Two districts on opposite sides of the country united to strengthen adult social and emotional learning (SEL). A group of students heard their community’s needs and built a Zen garden for students and educators alike. CASEL leadership and the National Parents Union shared ideas about the importance of family engagement in schools—along with data about what parents truly want for their children’s education.
These are just a few of the experiences and conversations shared on October 13, as CASEL hosted our annual SEL Exchange Virtual Summit to explore the theme “Weaving a New Tapestry: Schools, Families, and Communities Together.”
Over 1,100 participants from 46 states and 27 countries joined us in-person and virtually to exchange ideas about how schools, families, and communities can come together to support the social, emotional, and academic development of every child.
If you missed the event, you can register for on-demand access to the sessions here.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the Summit:
1. Trust is an essential foundation for authentic family engagement.
Education is shared work. But while families and educators often want to work together, a lack of trust can prevent deep, authentic collaboration between schools and home.
Many school systems often have barriers to trust, including:
- Parents who don’t reflect the mainstream school culture are often treated as spectators.
- Many structures assume that families need to change, not schools.
- Parent experience about their children’s cultural background is sometimes neglected.
Summit speaker Dr. Eyal Bergman shared three pillars to bridging this gap:
- Placing trust and teamwork at the center of family engagement.
- Focusing on shared values of student learning and well-being.
- Building the infrastructure for adults to learn how to do this work better.
Strategies like proactive, positive communication, home visits, and using a timer at parent-teacher conferences to ensure equity of voice can help build the trust needed for authentic collaboration.
2. Collaboration is power.
Weaving a tapestry that brings schools and communities together requires both effort and artistry. At the Summit, speakers shared stories of the beauty and power of community collaboration.
- Byron Sanders showed us that partnership between schools and communities can transform lives: “There is not one institution that has all of what a young person needs. It is going to take partnerships, collaboration. We are going to have to work together to build these ecosystems of hope.”
- High school senior Makayla Reeves shared her story of listening to students and collaborating with partners to help her community heal from the pandemic, creating a Zen garden project that provided a retreat for students and educators: “I learned to use my eyes to hear … I understand compassion to be the ability to understand and share the feelings of others and transform that into action. We want to encourage others to plant seeds of compassion.”
- Ciara Lowery and Dorothy Styles inspired us with a cross-country collaboration to develop, share, and pilot a new approach for supporting adult SEL: “To change outcomes for youth, the adults serving them must first know themselves. Programs don’t change children; relationships with caring adults do.”
- Dr. Jane Quinn presented evidence of Community Schools as a proven model for integrating holistic supports that remove barriers to student learning: “To make Community Schools work, you have to keep the word ‘yes’ written in your heart.”
3. High-quality public education is a right.
Today, every state in the U.S. has a legal mandate to provide a quality education to students. This right exists because parents, educators, and others fought together to make their voices heard.
Dr. Aaliyah Samuel, Lakeisha Steele, and Keri Rodrigues of the National Parents Union addressed the role of educators, parents, and caregivers in shaping education policy to protect students’ right to a quality education. In the current political climate, parents and educators are calling on decision-makers to lead with SEL and live up to the promise of quality education.
Rodrigues shared that if schools want to engage families, they must advocate for the issues that matter to them. Relationships with schools should be transformational, not transactional. Parents must be brought in at the beginning of the process, rather than dictated to. If schools engage families as partners, an entity from outside the community won’t be able to change that relationship and sense of collaboration.
The data overwhelmingly show that families and communities support SEL. When it comes to quality education, it’s time to listen to parents—not politics.
What are some of your key takeaways as you think about how schools, families, and communities can work together to support whole child development?