Skip to main content
EquiTable Podcast Banner

The Corner CAFE Podcast: NAFSCE

The Corner CAFE Podcast: NAFSCE(Episode #102)

October 2023 | 23:04
Image with a purple background featuring a yellow hanging sign that reads

Learn about NAFSCE's Family Engagement Core Competencies, best practices for engaging families, emerging trends in Family Engagement, and more on this episode of The Corner CAFE Podcast.


Sherri Wilson
Sherri Wilson is Senior Director of Training and Engagement at The National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement (NAFSCE).

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: In today...

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: In today's episode, we have the pleasure of speaking with Sherri Wilson, Senior Director of Training and Engagement at NAFSCE on their Family Engagement Core Competencies and Reframing Academy. NAFSCE stands for The National Association for Family Schools and Community Engagement, and it was actually co-founded by MAEC's very own president, Susan Shaffer.

Sherri is a nationally recognized expert and consultant and family engagement and has served in leadership positions, including at the National PTA and the Center for Active Family Engagement. Sherri, we're so excited to speak with you today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sherri Wilson: It is my pleasure. I'm really happy to be here.

Nikevia Thomas: Thank you, Sherri. So, we know from the research and the work you engage in at NAFSCE, that authentic and effective family, school, and community engagement is about so much more than back-to-school nights and classroom volunteers. It's more than communicating with parents when there's a problem with their child.

It's even more than simply caring for a student, their well-being, and their success. Yet, according to research conducted by the Framework Institute, the public largely thinks of family and community engagement in exactly those ways. So, how should we begin framing family engagement?

Sherri Wilson: That is such a great question. It is something that we really struggled with and, and the reason why we partnered with the Frameworks Institute to research the way we communicate about family engagement in the first place. Unfortunately, often when we talk about family engagement people don't really understand what we mean and sometimes the things that we say, the words that we use, cause them to tap into cultural models that really lead them to unproductive thinking and don't help them understand exactly what we mean.

So, it's important when we think about how we communicate about family engagement that we start by orienting towards equity. People need to understand what's not equitable right now. What are the things that are preventing every family from having the opportunity to be engaged in their children's education and what can be done about those?

And then the second thing we have to do is we have to remember that the context of the schools and school systems can sometimes prevent or promote good policy or good family engagement practices from even happening. So, we really have to help our audiences understand how schools can create the, the culture and climate that makes engagement possible.

And then finally, we really have to illustrate the transformative power of family engagement, the outcomes that students may be able to achieve when their families are fully engaged in everything they're learning.

Jessica Webster: Those are great points, Sherri. I know that in thinking about this, the whole idea that if we just cared more, right, is not really going to get us the solutions that we need.

So talk to us a little bit about what are some best practices schools and family leaders can use that would engage families, keeping in mind this whole concept of reframing family engagement.

Sherri Wilson: Yeah, so what you just mentioned about the families that care more. That's a really important example of a cultural model that prevents people from thinking about family engagement in productive ways.

We don't want people to think that family engagement is an individual's responsibility or that some people care and other people don't, whether you're talking about educators or about families, it's really important that you leave caring out of this altogether. The reality is all teachers want kids to be successful and all families want their kids to be successful.

So that's one of the recommended strategies that we learned when we did this research with Frameworks that it's important that we, we talk about it in ways that avoid falling into those traps and do things like, like, using a space launch metaphor to help people understand that the role that families play is as important as the role that experts play when they're launching a rocket.

When you launch a rocket, you need, you need physicists and astronauts and the engineers and communicators and mathematicians. When you're talking about launching student success, you need a team of experts, you need families and educators and administrators and community partners when everyone works together, kids have the opportunity to really reach the stars.

Nikevia Thomas: Oh, thank you, Sherri. I really like that, that metaphor. It's the image of, of this, the rocket ship and all hands being on deck. Maybe two.

Sherri Wilson: Yeah. Another nice thing about the metaphor too is you can always, once you, once you put that metaphor out there and you start using that language when you're communicating, you can always reflect back on it with images and graphics and there are so many ways that people map on things they know about family engagement to things they know about a space launch.

Jessica Webster: Very true.

Sherri Wilson: It just works really well.

Nikevia Thomas: It's a great approach. Let's talk a little more. So, over the course of the past three years or so, NAFSCE has been on a journey to uncover and understand the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that family facing professionals bring to forming strong family, school, and community partnerships.

Can you explain what the NAFSCE Family Engagement Core Competencies are, and what inspired NAFSCE to develop them?

Sherri Wilson: Yeah, that's a great question. So this actually, we've worked on this for the last three years, but this was actually one of the things that we were thinking about way back when our founders started this organization.

And I was actually one of the founding board members. So once Susan came up with the idea and shared it with the rest of us, we were really excited to get started, but we knew because we'd worked in family engagement for so long, that part of the challenge we have is that family facing professionals and school leaders, educators, and afterschool providers, they have very few opportunities

early on in their career, and sometimes even throughout their careers, to learn how to partner with families and communities. So, when our organization first started, we realized this was going to be something that we would be really interested in addressing and, you know, it's challenging when you're a startup organization to get your feet on the ground and, and tackle these big projects.

