This blog is the sixth in a series based on the NCFL publication, Stronger Families, Stronger Communities.
Communities support people in their professional and personal lives. People benefit from engaging in groups formed through common experiences. Family, friends, and colleagues can unite to form circles that support their members. We are stronger together than separate.
In programs, classrooms, and schools, the creation of community is often a stated goal. Practitioners work to establish feelings of belonging so students and families feel welcomed. To support these efforts, Toyota Family Teacher of the Year recipients shared with us their advice for building community. Many of their tips focused on three areas: trust, partnerships, and openness.
A key element in building communities is building a sense of trust between practitioners and participants, as well as among participants. Amy Hall of Michigan said, “You create a community where you build trust.” One method for doing so is to set up routines and rituals within classrooms and programs. This ensures that everyone knows what is expected. We create safe learning environments for students and their families. In doing so, we earn the trust of our students and their families. They believe that they are an important part of the community.
To create community, families need to be engaged through partnerships. The term “partnership” implies that practitioners are listening to families and finding out about their needs, hopes, and aspirations. Teacher of the Year recipients felt strongly about involving families and adult students in program planning. Practitioners can establish roles and responsibilities within their programs so that the work is shared among participants. When members are engaged, communities form and flourish.
Another element in building trust is openness among practitioners, students, and families. To do this, Lorie Preheim of Washington D.C. felt it was important to teach from personal experiences. “The most powerful learning environment happens when we as teachers share from our personal experiences and talk about our struggles, insights, and successes as parents, workers, community members, and ourselves. When you share your own difficulties, it allows for more open conversation where the adult students don’t feel judged.” Additionally, Maria Antonia Pinon of Arizona added that practitioners should include themselves as part of the classroom community. “Be open to being part of the community. Let your guard down and be open to the experience. Be part of your families’ communities.” Practitioners should be genuine, fair, and honest with students.
Many of these ideas are appropriate for both adult learners and younger children. Regardless of age, there are many benefits to building trust, sharing responsibilities, and being genuine with students. Further, by building communities and modeling these methods in our classrooms and programs, we can hope that parents and families can also carry them into their homes and communities. When successfully formed, the classroom community grows beyond its four walls to the greater school and eventually into the larger community.
Kay Brown of Louisiana said, “Paying it forward is equipping my participants for a better life that will improve our community, too. Any educators in rural centers like mine can learn how to strengthen their community through the same commitment—to focus not just on this program year, but also on all of the future benefits possible.”
From teacher to teacher, we all benefit from a community of support. We are stronger together than separate.
Toyota Family Learning Program
Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.
Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities
Dollar General Literacy Foundation
The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.
The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.
Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website
PNC Grow Up Great
PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.
PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.
NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.PNC Grow Up Great
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.Visit the Foundation website
Better World Books
Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.
Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.Better World Books
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.Foundation Website
NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.
The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University