Skip to main content
EquiTable Podcast Banner

The Corner CAFE Podcast: APTT

The Corner CAFE Podcast: APTT(Episode #105)

May 2024 | 34:01

Discover the effective strategies of Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT) in this episode of the Corner CAFE Podcast, where WestEd experts Faith Burtamekh and Maria Paredes share insights on data-driven family engagement and personalized learning.


Faith Burtamekh
Faith Burtamekh is a Family Engagement Facilitator with the Quality Schools and Districts team at WestEd.

Maria Paredes
Maria Paredes is a Senior Engagement Manager at WestEd.

Nikevia Thomas
Nikevia Thomas is co-host of The Corner CAFE Podcast, and a Senior Education Equity Specialist at MAEC.

Jessica Webster
Jessica Webster is co-host of The Corner CAFE Podcast, and a Senior Family Engagement Specialist at MAEC.

Show Notes:

MAEC is committed to the sharing of information regarding issues of equity in education. The contents of this podcast were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the Statewide Family Engagement Centers program. However, the contents of this podcast do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Department of Education or federal government, generally.

Full Transcript:

Nikevia Thomas: Hello, everybody. This is Nikevia and Jessica from MAEC's CAFE and you're listening to the Corner CAFE Podcast. Families, schools, and communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania are looking for strategies to increase family engagement. On this show, we sit down with family engagement experts to discuss the ideas, best practices, and strategies that they use so that the rest of us can do the same. So let's get started.

Jessica Webster: All right....

Nikevia Thomas: Hello, everybody. This is Nikevia and Jessica from MAEC's CAFE and you're listening to the Corner CAFE Podcast. Families, schools, and communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania are looking for strategies to increase family engagement. On this show, we sit down with family engagement experts to discuss the ideas, best practices, and strategies that they use so that the rest of us can do the same. So let's get started.

Jessica Webster: All right. In today's episode, we're chatting with two experts from WestEd about Academic Parent Teacher Teams, also known as APTT. This is a model schools can use for family conferences and it's such an important topic when we think about engaging families and linking that engagement to learning. I mean, just think about it. Schools have a treasure trove of data, attendance records, benchmark and standardized test scores and assessments of behavior and school climate measures. However, our question is, are we effectively helping our families connect those data points to their individual child's performance and needs?

Recently, Learning Heroes released studies that uncovered some striking findings. According to a national survey, 9 in 10 parents believe their child is at or above grade level. Yet, when we look at the NAEP scores and state assessments, these numbers clearly don't align. Teachers say the number one way to know your child is progressing is to be in regular contact with them instead of relying on report card grades. So let's explore one way we can bolster these dialogues that will empower families to be real partners in our educational journey.

Nikevia Thomas: But first, let's get to know our guests. Faith Burtamekh is a Senior Program Associate at WestEd. Faith has extensive experience in school improvement and high impact family engagement and previously served as an administrator with WestEd for a K-8 elementary school. She is the author of Building Capacity for Effective Family Engagement focused on student learning and has even taken the stage as a keynote speaker at the innovation and implementation conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Jessica Webster: And alongside Faith, we are joined by Maria Paredes, a Senior Engagement Manager at WestEd. In 2009, Maria developed the APTT model, which has been adopted by over 2,000 schools nationally. Maria also speaks regularly at national conferences and has offered several articles and briefs, including her co authorship on Planning for Family Engagement in the Charter School Life Cycle: A Toolkit for School Leaders.

Faith, Maria, we're so happy to have you today. Thank you for joining us.

Faith Burtamekh: Thank you for having us. We're looking forward to the conversation.

Jessica Webster: All right. Well, so let's just jump right in and get started. Tell us about WestEd and the work your organization does to support education. And Faith. let's start with you.

