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Event Recap: Strengthening School Partnerships With Native Families and Communities

Research shows what school leaders know well—engaging families and communities in education is vital to student success. Numerous challenges often make such engagement difficult, however, particularly when educators are reaching out across cultural divides.

To address this issue, REL Southwest and REL Pacific cohosted a webinar on November 8, 2016, to spotlight two research-based resources for engaging Native families and communities in student learning. Titled “Strengthening School Partnerships With Native Families and Communities,” the webinar provided an overview of each resource as well as strategies for use. The event drew 77 registrants, including school and district administrators and educators, Native advocates and tribal liaisons, state agency and association staff, and university researchers.

quotation markWhen parents are provided processes where their voices and needs are heard and acted upon, we move closer to our educational goals in our schools and in our communities of ensuring access for Native students.
— Stephanie Autumn

The need for Native engagement resources

Stephanie Autumn, a Hopi Nation member and Native education expert at American Institutes for Research, set the stage. She emphasized that preparing the next generation to serve as contributing members of society is a shared responsibility and that everyone benefits when families, communities, and schools work together.

Drawing on her many years of experience working with Native communities, Autumn noted that the schools most successful in engaging Native families are those that intentionally set aside time each year to develop a strategic plan that renews their commitment.

Review of the research: Promising practices for engaging rural Native families

Haidee Williams, Ph.D., REL Southwest liaison for the Oklahoma Rural Schools Research Alliance and the Texas Hispanic STEM Research Alliance, described the Family Engagement Reference Resources, an annotated spreadsheet of 14 research studies that indicate promising practices for engaging rural Native families in student learning and career planning.

quotation markThe Research Zones strategy is a very useful framework . . . from which you can easily see the overlaps and make more informed decisions.
— Webinar participant

To develop this resource, a REL Southwest team searched education research related to four categories: (1) rural, (2) Native American Indian, (3) parent/family engagement, and (4) career. The team then used these categories to create a Venn diagram of 15 overlapping research zones as a way to organize the results. The team also identified 10 common themes across the promising practices, such as capacity building with families, staff development, and local control. The spreadsheet can be sorted by zone, theme, or practice.

  • The spreadsheet is available from REL Southwest on request. Please contact Haidee Williams at hkwilliams@air.org

Toolkit of resources for engaging families and the community as partners

quotation markThe things that support family and community engagement on the broadest level really start with building relationships through meaningful two‑way communication.
— Kirsten Miller

Kirsten Miller, REL Pacific communications manager, provided a detailed walk-through of the Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and the Community as Partners in Education. Developed by REL Pacific for the Guam Alliance for Family and Community Engagement in Education, this four-part toolkit includes research-based activities and tools to help school staff in Guam and the United States strengthen cross-cultural communication, trust, understanding, and engagement with families and the community. The four parts of the toolkit can be used alone or in combination.

  • Part 1: Building an Understanding of Family and Community Engagement
    Strategies to build cultural competency by exploring how people’s cultural lens, beliefs, and assumptions can influence interactions
  • Part 2: Building a Cultural Bridge
    Strategies to build relationships, tap into families’ strengths, and communicate the many ways in which families and communities can partner with schools
  • Part 3: Building Trusting Relationships with Families and the Community Through Effective Communication
    Cross-cultural communication strategies to build trust, work through and respect cultural and language differences, and improve parent-teacher conferences
  • Part 4: Engaging All in Data Conversations
    Strategies to improve data conversations with parents and families

In a follow-up survey, webinar participants shared that they plan to incorporate the strategies into their work, share and discuss the resources with colleagues, and develop district professional development using the materials.

The webinar was sponsored by the following research alliances at REL Southwest and REL Pacific: