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Fireside Chats

Bringing people together around a campfire sparks deeper conversation

We want to reach individuals in the district whose voices are not heard – whose views and opinions about the school district may not be positive. This helps us gain a better understanding of how and why they feel as they do and be more inclusive. The school strives to provide a safe environment to share feedback, and then show parents, students and staff we can do something about it, together.

Overview

Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

Web presence

2022

Established

1.74K

Children

1

Countries
Target group
Parents
Updated
November 2023
We want to bring voices into the conversation that we lost because of COVID or that have not yet been part of conversations. It's a big goal but approaching this challenge in novel ways like the fireside chats or the resource fair begins to break down barriers and create new perceptions of the school. Progress toward two-way conversation is what will help produce the outcomes we want for students.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

We are working to build trust, internally and externally, and strengthen cultural relationships to break down barriers at many levels. We have a supportive, small, close-knit community, but it’s hard to get parents to come out for educational events beyond parent-teacher conferences, sports, and music. We wanted to listen more and learn from families about their ideas, needs and wants.

What does your innovation look like in practice?

With funding from the Parents As Allies project we purchased fire pits, then partnered with the local fire department and EMS to set them up in the high school parking lot. Parents, students, and staff joined different fireside chats alongside teachers and administrators. This led to conversations about what parents are hoping for their kids, any concerns they may have, needs for resources, etc. There was a separate chat for middle school kids and for the high schoolers. We had notetakers in each group to capture the feedback.

We provided food and homemade hot cider and hot cocoa that created a cozy environment, and we left time for people to get to know each other and just chat. More than 100 people attended the hack! We sent personal thank you notes after with a $10 gift card.

An unexpected benefit is a great partnership with the fire department, which helped manage safety for the fires. They have offered ideas on how they can help partner with the school and the community.

How has it been spreading?

The specific idea of gathering around fire pits to promote two-way conversation was also tried by a school district team in the Parents As Allies one-year mini-cohort, Baldwin-Whitehall. There have also been other, related efforts among the PAA school teams that focused more deeply on listening to parents to better know them and their needs. For example, the Franklin-Regional School District team held 6 focus groups to directly hear from parents and teachers, in separate groups. We all share a similar goal: to work intentionally to know each other better, and through those efforts, to steadily create relationships that lead to richer two-way conversations.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

We learned to start small as a way to begin building trust. For example, we didn’t just jump into inviting people to our first big hack, the fireside chats. We talked to different community groups, the boosters, etc, rather than throwing out a blanket invitation. We personalized it and invested time to let people know their participation was valued.

Implementation steps

Our aspiration
We will build trust and strengthen relationships between families, educators, administrators, and our students.
Getting started
A small team of teachers, parents, and administrators planned the structure of the fireside chats, children's activities, questions to be asked, refreshments, and resources needed. We used a spreadsheet to create a list of supplies and keep track of our budget. A form was sent to district staff and high school students to gather volunteers for each of the children's activity stations, as well as chat leaders and notetakers for each campfire. An RSVP form was sent to families and students.
Implementing the innovation
Questions at the fire: What do you like about our school and community? Anything you'd like to see happen? Are there things that are challenging and make you shy away? What ideas do you have to help boost engagement? What are some topics you might be interested in learning more about? Do you have a go-to person at school? How can we strengthen relationships and build trust between our families, students, and staff? Kids Activities: Pumpkin painting, campfire songs, yard games, scavenger hunt
Key things to keep in mind
It's all about relationships and connection! Look for opportunities to connect and engage on a smaller scale. Big events can sometimes feel overwhelming and impersonal, so it is important to consider how to create space for smaller conversations and creative ways to gather input (visual voting, sticky notes, word clouds). It's also important to offer something for the whole family so all voices are heard and childcare is not a barrier. Follow-up and follow-through based on the feedback is key!
How our innovation supported our aspiration
People who attended our first community coffee talks came back for our fall fireside chats; and many of the families, staff, and students who attended our fireside chats came back for our spring community connections resource fair and STEAM night. We've seen attendance at our events increase each time, and we use the feedback we receive at each event to inform and help build our next event to show our families that we are doing something with their feedback. Student agency has also increased!

Spread of the innovation

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