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In a Washington District, Family Engagement Requires Hard Work, Not Just Talk

“I have an opportunity that allows our staff and our school members to be able to harness that love that parents have for their children, and use it in a way that allows our schools to serve our children more effectively.”

So says Trise Moore, in her own words.

Moore, who is director of equity and family engagement at Federal Way Public Schools in Washington state, is garnering national attention for her work, which focuses on involving parents in students’ learning. She was recently named one of Education Week’s 2017 Leaders to Learn From—and for good reason.

In more than 10 years with Federal Way, Moore created and expanded the school’s family engagement program. It’s now both a state and national model of excellence for communicating with parents, as her Education Week profile says.

Moore’s approach to community engagement revolves around two core philosophies: (1) That parents are the key to unlocking student potential and (2) that schools must work harder to equip parents to support their children.

Moore’s work aims to show school leaders that parent engagement isn’t something schools need only talk about to achieve; it’s something they must work for.

For more about Moore and her approach, check out this video profile, courtesy of Education Week:

This is personal

Moore’s focus on student and parent engagement was inspired by the experience of two of her own brothers, who struggled to connect to their schoolwork.

As she told Claudia Rowe in an interview for the Seattle Times:

“Curriculum, instruction and applying yourself on paper—that’s the language of educators. But my brothers were not into proving how well they could read or how fast they could do a math problem. They wanted to be engaged in a relational way, like ‘We know you. We see who you are’. That never happened for them.”

As a result, Moore says, her brothers became disengaged from their educations—and, consequently, their immense potential. It’s a story she’s seen play too out many times in schools across the country, especially in poor and minority communities.

The key to turning this trend around is parents, Moore tells the Seattle Times. But there’s a problem: Parents too often lack the confidence, or the training, to help keep kids interested and engaged in learning.

Engagement in action

Federal Way’s family engagement program has two main initiatives, according to Education Week:

  1. Community meetings and parent workshops. Moore meets regularly with parent groups to talk through concerns and provide training to help them work with school district bureaucracy. She also holds specialized workshops. The meetings have inspired some participating parents to become mentors for other parents. As part of the effort, parents are also included on school planning committees, even in some district hiring decisions.
  2. Family liaisons. Federal Way has at least one family liaison in each of its elementary schools. Liasions are trained to develop relationships with parents and students, organize school events, and recognize and flag at-risk students, reports Education Week

Federal Way has attempted to break down what Moore calls “covert barriers” that restrict parent engagement, she tells the Seattle Times.

That includes establishing multi-language communication channels, training teachers to recognize and support parent engagement opportunities, and connecting school leaders with parents through home visits and other in-person events, Education Week reports.

While your school district might not be able to implement all of these strategies, Moore’s work is proof that effective community engagement requires hard work and a district-wide commitment to success.

What do you think of Moore’s strategy for family engagement? Are you using any of these tactics in your schools? Tell us in the comments.

Want more ideas about how to get your families involved in student learning? Read this short article, 4 obstacles to parent engagement.