But about three years ago, we finally had enough staff to really get a handle on the challenge, and then some of the strategies that we think would really help family facing professionals understand how they can engage families in meaningful ways. So, would you like me to share with you what the core competencies are just like the general?

Jessica Webster: Please, that'd be great.

Sherri Wilson: Yeah, I started thinking maybe there was more to that question. So, we, we actually divided it up into four different areas that we think really everything we should be doing with families falls into these areas. So, the first one is Reflect, the second one is Connect, the third is Collaborate, and the fourth is Lead.

So, Reflect really means looking inward and developing cultural humility, embracing equity, and respecting and valuing the diversity of families. Connecting means building trusting relationships with families that are based on mutual respect and foster social networks among families and communities. Collaborate means we have to work together to construct programs, opportunities, resources, that really help us do this work together better. And then Lead means we take part in brokering programs and practices that, alongside families, that really change and orient towards equity.

Nikevia Thomas: Wow. Reflect, Connect, Collaborate, Lead.

Sherri Wilson: Yes.

Jessica Webster: And what I really hear in that is the co-construction of those things, right?

It's not, it's not schools doing it for families. It's schools doing it with the community and with families.

Sherri Wilson: Right. First, the first thing is you really have to respect that all families have strengths and they bring a lot to the table. And when we work together, we'll get much farther because often there are barriers to family engagement that school professionals are completely unaware of.

And when we work in partnership with families, they help us understand what some of those barriers are and help us understand the things they think they need, rather than us deciding what they need and then offering it up because that's never successful.

Jessica Webster: Mm-mm. And that way, I think we're not working harder, we're working smarter.

Nikevia Thomas: Exactly, and it ties into reframing.

Jessica Webster: Yup, 100%.

Sherri Wilson: Yup.

Nikevia Thomas: So, we know that from our collaboration with you, Sherri, that NAFSCE is really interested in how these Core Competencies can be used to shape pre service and professional learning for family facing professionals. Can you speak more about what?

Sherri Wilson: There's so many challenges, particularly when you're talking about working in the area of pre service education for teachers, because the reality is every college or university plans its own curriculum and their own course load for aspiring educators. And so there's not a lot of consistency from university to college to university, right?

Everyone's kind of doing their own thing. And that's a big challenge for us. Many educators get into the classroom without ever having had any kind of formal training on how to work in partnership with families. So one of the things we've done is develop a pre service framework. We've worked with some partner organizations who, who work on teacher credentialing to really try and understand what are the things that educators need to know before they get into the classroom to really be true partners with families.

And this week, we're actually hosting a pre service education symposium with the National Education Association, where we're going to talk with leaders in the field about how that framework might be implemented and what kind of strategies will really help us be most successful.

Jessica Webster: And I also hear what I hear as a school leader or a former school leader, is that if we know that this isn't being addressed in the pre service realm until we can get it to be more systematic for our pre service teachers. We also need to be very cognizant and making sure it's part of the work that we do for induction programming for our new teachers and during professional development for our teaching staff and making it a priority.

Sherri Wilson: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of teachers in the classroom now that are done with their pre service education. And so the pre service work that we're doing now isn't going to do anything for them at all. But you're right, a lot of administrators are starting to realize that family engagement is more than just a compliance issue or a nice to do kind of thing.

It's something that can really have a significant impact on student outcomes. And teachers... Really need to know how best to do that, and they haven't always been given that opportunity. So I think there is a lot more opportunities for professional development for existing educators that are out there.

And there are, there's places like CAFE where people can go, and they can get all kinds of training and grow their own professional skills and their professional networks as well.

Jessica Webster: That's a great plug. And it's also a great explanation. So we talked about this a little bit, but as we know, in education, one size does not fit all and that's also the case when it comes to family engagement.

And so I know we talked a little bit about making sure that we're reframing it so that we're focused more on equity and inclusion. Can you give us some key strategies that would help practitioners really promote those that sense of equity and inclusion and the work of family engagement?

Sherri Wilson: Sure. I will start with two. so the first one is, and this is based on the research that the Frameworks Institute did when they were developing our Reframing Strategies, and one of the things they found that is universally appreciated by Americans is that people strongly believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed, whether you belong to that group that thinks, you know, you're best pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps or you're, you know, some other group. Everyone, by and large, thinks you had to at least have an opportunity.

So, whenever we're talking about family engagement, we should preface our, our remarks, or our comments, or our text with “every child deserves the opportunity to succeed.” And we know when families are engaged, that is more likely to happen because people, once they hear that opportunity for all message, they tend to agree with whatever comes after that.

And then the other thing I would say is equity is hard because there are many people who don't live and breathe this work, who aren't like immersed in our communities, that get messages about equity and have no idea what we're talking about. They think we're talking about their home equity or equity they might have in alert life insurance policy. They just aren't aware of the way we talk about education equity at this point. So when you are communicating about equity and you're trying to make people aware about, of something that's not equitable, you really have to spell it out. You have to be crystal clear.