Faith Burtamekh: Yes. WestEd is a nonprofit organization focused on success for every learner from birth to adulthood. Our work centers around research development and a wide range of customized services. We take on the most pressing and enduring challenges in education and human development. Everything that we do is all about serving others to ensure that every child has high quality education.We have over 1, 200 employees at WestEd with 13 offices that span the country.

Jessica Webster: Wow.

Nikevia Thomas: Wow, that's cool. So over the course of our five year grant, CAFE has partnered with WestEd to implement the APTT model in Maryland. Maria, can you tell us about this model?

Maria Paredes: APTT is Academic Parent Teacher Teams, and it's a model of family engagement that is used in classrooms.
The workshop with families is facilitated by the classroom teacher, and it is all focused on data and data informed decision making and learning. APTT meetings are held four times a year, three times as a group of families in each classroom with the teacher. So moms, dads are present together. And once during the year, the teacher meets with the individual student and their families to follow up on the learning that takes place during APTT.

Family meetings that are APTT meetings. The, one of the most important things about the APTT format is that it's really in a big way, it's about building community it's about families in a classroom, getting to know each other, learning from each other and supporting each other. That is the kind of learning environments in which adults thrive. And that's one of the key areas of Academic Parent Teacher Teams

Jessica Webster: It's really interesting. I like that idea of the families coming together to learn. So you talked a little bit about that data. What types of data, or can you kind of walk us through what those first three meetings, what the topics would be for the families that are learning together on how to read this data and understand that for their children.

Maria Paredes: So let's say that I am a fourth grade teacher in a particular school. What I do with my fourth grade team of teachers is look at our diagnostic data, our beginning of the year testing, And, uh, from that, chunk out the concepts that students are struggling with and that we will be teaching in the classroom.

So I take that data and put it in easy to understand graphs, and then spend sufficient time during the meeting really helping families understand how to read the graphs, and how to interpret the graphs, and how their own particular children are performing. This, the whole point of using data is just to really have transparent, open communication with families so that they really know and can take action on supporting their child.

If my child is a little, it needs a lot more work on reading comprehension, then that's what the teacher is going to focus on and give families. Not only the understanding of where their child is, but they also strategies and resources to model activities that are going to allow the families to, to do their part with home practice. And I suppose integrating that type of learning into all kinds of things that families do on a daily basis, like read stories, watch movies, uh, and all kinds of different conversations that are had on a daily basis between parents and children.

Jessica Webster: So it's taking that data, showing the broader picture and the patterns for the whole class, and then helping families interpret the data for their own child, but then also pairing that with the activities that will help enhance their child's experience in school.

Maria Paredes: Yes, and also showing families with the data, not only with their children right now in time, but where, what's the standard? What are the expectations at the end of the school year? So parents really have a clear picture of the work that they have to do in partnership with the teacher. It's the data that enriches that understanding that parents have of, "where am I now? Where are we going, and what do I have to do to get there together with the teacher and classroom instruction?"

Jessica Webster: Yeah, I love that. It really sounds like it makes the data actionable for everyone involved, including the teachers.

Maria Paredes: That's exactly the purpose.

Jessica Webster: Yeah, I love it.

Nikevia Thomas: So I have a question in connection to that. Looking at the quarterly meetings, some school districts might find this a little time consuming, especially if they're used to scheduling one or two, 15 to 20 minute meetings for parents’ conferences during the year. How do you convince the districts of the value of does the data show an impact on student achievement?

Faith Burtamekh: Typically, the schools and districts who work with our team reach out to us because they already have a desire to improve their school culture, the relationships that they have with the community that they serve, and they truly do want to build trust with their community. And improve student learning outcomes.

So a lot of times we don't, we don't find ourselves in a position where we're convincing schools or districts to want to do this work. They've already have that innate desire to want to improve and partner with families and much different than we've traditionally done in the past with parent teacher conferences. And schools we find that are most successful with implementing Academic Parent Teacher Teams are really eager to think about how they can begin to integrate all of the learning priorities with the key initiatives that they're responsible for implementing in a given year.

