Volume 16 | February 7, 2021
Founder's Focus: What is Family Engagement?
While decades of research underscore the value of family engagement, the crises of the past year cast a new light on its importance. First, the pandemic-forced school closures blurred lines for educators and families, as parents abruptly took a front row seat to their children’s educational experience in a way that they never had before. Second, our country’s reckoning with racial injustice highlighted an urgent need to equitably engage families in their child’s education. With this heightened recognition that meaningful and authentic family engagement is critical, it has also become clear that establishing a shared, well-understood definition of family engagement is critical.

We, at Family Engagement Lab, have been focused on family engagement since our founding in 2016. Powerful insights directly from families and educators regarding their experiences and needs, paired with research uncovering that involvement from a parent or caregiver in at-home learning has more than twice the effect on student achievement than parents’ education levels or socio-economic status (Melhuish et al., 2008) motivates our work, drives our commitment, and has shaped our definition of family engagement. Our approach to family engagement builds off of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnership, which highlights how relationships between educators and parents are central to supporting student and school improvement.


Elisabeth O'Bryon, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, Family Engagement Lab
Upcoming Events
Join Vidya Sundarum, Elisabeth O’Bryon, Ph.D., and Hannah Jong Lee at the virtual 2021 National ESEA Conference as they present Supporting Our Youngest Readers: Use Data, Not Donuts on February 10 at 3:30 p.m. EST. 

During this workshop, participants will: 
  • Alter how you approach family engagement by learning about the latest research on the power of school-family collaboration in at-home learning to support early learning outcomes, including early language development.
  • Initiate and/or refine planning for your district and/or school to effectively engage families by examining evidence-based strategies that support young learners’ development of foundational skills.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to discover innovative family engagement methodologies.

The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (formerly the National Title I Association) is dedicated to building the capacity of education professionals to provide disadvantaged children with a high quality education.
NASP 2021 Virtual Convention (February 23-26)
Dr. Elisabeth O’Bryon will be presenting Understanding Latino Families' Experiences to Promote Meaningful Family Engagement at the NASP 2021 Virtual Convention on February 24 at 6:15 p.m. ET.

This session will help participants:
  • Identify ways that Latino families’ experiences and beliefs may influence their relationships and interactions with educators and the educational system.
  • Learn strategies for effectively reaching and engaging Latino families that consider and respond to families’ specific needs and experiences.
  • Build their capacity to support their school’s family engagement efforts and fulfill their role in providing family–school collaboration services as outlined by the NASP Practice Model.
Meaningful Moments
In Education Week’s recent article, 7 Ways for Teachers to Truly Connect With Parents, it is explained that teachers communicate because they want families to engage in their children’s education. However, even when teachers believe they have “strong” communication skills, many become frustrated when families, particularly minority and low-income families, don’t respond. What educators perceive as “disengagement” often arises not because minority and low-income families don’t care about their children’s education but because the way educators communicate misses the cultural mark.

When educators recognize this cultural difference, they can speak the right cultural language to elicit parental engagement. Relationship-focused communication builds trust, which allows families to feel safe asking questions and soliciting advice from teachers.

Key learnings from their work in Forest Grove to help educators implement relationship-focused communication includes:
  • Show caring.
  • Give families the benefit of the doubt.
  • Open multiple lines of communication.
  • Be consistent.
  • Build community among parents.
  • Offer flexible ways for families to support learning.
  • Make communication family-centered.

For many educators, the shift is not to communicate more but to communicate strategically. By centering relationships and family well-being, educators can tap into parents’ existing motivation to help their children succeed.

Family Talk: What are parents saying about FASTalk? Join the conversation and share their thoughts with us.
FASTalk Weekly Activity

Monday: Try this writing game:
Both you and your child write 2-3 detailed sentences about a person. Then read your clues aloud & guess the person.

Wednesday: Together, check the spelling and punctuation of what your child wrote. Hearing themself read aloud helps them find mistakes and fix them.
"Ayuda a guiar el aprendizaje nos da buenas ideas para poner en práctica.”
[It helps guide learning and gives us good ideas to put into practice.]

-Parent, Oakland Unified School District, California
"I like how I’m included with my child’s school work and it helps me to remind my kid what he has learned during the week.”

-Parent, Sabine Parish, Louisiana
Educator Highlight: Kindergarten Teacher Benita O'Quin, Byrd Avenue Primary, Bogalusa City Schools, Louisiana
Like many schools, Byrd Avenue Primary in Bogalusa City, Louisiana has had to transition between virtual, hybrid, and in-person learning models this academic year. With teachers moving between the learning environments, FASTalk was a tool for teachers to increase touchpoints with families around curriculum in a flexible and accessible way.

"I absolutely love FASTalk! It is an easy and convenient way to communicate with parents. I can instantly receive my messages and shoot a message right back to them. FASTalk is also easy to navigate. I can easily add people or remove them, which is extremely helpful due to my ever changing virtual classroom role. Overall, FASTalk is a very useful tool." - Benita O'Quin
FASTalk Tip of the Month: Support literacy by encouraging families to use home language
Children's language and literacy benefit by engaging with adults in the language that they are most confident and comfortable in. Ensure that all the families in your class feel connected and supported by sending a message through FASTalk in their home language. Communicating in a parents’ home language also delivers benefits in terms of ethnic identity and improved relationships with caregivers. 

Remember that you can send a text message to your entire class and it will be automatically translated into each parent/caregiver’s home language. Or, you can send personalized, individual messages to each student’s family. Follow this step-by-step guide to send your own messages through FASTalk.
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.
Parents, what are you saying about #FASTalk? Join the conversation with @FamilyELab. #FELfamilies #familyengagement
This month, @FamilyELab spotlights Kindergarten teacher Benita O'Quin who shares glowing reviews of #FASTalk: "FASTalk is easy to navigate. It allows me to add people or remove them, which is extremely helpful due to my ever changing virtual classroom roll." Share your #FASTalkfeedback! #FELfamilies
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.