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Jun 6, 2018 |
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This is the 5th blog in a series based on the NCFL publication, Stronger Families, Stronger Communities.

Many educators believe that working together and engaging families results in students being more successful. However, it can be difficult to put this belief into practice. It takes work and effort. When past Toyota Family Teacher of the Year honorees were asked to share keys for engaging families, a frequent theme emerged: trust.

NCFL Education Solutions

Trust is built through conscious effort over time. It grows from knowing that teachers and program providers are sincere and passionate about what they are doing. It comes from believing that all families and their contributions are valued. Past Toyota Family Teachers of the Year shared guidance for building trust.


Educators and program personnel need to communicate. Families should know general information about policies and events but also specific information about their children. Gwen Paul of Arizona emphasized the importance of being open with parents. “I think there always has to be that open communication...whether the message is good or bad. They have to know we’re here for them because we are working with their children.” Honest communication builds trust.


Communication is more than sending home flyers, updating websites, and sharing grades. Jean Ciborowski Fahey of Massachusetts said, “The greatest lesson I learned from families is to listen to them.” Building trust requires that educators listen to families, as the experts on their own lives and the lives of their children. Gretchen Conway from North Carolina added, “I feel like I am a better person and educator by listening more to my parents and judging less.”  Further, as trust is being built, Carolyn Becker from California shared how she listens to what is not said. “Listen between the lines to what someone is really trying to tell you. The more you understand the situation, the more you can be helpful.” Listening to families builds trust.


Families need educators to share with them. Whether it is a dog’s name, a favorite team, or your motivation for helping others, little details can help families and educators find common ground.  Mark Faloni of Washington, DC shared how knowledge can be comforting. “Having been here so long lends itself to trust and rapport that I can build with new students, who find out that I have been doing this for all these years. This experience is comforting to them and they learn to trust that I have their best interests at heart.”

Building trust is a critical part of engaging families. From teacher to teacher, make sure that families know they are valued, and that their contribution is welcomed.  By building trust, educators can build relationships, community, and nurture learning.

What techniques do you use to build trust with families?


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NCFL Partners

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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

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, they invested in the organization’s Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

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®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

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.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

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.

Learn more about the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University