And they truly do understand that family engagement is not something that happens as a standalone practice. It really is something that is essential to planning and implementing everything that happens at your school around student improvement, teacher retention, and strategy to really improve overall school culture. Students whose families around the data part, the question that you had around data. We have found through several evaluations that students whose families participate in APPT show greater growth in math and reading than students whose families don't participate.

And so there is truly a big impact and improved learning outcomes for the students whose families are engaged in those type of meetings.

Jessica Webster: Do you see that supporting families who have students with special needs or English as a second language or students who are maybe gifted and need enrichment? How did, how did those kind of subcategories look for the, for an ATTP model?

Maria Paredes: I think that it's really important, just like students, you know, we want to have everyone in the same room because relationships and the mutual support, it's a big part of family learning. So, it is important that families, whether their children need much more support, or families of students who might be, special needs or gifted.
Those are families who also want to be part of the, of the core group of the learning plan. And think of, uh, APTT meetings as professional development of family learning opportunities. So the idea that everybody's learning together, but in addition to that, part of the coaching that is done with teachers to plan and to implement APTT is that differentiation that needs to take place, and that comes down to the activities that teachers model and how they talk through them, and how they help families together envision what this looks like. If the child needs to be challenged more because they're advanced, or a child needs a couple of accommodations to be able to access the activity, so that they can eventually access the grade level implementation of that activity or practice of that activity. So I think it's parents of all types benefit just from the socialization with each other, from the camaraderie with each other, and the support that, the networking that is, that sort of ends up being a team of learners. And I think that's part of what's important.

Jessica Webster: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

Nikevia Thomas: Wow, that's nice. So I'm going to change up a little bit. So, Faith, you used to be a principal and now you are training others in APTT and supporting data driven conversations. So what are gems that you have learned and seen now that you wish you would have knew as a principal.

Faith Burtamekh: Oh, so many things, but two in particular come to mind. And, you know, because as a school leader, so much falls on your shoulders, right? From the students and the staff and the families that you serve. And so I think my biggest tip would be to remember, or don't underestimate the power of leading with your heart. Especially when it comes to the families, because they're people too, right? The power of connection really allows you as a school leader to then think strategically, to then think about "how can I partner with families to continue to move our efforts forward?"

And so being approachable, being visible, inviting conversation with families, uh, that's, that's leading with your heart. And I think that when you are a school leader who doesn't forget that and you lead by example, then your teachers see that, that's valuable as well and it doesn't become this scary thing to connect with families. You know that I've learned some teachers are apprehensive, and so I think that's really important as a school leaders to lead by example and don't underestimate the power of leading with your heart first, um, and connecting with families.

And then the second big thing that I always share this story, because as a new principal, you know, I always saw family engagement almost as a “nice to have” something that it wasn't always, maybe an afterthought, rather than a requisite strategy for school improvement and student learning. I was so focused on being the principal who had the most parent volunteer hours. I wanted parents at our school volunteering, being present. And, you know, I did, I had 5,000 hours one year and I thought, gosh, “we're really hitting it home with family engagement,” but we had great parent volunteers at our school. And so don't forget that family engagement is critical to everything that you do at your school. It's not something that we do out of compliance or as an afterthought, but it's an essential component, uh, to building school culture, to building, uh, positive outcomes for students and helping families to get access to professional learning so that they become better advocates and support for their children at home.

Jessica Webster: Yeah, that's a really great point. And I think there's a huge difference between traditional ways of involvement, right? And visibly being involved versus engagement was sometimes can be invisible. We don't see how families engage because it's happening outside the walls of our school building. Oftentimes, as we're talking about families being involved versus engaged, one of the things in our line of work that we notice, and I'm sure you've had these conversations at WestEd as well, is that despite what schools feel is like a huge effort that they're putting forth, right, to create these welcoming family programs, and they're inviting parents into school, sometimes that participation and turnout tends to fall short of what our expectation is, that it feels like we put a whole lot of work in and we're not getting the impact that we were hoping to get from that.

