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15.2.2021 | Melissa Rayworth

Parents and Schools are Connecting - Our New Spotlight Project is Helping those Connections Grow

At this moment where parents and caregivers are becoming increasingly engaged with education, HundrED, together with Kidsburgh, the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings, and IDEO seek to bring together innovative collaborators to help identify, share, and facilitate the use of promising new strategies to build stronger school-family and teacher-parent partnerships.

We are thrilled to announce a new Spotlight Project on Parental Engagement, created in partnership with  Kidsburgh, the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings, and IDEO that seeks to bring together innovative collaborators to help identify, share, and facilitate the use of promising new strategies to build stronger school-family and teacher-parent partnerships.

When schools shut down worldwide last spring, millions of parents had questions. In Pittsburgh, a telephone hotline for families lit up with calls – many from parents who had little communication with their children’s teachers and needed to know what was happening next.  That hotline was a valuable solution to an immediate problem. But it pointed to a larger issue that’s been bubbling for decades. 

In many communities, there has never been a clear way for parents and teachers to connect. A generation of mothers and fathers have helped in many ways to support their child’s learning but not necessarily in close partnership with teachers. Likewise, teachers were given no roadmap for inviting parents to be collaborative partners. Beyond a brief hello on back-to-school night and an email, if a problem arose, months could pass without a word.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Overnight, parents found themselves helping to teach. Communication was so necessary that families and schools plunged in even though they weren’t sure what a perfect partnership might look like.

A New Beginning 

Nearly a year later, in small villages and big cities all over the world, parents, and teachers are growing new relationships. Research done in 2020 by the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution found that teachers in Botswana and India have begun texting regularly with parents—and building meaningful connections along the way. And that a hotline in Pittsburgh is just one piece of progress that is more fully connecting families in southwestern Pennsylvania to their local schools.

How do these new partnerships function and how can the innovations popping up in one part of the world be adapted and replicated to support students in another?  

A new collaboration between four organizations – the CUE at Brookings, the Teachers Guild x School Retool team at the groundbreaking design firm IDEO, the Finland-based education innovation nonprofit HundrED, and the family-focused media outlet Kidsburgh – will explore these questions throughout 2021. 

Through global research and convenings, the “Parents as Allies” research project will ask parents and teachers about their needs and concerns, find promising new strategies cropping up around the globe, and then synthesize and share this knowledge to help build stronger school-family and teacher-parent partnerships worldwide. This collaboration is generously supported by The Grable Foundation.


Leveraging Timing and Varied Skill Sets

This project brings together the strengths of all four organizations. And while they’re seizing the momentum that the COVID-19 school disruption has inspired, this work is designed to benefit families long after the pandemic is over.

CUE has developed a 11-country parent engagement network including participants from Pittsburgh and two other U.S. cities, as well as participants from Argentina, India, South Africa and points in between. In these locations, decision makers from jurisdiction leaders to civil society leaders are working with researchers to document parents’ and teachers’ beliefs, behaviors and priorities. While parent engagement has always been critical in a child’s learning, the pivot to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created a rare window for parents to truly see how their child is learning and how hard it is for kids to learn.

They’ll explore how schools can better understand parents’ beliefs about what makes a good quality education for their child, the feedback loops they find most helpful, and what gets in the way of developing trusting relationships between families and schools. 

“We know strong family-school partnerships are an essential piece to providing young people with meaningful teaching and learning experiences that will help them develop the skills they need to thrive” says Rebecca Winthrop, co-director of the CUE, “and we are thrilled our research will be the framework underpinning this collaboration.”

At the same time, IDEO will work with school community teams—administrators, teachers, parents, and caregivers—to create family-focused learning solutions. These parent-led design teams from the U.K., Canada, and several U.S. regions will grapple with issues around parental engagement and come up with innovative strategies to test and scale. “We have an opportunity to reimagine how families and schools work together to support students,” notes Larry Corio, Program Director for The Teachers Guild x School Retool, a K-12 professional learning program incubated in IDEO’s Design for Learning Studio.“The key is to get families and educators in rooms together to build trust by designing toward a common vision for students.” IDEO will help elevate and spread the design teams’ solutions, compiling a bank of strategies that people anywhere can use to adapt and test family engagement ideas in their own communities. 

Meanwhile, HundrED will search the world for innovations that are already tackling the issues surfaced by the CUE and IDEO research. What, they’ll ask, is being done today to tackle these issues in one part of the world that could be replicated or adapted elsewhere? Danny Gilliland, the Head of Growth at HundrED and a new parent himself says that he hopes the initiative will, “Allow parents to seamlessly contribute to their child’s education by giving them both the tools and the information they need to support their child’s learning journey.”

The Pittsburgh-based media outlet Kidsburgh will coordinate the project and host a series of events and webinars, including community gatherings in the Pittsburgh region this fall. 

“We’re at a unique moment,” says Kidsburgh director Lyn Krynski. “The pandemic has sparked new levels of engagement between parents and schools, and we can’t let this moment pass without identifying and sharing the best strategies for growing this connection. Through rigorous research and impactful conversations with families and educators around the world, we can make the most of this historic time.” 

The Parental Engagement Spotlight aims to identify and promote impactful and scalable solutions that support the engagement of parents and caregivers in education. 

We define the term “parent” using CUE at Brookings’ Family Engagement in Education project definition. A parent is used as a shorthand for any family member, caregiver, or guardian who cares for the health and well-being of the child. “Family” is often used as a more inclusive term and is used interchangeably with parents.

If you have a solution that is currently working to facilitate the use of promising new strategies to build stronger school-family and teacher-parent partnerships share your innovation to the Parental Engagement Spotlight by April 15th, 2021