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Leading the Way

The Harvard Family Research Project places emphasis on the links between leadership and family engagement on Presidents Day

February 13, 2015
photo of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

Seizing the Presidents Day holiday as an opportunity to recognize leadership, the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) is providing a resource that features some of the policymakers, researchers, and practitioners who have led within the field of family engagement.

With doses of historical presidential vignettes integrated, the HFRP paper, Taking the Lead in Family Engagement: A Message to Our Followers on Presidents’ Day, highlights the commentaries of several leaders who represent a diversity of perspectives; from university researchers to parental and community organizers.

“We know that leadership drives education reform,” says HFRP Founder and Director Heather Weiss. “It is indispensable in elevating family engagement, which often takes a back seat to changes that happen in the classroom. Given today’s concern about opportunity gaps outside school, we also need leaders that provide both equitable access for children and opportunities for family engagement in different learning environments, for example, in after school programs and libraries and museums.”

The resource features papers by Kiersten Beigel, the parent, family, and community engagement lead for the Office of Head Start, on “50 Years of Family Engagement in Head Start” to “Coming Full Circle: Drawing On Personal Experiences to Create a Vision for System-Wide Change” by Mishaela Durán, chief of staff for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, among others.

“We are witnessing a new generation of leaders who are working to counter the random activities and ‘add-on’ mindset that has plagued family engagement,” says M. Elena Lopez, associate director of HFRP. “Through their research, policy efforts, and practices, they are leading the field to approach family engagement in a thoughtful, systemic way and as a core element in education reform efforts.”

“From a current policy perspective,” says Weiss, “we can all continue to show leadership by making our voices heard about the importance of systemic family engagement in the current conversation about the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization."

The resource also includes a section called Leaders move ideas to action, with four lessons designed to address and “overcome negative judgments about families and to dismantle random approaches to serving their needs”:

  • Create opportunities for parent-generated solutions. Ken Smythe-Leistico employs a collaborative approach to show that parent solutions matter.
  • Level the playing field by sharing relevant information with families. Trise Moore offers district wide workshops to equip families, especially those disadvantaged by race and income, with the information they need to navigate the school system successfully.
  • Use data to move parents to action. Sandra Gutierrez embeds data sharing in parent leadership development.
  • Build the capacity of teachers to work with families. Helen Westmoreland supports the family engagement work of schools and districts through the Flamboyan Foundation’s grant making.

“Presidents Day reminds us that we all have opportunities to show leadership in the decisions we make,” says Lopez. “With today’s concerns about growing educational disparities, we carry an even greater responsibility as educators to make decisions and take actions that contribute to more equitable educational opportunities for children and families in and out of school.”

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