So Maria, I know you wrote an article about this last year that talked about six strategies that schools can employ to increase that family attendance at those school events. Um, can you tell us a little bit about those strategies?

Maria Paredes: Yeah, absolutely. So I'll go over the six areas that were on that article that first of all, it's a focus on families. What happens is when we plan family meetings in schools, we tend to focus on the accountability that the schools have toward Title I or other. So it's almost like check off lists, right, of things that they have to do. They have to do open house, and then they have to do this, and then they have to do the fall festival. And then, you know, there is just a myriad of activities that schools do. And so one of the things that I, we help schools rethink is, how does, if I am a family member, how does it feel like this meeting was designed for me to learn? To take something away, to be able to, that that school is a place of learning and a place of development and a place of instruction.

So I, we urge schools to, to really focus on making the meetings family centered and not so much school centered. So that's one tip. So turn everything to be the, the game, uh, of for families, right? A game. The other thing is. Flyers and Facebook and all of that is, uh, is, is nice, but that's not really what makes families feel like they are important.

Like somebody's thinking of them in particular, like the teacher really cares if the parent is there. And so, personal, uh, outreach. Personal connections with families is really what's going to get families to attend. We often think of if you have a really good friend or somebody who you work with, and they invite you to something, even if you don't want to attend. That person is so important to you that you're not going to pass up on that wonderful invitation and that wonderful outreach, the time that that person is taking to connect with you directly. So personal, being personal about making sure families know that they count, that they are, that personally, the teacher and the school feel like they really matter. And so that personal touch. And sometimes, uh, as parents, we're invited to school events and they feel like no matter what the event is, all the parents have lumped together in one room and the learning doesn't feel like it's, it's me as a fourth grade parent being addressed and my needs being addressed.

So it's important to organize, differentiate it. meetings for families or learning opportunities for families. So that if it's fourth grade math night, then I know I'm going to be in the room with other fourth grade parents and that we have something to, to offer and, and something to learn from each other.
So differentiate when possible, because that makes a big difference. It feels like it is focused. on the learning needs of families. And also it's focused on parents having that communication and collaboration with families of their grade level and of their classroom. Provide a yearly calendar. I have yet to find a school, over all these years, I have yet to find a school that has a published, intentional, pre thought, pre planned calendar of family learning for the entire year.

That's rare, and the reason for that is because some of the events are repeats from last year and some of the events that they're just, uh, we right on the, on the spot. “Oh, we better do something next month” or we, or “it's coming up, we need to, we need to have a gathering. We need to invite families.” But instead I think the core family learning meetings that will take place really need to be scheduled way ahead of time with an explanation of what's the outcome? What are families going to learn? What are they going to take with them if they attend this meeting? So I think that would be not only add structure and add interest on the part of the parents, but that would really help the school focus on the parent activities that really truly are driven by learning and that are focused on, on children, on learning specifically.

Jessica Webster: Yeah, and I'm thinking that the theme from those pieces as well as from how you describe the ATP model, the personalization, right? That it's about the data from that grade level on that subject and that parents take something away that they can learn from and use with their families. And then the other thing that I heard you say through the themes is also that ability for them to connect with each other and talk to each other.
Cause I think often, and Faith going back to that principal piece, like, you know, when you'd hold these dynamic speakers, you'd have speakers come in. I was a middle school principal. So we'd have speakers come in to talk about social media and safety. And, and then it was like, “thanks for coming,” you know?


And I'm like, if we just would have built in 20 minutes to have people turn to each other and not ask questions, I mean, asking questions, the speaker is important, but like talk to each other, you all have ideas, how do you handle these things? And, and letting parents lead that would have been like, if I were to do it all over again, I would add that in.
I think that's a huge component that sometimes we miss in schools.

