Professional Development

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education: Family and Community Engagement

1 hour

This module is part of a 4-part seminar. The four modules in this seminar are based on the original version of our Critical Practices publication, published in 2014. Learning for Justice released the new edition of Critical Practices for Social Justice Education in 2023. The new edition is informed by the current social and political landscape, and it acknowledges the ways educators have been challenged by increased political scrutiny, censorship and debate about what can be taught in schools. Please stay tuned for updated professional development resources around this publication.

You need:

  • ability to access audio and video on your device;
  • pen and paper;
  • your lesson book for reference throughout;
  • and about one hour.


Before moving into the specifics of family and community engagement, we must better understand the seven primary components of culturally responsive pedagogy identified within Critical Practices. This presentation will help you create the conditions that bring these values to life:

  1. Building and drawing upon intergroup awareness, understanding and skills
  2. Creating classroom environments that reflect diversity, equity and justice
  3. Engaging families and communities in meaningful and culturally competent ways
  4. Encouraging students to speak out against bias and injustice
  5. Making the implementation of Learning for Justice’s K-12 anti-bias classroom resource, Perspectives, part of larger individual, school and community action
  6. Supporting students’ identities and making it safe for them to be fully themselves
  7. Using instructional strategies that support diverse learning styles and allow for deep exploration of identity, diversity, justice and action.

These seven components will be incorporated throughout this professional development presentation.

In this professional development, learners will:

  • Develop strategies to tap into family and community wisdom
  • Develop strategies to tap into local resources
  • Develop strategies to increase connections among families
  • Identify community issues that impact classroom culture
  • Identify methods of culturally sensitive communication 


Culture refers to a wide range of identity and community characteristics. Culturally responsive pedagogy engages identities and identity issues across all groups and communities: gender, ability/disability, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, language and nationality.

Culturally responsive classroom culture exists when students are seen, valued, cared for and respected as their full selves.

Considering all that culture encompasses, think about the following:


In looking more directly at family and community engagement, keep the following critical practices in mind:

  • Culturally sensitive communication
  • Inclusion of family and community wisdom
  • Increased connections among families
  • Use of local resources
  • Engagement in community issues and problems 

Culturally Sensitive Communication:

Let’s begin by looking specifically at culturally sensitive communication. The following guidelines offer some suggestions for building inclusiveness and respect into your communication with families:

  • Assume good intentions and approach all families or guardians as partners who want the best for the child.
  • Invite families or guardians to share knowledge about the child’s life, interests, hopes and struggles.
  • Invite families or guardians to share information about family cultures and traditions.
  • Recognize and respect different family structures.
  • Reflect on the role your identity and background may play in shaping relationships with families; bring a sense of cultural humility to all interactions.
  • View linguistic, cultural and family diversity as strengths.

Go Deeper:

Get to know your students’ home lives by using a questionnaire or survey. Starting a relationship by asking questions sets the tone for collaboration and respect.

Sample questions to ask family members:

  • What is your current living situation?
  • How many people live in your household?
  • Who primarily cares for your child?
  • Where and with whom does your child spend a majority of her time (e.g., with parents, family members or guardians, at home, in nursery school, alone)?
  • What is the primary mode of communication in your home (e.g., face-to-face, phone, text message)?
  • Is a language other than English spoken in your home? If so, how English proficient is your child?
  • Does your child have any health concerns? If so, what?

Sample questions to ask students:

  • Who is in your family?
  • What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?
  • What’s your favorite family meal?
  • What’s your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate it?
  • What’s the most relaxed time of day for your family? What goes on then?
  • What’s the most hectic time of day for your family? What goes on then?


Make a list of five to 10 questions or topics to include in a student questionnaire.

Other than the beginning of the year, what are other opportunities to incorporate a questionnaire with your students and their families?

Because language plays a crucial role in families’ lives, communicate with parents in their home languages as much as possible. However, asking students to translate for their parents can put them in an awkward position, especially if relaying difficult or complicated information. Provide a translator whenever possible.

Working in a cohort? Compare your list of questions with a partner.

Inclusion of Family and Community Wisdom:

Next, let’s look specifically at the inclusion of family and community wisdom. 


Incorporating family and community knowledge can greatly enhance student learning. Students possess tremendous experiential wisdom on issues related to identity, culture, history and justice/injustice. Family members, friends, neighbors and community members frequently have stories to share and are usually happy to talk with students about their lives and perspectives.

Listen as Victoria Purcell-Gates explains how teachers can learn from communities and parents.

What does Purcell-Gates express about the need to collect information about students from the community?

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts as a group.

Consider these suggestions for incorporating family and community wisdom into the curriculum and the classroom:

  • Community-based art projects
  • Community surveys
  • Guest speakers
  • Interviews with family and community members
  • Memoirs or other family-based writing
  • Oral histories
  • Video projects

Go Deeper:

Let’s look at the family/community interview example.

Sample questions students might ask their family or community members include:

  • When and where were you born?
  • How did your family come to live there?
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
  • What stories have come down through our family from generation to generation?
  • Have any recipes been passed down through our family?

Hearing about a variety of families and communities can foster new perspectives and expand student understanding of other groups, cultures and communities.

