As 2023 begins, we find ourselves attentive to how our children’s lives continue to reflect the strains of schooling through a pandemic, an agitated political atmosphere, and economic challenges at local and global scales. Despite the turbulence, families and educators are doing their best to share the responsibilities of preparing the next generation of learners and leaders. It is exactly at this moment that we must seek greater understanding of one another and collaborate on solutions to our shared problems.
In fact, one point of general agreement is that social and emotional learning (SEL) is a vital part of the healthy development of children and an indispensable element of their academic and lifelong success. At CASEL, families and caregivers have always been identified as essential for SEL. This year, we have increased our commitment to this domain and are working to build richer connections and collaborations between caregivers and the schools in their communities.
The Caregiver RoundtableBack to top
One approach to solidifying authentic partnerships is gathering these stakeholders and inviting their voices. Roundtable discussions provide a forum for caregivers to air their concerns and ask questions about the operations of schools. Recently, CASEL joined three communities in Nevada, Texas, and Ohio to host parent and caregiver roundtable discussions.
The learnings from the three roundtables are exciting, but every school and district has unique strengths, needs, and cultures. We started with a common format and agenda, but circumstances were different enough in each community to require adjustments. While a caregiver roundtable is in some ways straightforward, it is essential to be responsive to the culture and community, particularly if the aim is to make room for voices that are not typically heard in other parent engagement events.
Host Your Own Caregiver RoundtableBack to top
If you’re interested in hosting caregiver roundtables in your school or community, adapt the following logistics and agenda items to align with your local priorities, culture, and needs.
Before You Begin (Pre-Roundtable Logistics)
- Start with a set of learning objectives such as:
- Create forums for engagement and discussion with curious parents around the value and importance of SEL, with educators and caregivers as co-learners.
- Help inform the district or school communications and strategic goals for caregiver engagement.
- Activate stakeholders as additional supporters and advocates for the SEL work.
- Reaffirm the positioning that systemic SEL benefits from elevating parent voices.
- Identify 15 to 20 potential participants. (Reaching out to those who may not typically engage is important; the aim is to host a variety of viewpoints on SEL.) Invite the district/region or school staff who will participate in the roundtable conversation.
- Set the date, time, and location.
- Prepare to provide food and beverages (30 minutes prior to conversation) as well as childcare.
Basic Agenda for Caregiver Roundtables
The structure of the roundtable consists of the following elements, which align with CASEL’s three signature practices:
- Warm Welcome
- Setting the stage
- Introductions (all in a circle with a prompt to invite participation)
- Small-group or paired conversation about your topic
- Whole-group connections to SEL and other goals
- Small-group discussion about caregivers’ curiosities or concerns
- Whole-group sharing of discussion, highlighting opportunities for action
- Host’s description of next steps for future engagement and collect feedback from the group
- Optimistic Closure
At the start of your roundtable discussion, a recognized leader like a principal or district lead:
- Shares the goals of the gathering
- Acknowledges that the roundtable is a space of co-learning
- Emphasizes the critical role of caregiver voice
- Explains what will happen as a result of these discussions (e.g., We will lift up key learnings and prepare to respond to your needs)
Next, ask each member of the circle to introduce themselves, using a prompt such as, “My name is ____. I am a caregiver/parent/guardian of __________ (number of children and their ages).” If there are more than 15 people in the group, facilitate a “Greeting Frenzy” in which group members say hello and introduce themselves to as many people as possible in three minutes.
Engagement is the bulk of your roundtable, when you’ll facilitate small-group and whole-group dialogue around goals, curiosities, concerns, and opportunities for action.
Activities may include:
- Small-group or paired conversations about your topic: Provide prompts such as, “What are your hopes and goals for your children in the coming year?” and “What skills do you think your children need to be ready for the future?” Ask caregivers to share key discussion points with the rest of the group.
- Whole-group connections to SEL and other goals: Explain your SEL model and goals and connect it to the key themes that emerged from small-group discussions. Ask caregivers what thoughts or stories this conversation raises for them.
- Small-group discussions about caregivers’ curiosities and concerns: Caregivers discuss prompts such as, “How do you see schools supporting your child’s full learning and development?” and “How could schools do more to support these needs?”
- Whole-group sharing of discussion, highlighting opportunities for action: Discuss as a group the needs and solutions that they brainstormed and draw connections to the social and emotional competencies that emerged.
Conclude this series of discussions by acknowledging the contributions caregivers made and sharing how their ideas will inform the path forward. Collect answers to a brief survey on their satisfaction with the roundtable and whether caregivers want to be included in follow-up conversations.
An optimistic closure concludes an experience in an intentional way, highlighting a shared understanding of the importance of the work and providing a sense of accomplishment that supports forward thinking. It may involve reflecting on learning, identifying next steps, or making connections to one’s own work. In this case, you can ask participants to share a word of hope, curiosity, or gratitude.
Aligning Caregiver Roundtables With Your CommunityBack to top
At one of the roundtable gatherings we hosted, we saw a strong example of culturally responsive family engagement reflecting years of committed planning and implementation. The hosting team knew that language would be an important factor. Their past experiences with families demonstrated that English language/dual language gatherings were well attended, as well as sessions entirely in the home language of the participating parents.
Informed by this local expertise, the CASEL team arranged for Spanish-speaking staff to lead that roundtable. In addition, a local Parent University coordinator was present who had spent time learning about SEL and was well-equipped to support the facilitation. She was invited not only for her official role, but to engage via her identity as a parent, too. CASEL staff also shared their own stories of family, which helped establish and maintain a sense of parity and mutual sharing between facilitators and participants.
While a simplified, standard agenda will support a smooth-running caregiver roundtable, this experience highlighted the importance of knowing the community and dedicating resources and personnel to support their full engagement. In this case, a significant factor was language, but there are a variety of ways to consider families and caregivers’ diverse backgrounds. Organizing a roundtable should make room for the valuable perspectives these differences can contribute to a systemic SEL strategy.
Learn more about engaging and partnering with families at the district and school levels. Hear examples of caregivers expressing the importance of SEL.
Thank you to The Bernard & Sandra Otterman Foundation and The Allstate Foundation for their generous support of this work.