Maria Paredes: I agree. The other thing that is really important is when we look at all the activities that the schools do over the course of the year, sometimes they're up to 30. It's not just activities, but other things that they do that where parents are a part of it and it's just so much in that goes to, uh, schools always saying we can't put one more thing on the plate, right?
But for some reason, schools over time have not only added more activities for families, but have not necessarily done away with any. So it just keeps piling and sometimes there's 20, 30 activities a year.

And so I think the recommendation is really be intentional and focus on family learning and there are priorities, and there are, will be nice to have, but not necessarily a priority. Focus on the priority so that you can really pare down on the amount of work that is put on people who actually plan and facilitate these activities, which is just overwhelming for everybody.
So less is more. Not only that, parents don't have time to attend 30 meetings a year. And so you have to also respect that part of parents’ time and really be thoughtful about what you're, what you're planning for parents. But it doesn't happen. Sometimes they have two events a week, like seriously, not many people have that kind of time available.

Jessica Webster: And if you have multiple children, that's 30 times 2 or 30 times 3 or 30 times 4 because you have them for all.

Maria Paredes: Yeah, there's not enough time in the year for anyone to, and the schools are overwhelmed, but they are not necessarily thinking that some things could just really be integrated, especially integrate, um, certain meetings that are about literacy development and what other things can you, um, pair it with so that you don't have to have so many different types of reading or literacy or types of focus areas.

Jessica Webster: Yeah. I love that. It's thinking about it being smarter, not, you're not working harder. You're working smarter.

Maria Paredes: I always say work smarter and go deeper.

Jessica Webster: Yes. I love it. Absolutely.

Nikevia Thomas: Yes I think with all, with 30 different activities, you're just scratching the surface. Yeah. Yeah. So if a district is interested in implementing APTT, how can they get involved?

Faith Burtamekh: They can reach out to us on our website at and we can you know, have a conversation with them and see where they're at in their family engagement journey and then discuss, you know, different ways for them to start. Sometimes, you know, they're not ready quite yet for the full academic peer teacher team model and so there are services that we have to help them begin to shift mindset around how they engage with families. Um, we call it our five essentials. And so there, that kind of paves the way for when they are ready in a year to be able to, um, you know, implement APT with sustainable practices.

Jessica Webster: Excellent.Thank you for that. So as we wrap up, we have a final question we ask all our guests. From your perspectives and Maria we’ll start with you. If a school wants to adopt their current practices to engage and empower families as true partners at the table. What's the first step? I'm thinking about Faith's Five Essentials. Like, what is the first step that a school can start to think of? What's one thing a school could do today to change their practices to better engage families?

Maria Paredes: I think the first thing is, there are two things, the first is to address school culture. Are, are teachers and, uh, and other staff in the school ready for this, right?
Are they, do they feel a true, are they truly invested in their communities, in their families, uh, in their neighborhoods, right? And really address that so that that's the, the, the beginning of where people can, can grow in terms of that practice, best practices in family engagement. And I think the second thing is to be very, very thoughtful in creating a communication plan with family.
What happens is that you can build anything on effective communication, on regular communication. Okay. So that parents feel like they have a thread going throughout the school year of what's happening in the classroom. What is the instruction? What are the goals for this month? Right? And a little bit of, this is how parents can support learning.

So their parents need to know what's happening in the classroom with learning and instruction and assessment, but they also want to know what's happening in the school as a whole. So learning the communication with families in a way that feels, that flows naturally, but that keeps families feeling like they have a really good idea of what's being taught in the classroom at that point in time.

Because parents are very smart people with lots of experience and they can, they can surmise what they are going to be putting into their conversations with their kids. “What do I bring up? What do we talk about during dinner, right?” They have a strong feeling because they, because teachers are communicating regularly, clearly, and inviting them to be part of that ongoing conversation.
But it's really important that there is a plan so that teachers say, okay, if I'm going to send a really good message to my families. Maybe I want to do it every two weeks because that feels doable and it's not necessarily about overwhelming the teachers, but it's about lessening the guessing game that parents are in because parents don't really have a, a view into the classroom, but I think that they should have the information they need in a way that feels right.