What is the inequity? What is the consequence of that inequity? And then what is the solution you would like to see? One of the things we learned from the Frameworks Institute was that you can build an equity chain where you go through those steps. You write down “here's the here's the inequity”, “here's the result of that”, “here's one of the consequences,” “here's our short term solution,” “and here's our long term solution.” And after you write each of those sentences, you can cobble them together and have a really good equity statement that tends to get more support than just saying things like, you know, we believe in equity or we are working towards more equity.

Because people really don't understand that.

Jessica Webster: That's right, and it also allows you to personalize it so that you're really talking about what that definition means for your community and the people in it which may be different based on what community you live in, what your needs are, and what your different groups, what your diversity looks like in your different groups that need that support and need to feel included.

Sherri Wilson: Yeah, I've done this work for over 25 years, and one thing I've learned is anybody that you're trying to change their behavior or their, their opinions or their ideas, you just have to be really, really clear, just putting out global statements, like, you know, “we're working towards more equity in our school” means nothing to most people.

And things, even things like, you know, “read with your child every day”, that's so general and broad that people don't understand that either. The more clear you are, the more you focus on a specific need for your school or your community, the more likely you're going to have positive outcomes.

Jessica Webster: Absolutely.

Nikevia Thomas: Wow, Sherri, thank you so much for that. Wow. So, I have another question. So, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we approach education and family engagement, and in light of this, we want to discuss how the Family Engagement Core Competencies can help educators and other family facing professionals navigate these challenges. What are your thoughts on this topic, Sherri?

Sherri Wilson: Yeah, I think the COVID-19 pandemic had some silver linings. Not many, and they were hard to find. But one thing it did do was it made it real clear that families play a really important role in their children's education. And the schools and school districts that had strong, trusting, respectful relationships with families before the pandemic started had a much easier time communicating with them and keeping them engaged in their children's education while kids were forced to learn from home during the pandemic, than the schools that didn't.

So we know that that relationship piece is critical and families really need to understand what their kids are learning and how they can support that. So the Core Competencies really give us an area where we can really focus on how we're reaching those families, how we're building those connections for them, how we're reflecting on our own practices so that we are recognizing areas where we might need to do a little bit more work.

It gives us a better opportunity to connect with families so that we can build stronger, respectful relationships and really understand each other better. So we can work together to support students. It gives us an opportunity to really develop more opportunities to collaborate.

So we're doing things like co-constructing those learning opportunities or linking family and community engagement to the learning and development that students are making. And then finally, it also gives us an opportunity to really take a leadership role in talking about how we need to make some systems changes so that we're able to do these things in a way that's more intentional and more focused, and really taking part in some lifelong learning to develop our own skills and ability to move this work forward.

And of course, with the reframing, we know that we really have to learn how to talk about family engagement in a way that helps people understand what we mean.

Jessica Webster: That’s right. So as we close out the session, let us in on some secrets from the field. What are some of the key trends or the latest developments in the field of family engagement?

Sherri Wilson: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, definitely this pre service thing is going to be huge. We're working really hard on that. The Core Competencies right now are starting to take off. So we put together the report with the Core Competencies in them. Ohio, the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center is working with us to develop a rubric so family facing professionals will be able to assess their own practice in each of these Core Competencies.

We get calls every day from others who are interested in using the Core Competencies in a way to really expand the work that they're doing. So I think that this is going to be, it's going to be really exciting to see what happens with this in the next few years.

We're also trying to develop a credential for family engagement, because I know that, you know, I've worked in the field of family engagement for 25 years, and it's not always been something that's been, I'll say, well respected. The field has really been all over the place and we really want to elevate the work that we're doing because it's as important of a strategy as any other learning strategy.

So, if we can develop a credential and people are able to really demonstrate that they're skilled in this area we think it's going to elevate the field overall.

Jessica Webster: It's exciting.

Nikevia Thomas: Very exciting.

Jessica Webster: So if people want to know more about family engagement and the Core Competencies, they can find this information on your website, which is, N-A- F- S- C- E. org. And so we want listeners to be able to have that information.

Sherri Wilson: Yes, it stands for The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement. And if you're looking specifically for Reframing or the Core Competencies, go to our work page and you'll see a link for each of the areas that we're working in.

Nikevia Thomas: Sherri, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sherri Wilson: It has been my pleasure.

Nikevia Thomas: We really gained some valuable insights on strategies for increasing and understanding family engagement. So, really, I thank you, really.

Sherri Wilson: Well, I'm a fan of the work that you guys do, so it was a treat to get to spend some time with you.

Jessica Webster: Always a pleasure. Always a pleasure.

And to our listeners, thank you for sharing a cup of conversation with us. And we hope that you've enjoyed the conversation today. Until next time, keep those meaningful relationships with families brewing. And don't forget to follow us on X at CAFE underscore M-A-E-C.

Additional Resources:


The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE)
NAFSCE is the first membership association focused solely on advancing family, school, and community engagement (FSCE).

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!