According to the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), engaging families and the community in their children’s education is associated with improved academic outcomes, more positive school climates, and reduced absenteeism.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, educators began home visits to engage families in ways that were meaningful and could help build trust between the school and parents:
Educators in St. Paul, MN, have been working to engage families and build trusting relationships through Parent Teacher Home Visits. Nick Faber, President of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT), began leading this effort in 2010 when he was the elementary science specialist at John A. Johnson Elementary School. “We had a great community school model—our school doors opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. and parents were going in and out of the building all day,” recalls Faber. “But we realized that as teachers, we weren’t interacting with parents any differently than at any other school in the district. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we be a full-service community school and not really get to know the community we are working in?’”
From that “ah-ha moment” nearly 8 years ago have grown both a thriving home visiting effort in schools throughout the district (teachers conducted 1600 home visits in the 2016–17 school year) and a broader effort to partner with parents in improving educational opportunities. Regular meetings to debrief home visits have helped the union identify parental concerns and integrate them into their contract negotiation process. Faber says these debriefs have also informed his monthly conversations with the district superintendent.
Parents are an integral part of the team that trains teachers prior to conducting home visits. That training and the subsequent home visits have been identified in a recent study by RTI International as an effective strategy for increasing teachers’ sense of empathy and reducing their negative implicit biases, as well as helping parents to feel more positive and confident about interacting with school officials.
The innovative family and community engagement strategies employed in St. Paul show the potential for community schools to help build trust and partnership among parents, teachers, and students. As Faber explains, “We’re bringing parents and teachers together to build each other’s capacity and understanding. That’s not possible when you have parents and teachers going off in their opposite corners to do the work.”
Active family and community engagement is one of four pillars of a community school, which also includes expanded learning time and opportunities, collaborative leadership and practice, and integrated student supports.