Here is a sample family interview you could use.


The family/community interview could also be tied to a text. Consider “Proclamation of the Striking Textile Workers of Lawrence (1912).”

The Lawrence Textile Workers Strike of 1912 was an early case of an ethnically diverse, largely female workforce protesting long hours and low wages. 

A family/community interview tied to a text references topics students have read about. Topics for “Proclamation of the Striking Textile Workers of Lawrence (1912)” might include employer/employee rights, minimum wage, labor laws and gender equality in the workforce.

Write three to five sample questions for a family/community interview tied to this text.

Working in a cohort? Complete the sample questions in a small group.


Try this: Name a text you use with your students.

What interview topics could tie to this text?

How would this activity enhance instruction and honor family/community wisdom?

Note: Family interviews can marginalize students who live with guardians or who are not comfortable discussing personally sensitive topics with family members. Make sure students know they can interview any adult they are close to, and refer to the activity as a family/community interview.


Listen as Luis Moll describes how home visits allow you to learn about your students and tap family and community wisdom.

Go Deeper:

Watch as educator Sonia Galvez models what Moll describes.

What resources does Galvez discover? How might this home visit impact her student’s learning?

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with the group.


As students learn and grow together over the course of weeks, months and years, families and guardians can learn along with them; these connections afford the opportunity for families to nurture their children’s identities, connections and values. Strengthening community among families deepens this process and adds richness to the work of anti-bias and social justice education.

Increased Connection Among Families and Use of Local Resources:

Connecting families with each other deepens students’ understanding of each other as they become increasingly aware of the personal and cultural contexts that shape them.


Suggested strategies for connecting families:

  • Family events: Potlucks or picnics, family affinity events (e.g., for families from a certain cultural or ethnic group, LGBT families, families of color or adoptive families), student work showcases, student or community performances, film nights, game nights and cultural events.
  • Family education programs: Films, speakers or discussions for parents and guardians on topics such as bullying prevention, identity development, racial identity, gender expression, sexuality, learning differences or family diversity.
  • Family service/engagement projects: Local food banks, neighborhood political and social causes, community events (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations, LGBT Pride events) and fundraising projects.
  • Pooling resources and sharing support: Create a user-friendly contact list so families can connect and support each other on an informal basis.

Go Deeper:

Local communities are full of resources that can enhance teaching and learning.

  • People: elders, artists, musicians, researchers, community leaders, policymakers, journalists, advocates, historians, cultural workers and everyday people with rich life experience.
  • Places: museums, cultural centers, libraries, neighborhood landmarks and sites of historical interest
  • Organizations: formal or informal groups engaged in relevant cultural, artistic, social or political projects
  • Events: cultural and community celebrations, commemorations, political actions, artistic events, performances, student conferences and community education events


What events does your school community hold to encourage connections among families? What family events should be on your school’s calendar?

Make a list of resources in your community. What people, places, organizations and events are available to you and your students?

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with a partner.

Engagement with Community Issues and Problems:


Let’s think specifically about classroom engagement with community issues and problems. Say your class is designing an action project that addresses real needs in the community. Consider the following tips for successfully engaging the community in a manner that reflects anti-bias values:

  • Draw on students’ passions, knowledge and personal connections to the issues involved.
  • Include a strong research/learning component.
  • Incorporate reflection about student attitudes to ensure the project doesn’t reinforce assumptions or stereotypes about specific people or communities.
  • Provide writing prompts to help students consider ways to challenge bias, exclusion and injustice.
  • Set the project in a larger context, studying the broader social policies or dynamics that contribute to community problem.
  • Work with not for the individuals or groups the class plans to support.

Go Deeper:

Every school and community is different; to maximize student success, select tasks that address authentic issues within the context of your school or community. The Assessing Your School and Community tool is meant to serve as a reminder of the importance of engaging colleagues, families and community members.


Consider a task from your class and complete the Assessing Your School and Community tool.

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with the group.


At the start of this professional development module, we identified our objectives.

Let’s return to those:

  • Develop strategies to tap into family and community wisdom
  • Develop strategies to tap into local resources
  • Develop strategies to increase connections among families
  • Identify community issues that impact classroom culture
  • Identify methods of culturally sensitive communication

Take a minute to remind yourself of key ideas from each objective.

Working in a cohort? Share key ideas with the group.

Let’s review the critical practices for family and community engagement:

  • Culturally sensitive communication
  • Inclusion of family and community wisdom
  • Increased connections among families
  • Use of local resources
  • Engagement in community issues and problems

Take a minute to remind yourself of the key features of each practice.

What is one action you can take to implement the practice? Include reflection for each if necessary.

Lastly, let’s expand on your action plan. 

What can you change tomorrow to incorporate one of the critical family and community engagement practices into your teaching? Keep in mind that this change should be something that takes very little (or no) money or outside resources. 

What steps will you take to make this change? 

Working in a cohort? Share your steps with a partner.

For continued reflection purposes, consider starting a journal where you can jot down your thoughts and ideas as you implement Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education. Remember that this work is not in addition to what you already do; rather, it should frame what you currently do so that you can be more inclusive in your work with students.