Like parents are partners. And I think upon that communication, you can build other more formidable best practices, but without communication, you have to struggle to gain the trust of families.

Faith Burtamekh: I say for more a very easy, practical approach to getting started is maybe to go back to those six strategies that Maria mentioned today.
So, for example, a focus on families. So take an or making it personal organizing an event an event differently. So it could be as simple as revisiting how you host open house, right? Just simple little things by thinking about how we're going to welcome families into the space, a name tag, a team building activity, and the focus of open houses on getting to know families as the people that they are versus let's give them all this information and all these packets and tell them about this curriculum.

That doesn't make any sense to them, but is there a focus on building relationships and truly getting to know. Maybe one thing about each parent in your classroom, that's a personal thing, rather than, you know, in their role as they're a parent to a child in your classroom. Uh, so I would say start with maybe those six strategies and think about what do you currently do to engage families and how can you just shift the current event that you do just a little bit so that you can go, you know, Deeper and and work smarter.

Jessica Webster: I love that. I always think about, you know, when you go to that open house scenario and you're like, do I know anybody else in the room even as another parent? And what if you're a new parent to the community? Or what if you're working and you're not able to go to PTA? You don't know all the families in the room and how nice that would be to do.
Something to build your community as a, as a classroom with your families. Um, that wouldn't take too long. That would be amazing. I've never seen that. I think that's a great idea.

Faith Burtamekh: I always tell teachers to, to, uh, think about like, it's my job to get to know, you know, families on the night of APT, but it's also your job as a family member to walk away with new, three new friends, right?
So you, it's your job to meet three new people that now become part of your support system.

Maria Paredes: I was thinking that I was thinking that if open house would function in the way that faith explained, it would almost have the feeling of the first day of school, right? Yes. Yes. I'm going to meet my classroom team, my peers, right?
And walk away with new friends, but also just the sense of belonging. Yes. I belong to a team. I'm part of this classroom community and I, I have a place, uh, with the teacher and with the other parents. That would feel So fulfilling for us. We're a family.

Jessica Webster: Wow. Imagine how that changes the whole climate and culture. Quick, quick community builder. Yeah, I love that. I love that. Oh my gosh. What a, what a good way to end our session today with some good takeaways. I love it. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your wealth of knowledge. Oh, it's been amazing. Makes me want to dive back into a school.


Faith Burtamekh: I know when you see great teachers, you know, connecting families. I, I, I want to go back.

Jessica Webster: I know.

Faith Burtamekh: And do it all over again, too.

Jessica Webster: I know.

Faith Burtamekh: For sure. I know.

Jessica Webster: Although I love my job too. Yeah.

Maria Paredes: It's important to point out that there are so many people out there doing things really well. Yes. Yeah. We, we talked a lot about how there are some, there's a ways to go, right? But I always, I just want to give a shout out to all of those teachers who innately feel that families are, are really, truly important to the whole goal of taking the kids to the end successfully.

Jessica Webster: Yes yes.

Maria Paredes: Right? So there are just so many people doing the right thing out there.

Jessica Webster: I agree with you. And are eager to do new things too. You know? Mm hmm. Like try new things too, which is what, what keeps us alive and thriving. So yeah, thank you for that sentiment. That's amazing. Oh, that's awesome.

Nikevia Thomas: Thank you so much. Thank you both. Thank you for this lovely conversation.

Jessica Webster: We appreciate it. And to our listeners, thank you for sharing a cup of conversation with us. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. So until next time, keep those meaningful relationships with families brewing and don't forget to follow us on X at CAFE_MAEC.

Additional Resources:

Family Engagement — Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT)


Posted In:
Categories: Corner CAFE,

Join Our Mailing List

Receive monthly updates on news and events. Learn about best practices. Be the first to hear about our next free webinar!