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How EFC is building strong literacy partnerships with families

When families and schools work together, research shows that students benefit the most: they earn higher grades, they attend class more, and are more motivated at school.

Partnerships between schools and families can put a student on a positive trajectory for their education. For example, a student struggling to read in the early grades will likely continue to find it difficult as they progress through school. By building a strong partnership between the school and families in elementary school, a strong foundation of academic success can be established for the student’s education.

Families also benefit by partnering with their child’s school. When families are brought into the fold, they can ask questions about what their child is learning and better understand instructional strategies and where their child is at compared to the grade-level standard.

Involving families and building partnerships does take time and has many challenges. Busy families have limited time. School structures can feel unfamiliar and overwhelming for anyone, especially if a parent was educated in another country or isn’t fluent in English. So how can schools meaningfully create partnerships with families so students benefit?

FIA and EFC Family Leadership Institute

At Education for Change Public Schools (EFC), school leaders and educators are working to build a bridge between students and families through the FIA and EFC Family Leadership Institute.

Three different cohorts of parents participated in the institute, building knowledge around EFC’s science-based approach to reading for students, as well as reading standards and achievement milestones, while also learning strategies families can use at home to get their child on grade level.

The third cohort, which concluded last month, focused on “raising the bar” – accelerating student learning to reach literacy goals, chief among them: getting every EFC student up to grade level in reading. The signature practice of the third cohort is accountability walks, where families learn how resources, people, and power work in a school by visiting classrooms and becoming highly knowledgeable about school achievement data, and how that informs a school’s priorities, especially around literacy.

“It’s really exciting to see the conversation (with families) shift towards what’s happening with students during school days and what they are learning,” said Kaitlin Friedman, the principal of EFC’s Lazear Charter Academy K-8 school. “Building families’ capacity to really ask questions has supported me as a leader to work with my staff to feel comfortable and confident giving really clear and honest answers.”

 

A parent observes a literacy tutor in action with targeted small group reading instruction. The Education for Change network prioritizes literacy tutors in every classroom.

How families are growing in their leadership

At EFC elementary school Learning Without Limits, principal Nicki Fox said the literacy institutes and accountability walks have supported the “growth, development and leadership of our families.”

“It has been inspiring to see our families gaining tools and really feeling empowered,” she said.

Nicki said that the accountability walks have allowed for time for families to understand where their child is at in school and the school’s structures. Families have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss different strategies to help their child improve, especially around reading.

“We have been able to talk about strategies, and then observe, and also debrief,” Nicki said. “They have a stronger understanding of what their children – our children – are learning in their classes, specifically around literacy.”

 

 

Principal Friedman guides a small group of parent leaders to observe reading instruction at Lazear.

Starting a dialogue at school that continues at home

Conversations between educators and families about how a student is reading in relation to their grade level are essential to student improvement, Kaitlin said.

“That’s exactly what conversations should include so we can get to a place where we’re working together to make sure students are leaving with the literacy skills they need to access the world around them,” she said. “And we can really work as a team to make that happen. There’s learning that happens at school, and there’s also learning that happens at home.”

At Lazear, they call the school visits “instructional walks.” Kaitlin  said that “it has been great getting the families in the classroom talking about teaching and learning and what kids are doing.”

“It’s not what we are saying, it’s what (families) are seeing right in front of them,” Kaitlin said. “It’s a really important and valuable perspective.”

Kaitlin said that during an instructional walk, a parent noticed that when a student had a question, instead of telling them the answer, the teacher directed the student to a resource so they could find the answer themselves.

“Then we talked about asking your child, ‘What do you think?’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘And why?’” she said. “These are questions families can be asking their kids all the time.”

 

Lazear family leaders celebrating their first Family Instructional Walk at Lazear Charter Academy. Families shared their take away’s and offered feedback to the school leader about how to strengthen home-school academic partnership.

Principal Omar Currie engaged parents in a discussion about the key components of a strong, science-based reading lesson before they visited classrooms. One parent shared she planned to invite parents to her home to show them how she works with her children in reading.

Achieve parents showing their power after participating in a Family Accountability Walk. Moms, including those from the Yemen community, expressed their desire to be full partners with the school in their children’s education.

Parents at ASCEND were fired up to be partners in literacy outcomes after visiting several classrooms to observe reading instruction.

Principal Fox is eager to build a culture at Learning without Limits where families are partners in reading instruction and outcomes.

Want to learn more about Lit for LIteracy? Visit FIA’s Lit for Literacy webpage for parent leadership stories, literacy practices and institute materials.

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Families in Action for Quality Education (FIA) was founded in 2019 and now has grown to serve over 16,000 district and charter school families. FIA has graduated over 500 parents, youth, educators, and school board members from our leadership institutes to advocate for access to quality education across the city of Oakland. For more information and to sign up, visit FIA’s websiteFacebookInstagram or Twitter.

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