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Family Valued

Case studies produced by the Harvard Family Research Project delve into key topics of family engagement in schools

October 8, 2014
A paper cutout of a family

In the midst of the annual Teaching and Learning Week at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — a series of events dedicated to exploring how to effectively teach and learn through demonstrations of powerful and innovative practices — the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) is bringing attention to its collection of case studies focused on family engagement in schools.

Based on both research that examined cultural diversity as well as practitioner experience, the cases are framed around family engagement work in underserved communities. All include discussion questions, instructor notes, commentaries by faculty and practitioners, as well as additional resources to explore specific topics further. In addition, HFRP provides an article that includes six tips on how to enhance case discussions for optimal results. The tips include details on breaking the ice, getting organized, using a “live” case, acting it out, working with families directly, and discussing it online.

“We are taking our case development work to communities, and encouraging family outreach workers to create their own cases based on their experiences with diverse, often immigrant, families,” says M. Elena Lopez, associate director of HFRP. “The outreach workers use our cases as a template and then write and share their own cases with other outreach workers and community members. This is a powerful way to stimulate dialogue and learning in communities.”

With more than a dozen cases available on their website, topics covered include:

  • A child’s challenging transition from Head Start to kindergarten.
  • How a parent and a teacher can build a partnership to help a student with behavioral issues.
  • A difficult conversation between the parents of a student with disabilities and the classroom teacher who is recommending retention.
  • Dealing with peer issues around race and class.
  • How a teacher and school community responds to a child in need.

Given that the background of educators is often different than the families of students enrolled in their schools, the HFRP cases offer a variety of strategies and multiple perspectives to approaching likely scenarios to occur within the course of a school year.

“We have used the cases in both classroom teaching and in professional development workshops for teachers, social workers, and other professionals who work with children and families,” says Lopez. “We are impressed with the power of cases to create ‘aha’ moments and to enable participants to challenge their own thinking and explore new perspectives.”

A full list of cases is available on the HFRP website, as is a list of cases sorted by topic, gender, and age-group, as well as ethnicity, of the students discussed.


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