Engaging Families and Caregivers

Tool 8: Build relationships with families and caregivers.

Tool 9: Cultivate dialogue with families and caregivers about what’s happening in the classroom.

Tool 10: Collaborate with families and caregivers to reduce or eliminate pushback.

Tool 11: Draw on family and community knowledge about historical topics.

Families and caregivers want the best for their children, and they play an essential role in students’ learning. When educators actively engage the people who are central to children’s lives outside of school, they are building networks that support students’ experiences within school as well. Teachers who create a space where caregivers can see themselves as a valuable resource in students’ learning strengthen interactions among educators, students and caregivers.

To advocate for honest history and inclusive school practices, educators must actively partner with families and caregivers. This section highlights tools to help build collaboration to ensure that all students have access to learning honest and accurate history.

LFJ’s Critical Practices for Social Justice Education guide has a section on “Family and Community Engagement” that offers strategies to consider when engaging families and caregivers in conversations about historical topics and suggestions for how educators can invite families to share knowledge.

Tool 8: Build relationships with families and caregivers.

Prioritize getting to know students and their caregivers. All children have unique stories, histories and experiences. Educators can be intentional in learning about the identities of students and their caregivers, what they value, and what they hope for in the students’ future.

Taking the time to build and sustain engagement with families and caregivers shows that you value their identities and perspectives. Families and caregivers have historical narratives and wisdom; incorporating these narratives into students’ education helps make connections to their identities.

Tool 9: Cultivate dialogue with families and caregivers about what’s happening in the classroom.

“An artificial division between parents and educators is being exploited to advance the harmful agendas of political groups attacking inclusive learning in public schools to the detriment of young people’s well-being and education.

“Most parents and caregivers—and responsible family and community groups—in the U.S. support education based on credible well-researched pedagogy, want learning that develops young people’s critical thinking, and favor confronting the challenges of inequitable structures so all children can grow and develop as future decision-makers and citizens.”

From “Parents and Caregivers for Inclusive Education” by Maya Henson Carey, Ed.D.

Maintaining open and honest communication with caregivers is key to strengthening relationships between families and schools. Communication strategies that honor the agency and contributions of families and caregivers enable them to become active participants in students’ learning.

Communication is essential for families and caregivers to trust that educators are prioritizing the best interests of their children. When preparing to teach honest history, it may be helpful to provide caregivers with an overview of what students will explore, research and uncover. Educators can share this information at teacher-family meetings, in a classroom newsletter or via other methods used for regular communication. Throughout the school year, communicate regularly to keep caregivers informed and engaged in what their children are learning (see the family contact sheet in Appendix B of this guide).

Make yourself available for dialogue with families when students or their caregivers feel they are faced with a challenging topic. Listen, ask questions, don’t assume and remain sensitive to caregivers’ concerns. Ask caregivers how you can partner to support their students’ learning. Maintaining honest communication with families builds relationships and partnerships that establish trust between educators and families.

In addition to focusing on “what” is being taught, clearly explain “why” this learning is essential and how it benefits all children. Provide extensions for learning at home on particular topics so caregivers can engage both in learning and teaching children. Remember, families and caregivers are among their children’s first and most important teachers. Be proactive with your communication and willing to listen to families and caregivers in return.

Tool 10: Collaborate with families and caregivers to reduce or eliminate pushback.

Teaching honest history sometimes means addressing topics that some individuals might find uncomfortable. These conversations can be difficult and are being restricted in some states. However, depriving some children of affirming spaces and erasing historically marginalized communities from representation run counter to the principles of responsible education.

Families and caregivers can be crucial collaborators in advocating for honest history in schools, communities and states. In building relationships with caregivers, educators can foster understanding among families of the importance of inclusive learning spaces that affirm all children, not only those who are the majority in specific classrooms and schools. Educators have an opportunity to listen to, affirm and advocate for underrepresented communities and families. Focusing on every child’s right to safe, affirming and inclusive schools can help to build empathy among caregivers in understanding perspectives beyond their own lived experiences.

Educators can use age-appropriate practices for children in all grades to learn honest history. And again, open and honest dialogue and proactively sharing information about what students are learning can help reduce pushback from families, caregivers and students. Even so, educators may experience opposition. Share lesson plans with your administrator as well as with those pushing back. Consult your union or a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction about any applicable laws and how they may affect your ability to have these classroom discussions. Outline how your plans align with state standards, and listen to families and caregivers who are feeling uncomfortable. Invite them to observe a lesson in your classroom or otherwise engage with the curriculum.

Building collaboration with families and caregivers can help in creating a broader base of support for honest history lessons and inclusive school practices that benefit all students.

Tool 11: Draw on family and community knowledge about historical topics.

By tapping into family and community histories, backgrounds and cultures through teaching honest history, educators enable students to explore the history of the U.S. and make connections to the histories of their families and communities.

Creating opportunities for students to share family and community stories means students can benefit from their collective experiences, perspectives and wisdom, and this method of learning from others can build their appreciation for diversity. When educators provide space for historically excluded narratives and histories, they affirm student, family and community identities.

Learn and know how to talk about race and honest history and how to be a facilitator of the learning process. Recognize how your identity shows up in the learning space and know your students, families and community and how they can support learning. Bring in individuals from the community and family members who are scholars on a given topic. Remind students and families about the purpose and goals of the lesson and be clear about your intentions.

To draw on family and community knowledge, consider the following:

Create assignments that encourage participation from caregivers or require seeking input from community members.

Invite caregivers and community members to sit in on student presentations that involve family and community support, such as showcases of local history.

Take a historical tour through the school community, inviting families and community members to join the tour or present their historical perspectives.

Supplemental Resource

Reading Together

Educators can connect students’ families and communities to historical topics, which benefits students’ learning and builds relationships with families and communities. In the Learning for Justice article “Reading Together,” writer Dave Constantin shares how families created a learning space for their children to think about and discuss social justice. LFJ’s Reading for Social Justice: A Guide for Families and Educators can assist caregivers in organizing social justice reading groups.