take time. The Family Engagement Lab team would like to acknowledge the heroic efforts many are undertaking in the area, including educators and school leaders, to rebuild their communities.

Below are some ways to help those impacted by Hurricane Laura:
  • Donate
  • Volunteer
  • Provide Shelter
  • Give Blood
Back-to-School 2020: Expert Tips to Support School-Family Partnership in Flexible Learning Environments
Parents want to redefine relationships between school & home during the upcoming school year (Learning Heroes, 2020). We are curating relevant family engagement research and emerging best practices to help school leaders and educators welcome families into a new school year. We will continue to add new resources and innovative practices to this document regularly.

To contribute to this resource, complete this brief survey.
Tips for Teachers to Support Parent-Teacher Partnerships
At the Start of the School Year, Teachers Can…
  • Initiate contact as soon as you know who is in your class. Introducing yourself and learning about the families in your classrooms help to build trusting and respectful relationships.
What can this look like in flexible and remote learning environments?
  • Pleasantly persistent outreach across phone, SMS and/or email.
  • Establishing contact with multiple caregivers supervising a student.
Visit http://www.familyengagementlab.org for more information.
Feedback Feature
Racquel Deville of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools recently completed FEL’s Back-to-School 2020 Welcoming Families Survey and provided the following feedback:

“Many schools are hosting virtual events for parents (i.e. virtual meet-the-teacher, virtual open houses, etc.). To support parents of students with disabilities who need assistance with using technology, ‘tech notebooks’ will be provided. The notebooks will contain details to increase parents' understanding of how to navigate the various digital platforms their children will be using to access grade-level curriculum as well as the digital platforms schools will use to interact with parents.” 
Racquel recognized Carolyn Evans, a SPED teacher at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools for the outstanding work she does for students with exceptionalities.
“Carolyn Evans, a SPED teacher at Pearl Watson Elementary, goes above and beyond to ensure that the students with disabilities in her self-contained class are not only exposed to grade-level curriculum, but develop an understanding of the materials they are engaged in. Carolyn dresses up in costumes and provides her students with tangible visual aids that can connect to the lesson. Students returning to school for 2020-2021 will see Mrs. Evans wearing gear that relates to Science to connect to the fifth-grade text ‘The Making of a Scientist’ and medieval clothing to connect to the fourth-grade text ‘The Whipping Boy.’”
Meaningful Moments
In July 2020, we wrote about our commitment to anti-racism and how it relates to our mission at Family Engagement Lab. We would like to share with you the steps we are taking to support families of color in the communities we serve, including:
  • Examining our content with a lens toward ensuring its continued applicability and relevance across race, economic status, and language.
  • Sharing resources through our Learning Series.
  • Holding discussions among our staff and Board about racism. 
  • Increasing collection of race & ethnicity data to better understand how our services are used and valued by race/ethnicity.

Family Talk: What are parents saying about FASTalk? Join the conversation and share their thoughts with us.
Es una manera más fácil de comunicar a nosotros los papás y conocer sobre los trabajos de nuestros hijos."

(It is an easier way to communicate with us parents and know about our children's work.)

-Parent, Oakland Unified School District, California
“Some of the things we have done were ideas I would've never thought to do with my child.”

-Parent, Lafayette Academy, New Orleans, LA
Educator Highlight: Alissa Kilpatrick, Coordinator of Student Learning, DeSoto Parish
As the site's FASTalk lead last year, Ms. Kilpatrick facilitated communication between the school system, schools and Family Engagement Lab to ensure a smooth FASTalk implementation.

After a successful pilot last, Ms. Kilpatrick spearheaded the expansion of FASTalk district-wide and across multiple grade levels to make FASTalk available to all PK-8th grade teachers and families in 2020-2021.

FASTalk helps districts see accelerated gains when adopting new high-quality curriculum, as was experienced last year in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, where they piloted both the Expeditionary Learning curriculum and FASTalk and found meaningful student growth. Overall, second grade oral reading fluency scores were stagnant or dropped across the district with the exception of second grade students at North Desoto Upper Elementary. In their early literacy screener, the North Desoto Upper Elementary second grade students that were below proficient in oral reading fluency scores dropped from 32% to 24% from fall to winter. This is the only second grade group that was enrolled in FASTalk messaging AND they are the only group using Expeditionary Learning curriculum.
FASTalk Tip of the Month: Promote Positive Communication with Families through the FASTalk Chatbox
Strong school-home partnerships with families are built on effective communication. While we pre-schedule the weekly FASTalk messages based on the pacing schedule and curriculum scope and sequence provided by the school system, teachers always have the opportunity to send their own classwide or personalized messages to individual parent/caregivers through the 2-way translated FASTalk chatbox. Since the FASTalk messages going out from the chatbox are also delivered as a text message and automatically translated, it’s a great way to make an initial positive connection with all your students’ families in an easy, accessible way. 

To access your FASTalk Inbox, log on to your FASTalk teacher account and click the INBOX tab. Select the student and parent/caregiver you wish to message, and the text will be automatically translated into their home language:
Any incoming messages from parents will be also translated back into English, and you’ll receive an emailed notification as well.

Here’s a quick video and a step-by-step how-to guide to navigate the FASTalk chatbox.

Questions? Find helpful information on our Teacher Resources page or email us at support@fastalk.org.
Share the Good News
As teachers, you can encourage parents to become more involved in their child's learning by providing them with quick tips on how to support learning at home. Here are a few social media posts to use this month to help build family engagement in your classroom or school.
Going back to school this year is complicated and may be stressful for both kids and parents! @XceptionalLives shares tips to help you prepare and ease your concerns: https://tinyurl.com/y2w4g56f
Parents, through #FASTalk you can overcome time and language barriers to engage with your child's teacher about how to effectively support learning at home. Watch to learn more: https://vimeo.com/356302351
Contact Us
Have questions? Email us at felcommunications@fastalk.org.
Don't forget to follow us on social media for the latest tools and resources to support family engagement.