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The Family Engagement Core Competencies: Preparing Educators to Reflect, Connect, Collaborate, and Lead Alongside Families

Last summer, the National Association for Family School and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) released, in partnership with AACTE and other vital partners, findings of our national survey of educator preparation programs. We thank many of the AACTE members who responded to the survey the purpose of which was to investigate how educators are prepared to engage families and communities in their practice.  Results of the research showed that only half of educator preparation programs have a standalone course on family and community engagement and nearly all struggle to embed family and community engagement topics throughout their curriculum meaningfully.  This is unfortunate, particularly in light of the teacher shortage crisis,  given that strong respectful relationships with families and communities are key reasons that educators choose to stay in the profession.

Over the years we at NAFSCE have learned that one of the challenges to a more pronounced focus on family and community engagement throughout educator preparation is that the field lacks professional standards.   In fact, while there are several standards documents that stress the importance of educators having family engagement competencies, these standards are typically aligned to roles within specific fields and organizations or to particular points in children’s development, most frequently the early childhood years. There is currently no set of competencies for educators to practice family engagement in education across the developmental spectrum, particularly one grounded in an equity and social justice orientation – that is, until now. 

This summer, as part of its efforts to build capacity for effective and equitable family engagement practice, NAFSCE released its Family Engagement Core Competencies: A Body of Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions for Family-Facing Professionals.  We use the term family-facing professionals to refer to anyone who works with families, including educators, school leaders, family coordinators, as well as those in out-of-school settings such as librarians and afterschool providers.  The Family Engagement Core Competencies were developed over an intensive 3-year research process that included interviews and focus groups with over 100 family-facing professionals (including teacher leaders and teacher candidates), a literature review, a crosswalk of over 16 professional standards, and a national field vetting survey. 

The Family Engagement Core Competencies: What’s Inside

The eight competencies within the report are divided into 4 main areas – reflect, connect, collaborate, and lead — that faculty in educator preparation programs can utilize as they design coursework and field experiences. 

Reflect: To engage families effectively, educators reflect. The competencies within this domain call for educators to look inward to examine, respect, and value the cultural and linguistic diversity of families and communities. They also call for educators to interrogate their own biases to develop cultural humility and an appreciation for how history and social contexts impact systems and influence family and community engagement. For example, to help promote reflection, Yasmin Morales-Alexander at CUNY-Lehman College in New York utilizes a variety of activities that facilitate relationship-building within her classroom that surface candidates’ cultural values, social identities, and their own family funds of knowledge.

Connect: Educators who engage families meaningfully reach out and connect with them. The competencies within this domain highlight the importance of educators developing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively build trusting relationships with families based on mutual respect, understanding, and reciprocal communication. The competencies also stress the importance of educators being able to connect to the wider community in which families live and facilitate connections among community resources. As one example, to help promote this competency, at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, professor Pat Norman, supports teacher candidates to partner with students’ families through an eight-step process that fosters listening and dialogue.

Collaborate: Educators not only connect with families, but they leverage the connections and relationships they’ve developed to advance children and youth learning and success in school and beyond.  The competencies in this domain call for educators to learn and know how to co-construct curriculum, programs, services, and policies with families that promote student learning. They also call for educators to learn and understand how to partner with families around individual children’s social and academic learning goals and curiosities. For instance, to grow this competency, at Ball State University, in Indiana, as part of a broader initiative to redesign and reimagine how educators engage with families and communities, teacher candidates participate in various community projects that enhance student learning. One project involved families and teacher candidates working together to develop a canon of African American Award-winning literature so that students could read and see books that represented their lives and experience

Lead Alongside Families: Importantly, educators lead alongside families. The competencies within this domain highlight how educators participate in the broader family engagement field, constantly working to improve their practice. They also call for educators to develop the mindsets and abilities to advocate for systems change to champion equity in partnership with families and communities. For example, the Family Engagement Institute at Foothill College in California supports faculty and the larger college in creating a culture that values the power of families and brings them into the community, especially those families of first-generation students.

Learn More

We welcome you to download the Family Engagement Core Competencies and review them more closely. Even more, we look forward to learning more about how you might use them to design syllabi, course experiences, and ways they are helpful to your work.

To learn more about NAFSCE’s larger initiative to prepare educators for family and community engagement in partnership with AACTE, CAEP, and the National Education Association (NEA), visit www.nafsce.org/edprep.

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