Hello and happy spring! As we usher in the beginning of warmer weather, we also celebrate Women’s History Month by exploring the contributions and impact made by women throughout our history. Wonderopolis® has curated a collection of Wonders of the Day® for Women’s History Month on a variety of topics including authors, leaders, monumental firsts, and more. We encourage you to explore them at Wonderopolis.org.
For my blog post this month, I explore the mindsets needed for driving deeper impact in communities.
NCFL’s 60x30 Vision centers on creating equitable communities so that families furthest from opportunity can thrive. Systemic and structural challenges continue to plague communities, cementing barriers to learning that have been accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Some might say we should stop talking about the pandemic because it has been three years since it began causing major disruptions to our lives; however, we must continue to elevate the fact that, as a nation, we have yet to fully realize the real impact on educational and economic outcomes.
The pandemic exacerbated disparities that have long been present. According to the Brookings Institution, a range of disparities persist for Black and brown families compared to their white counterparts, including school readiness gaps, inequitable opportunities to take advanced coursework, and gaps in high school and college completion.
Even the systems of support and services that are intended to engage families are fragmented and complex, making it hard—or even impossible—for families to navigate opportunities. In conversations with families and practitioners throughout the country, NCFL consistently hears a resounding demand from parenting adults and families that their voices and expertise be included in designing and coordinating the solutions necessary for their communities. Families are typically locked out of these conversations and support is often designed without their input. At NCFL, we are calling on the field to examine this practice and initiate shifts in mindsets so that we may all engage more deeply in transformative practices.
To truly create equitable communities where families can improve their life circumstances and well-being, we must work to change the systems supporting families. Over the past few months, I've been revisiting the six conditions explored in FSG’s Water of Systems Change in my new context as a leader supporting family learning as a lever for transformation across communities. The six conditions of systems change are Policies, Practices, Resource Flows, Relationships & Connections, Power Dynamics, and Mental Models. The authors posit that structural change (i.e., changes in policies, practices, and resource flows) happen when attention is given to changing relational conditions and mental models. That is, when you shift mindsets, allow space for sharing power, and co-design learning opportunities and supports, you start to see transformation in action.
At NCFL, mindsets matter! The stories we tell, our actions, and our behaviors all shed insight on the shared commitments we have to transformation and supporting families through equitable learning experiences. We embrace co-design as a crucial means for shifting power and mindsets that ultimately paves the way and serves as the foundation to redesigning community and school experiences and environments. Through our commitment to co-design our work prioritizes the voices of families and children who have been traditionally marginalized.
In her book, Beyond Sticky Notes, Kelly Ann McKercher lays out six mindsets needed to co-design:
- Elevating lived experience
- Being in the grey
- Valuing many perspectives
- Learning through doing
Let’s explore how these mindsets are applied to practice with children, families, and community stakeholders:
Over the years, Toyota USA has partnered with NCFL to spread and scale high-impact, evidence-based practices to support families learning together. The learning for both our organizations has served as an anchor for innovation that has surfaced in much of NCFL’s programming over 30 or more years. As we enter a new phase of this partnership, Toyota USA Foundation’s Driving Possibilities initiative has challenged us to think about our learning and take another step forward in engaging with families and communities to advance wrap-around supports alongside school- and community-based learning experiences. Toyota’s Driving Possibilities is a 14-state initiative for career readiness and community engagement that aims to unite community stakeholders, educators, students, and families to improve and diversify the STEM talent pipeline while simultaneously removing barriers that hinder students and families from fully accessing resources.
NCFL is engaged as a facilitator for a series of participatory/empathy interviews, focus groups, and convenings in two Kentucky communities. For this initiative, one goal we share is to amplify the voices of students and families who face social, economic, and academic barriers so that the design of programmatic solutions are reflective of the children, families, and communities’ needs (elevating lived experience). Throughout this work, there are multiple opportunities for families, students, educators, and community members to meet in small groups to discuss their lived experiences because co-designing is deeply connected to place. In order for this work to reach its intended outcomes it is necessary to pay close attention to and honor any cultural protocols, local decision-making practices, and gaps in knowledge to build alignment and coordination across community stakeholder perspectives.
We began Driving Possibilities with steps familiar to strategic planners: data gathering, root cause analysis, logic model development. This is a natural part of planning and design. However, we continued to employ processes that were recursive in nature, relying on the voices of co-design team members (valuing many perspectives) for review, input, revision, and deep engagement. We are learning through doing which is bringing about a dynamic shift in mindsets creating new possibilities in communities.
Finally, our recently created Equity in Family Engagement Toolkit is a resource that was designed with and alongside families, educators, and the community. The toolkit is a blueprint for promoting equity and inclusion in classrooms and schools, and was developed with a goal of helping ease parenting adults’ anxiety that can be brought about when interacting with schools (hospitality). Bridging the gap between home, school, and the community requires all parties to examine preconceived notions about interest, motives, and levels of engagement related to the type of support necessary to improve learning experiences and outcomes for children (curiosity). In the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, Dr. Karen Mapp described the importance of building dual-capacity for educators and parents/families in order to reach better outcomes for children. Hence, parenting adults worked alongside educators and the community to provide critical input on elements to include in the toolkit modules. On top of that, they utilized virtual reality to enhance the content and experiences where “new ways of being” could be realized.
The participants embraced key mindsets related to curiosity and being in the grey. One parent noted, “It was exciting because we got to take our experiences from growing up and having kids in the school system and see how to better service teachers...it was fun to [research] equity versus equality, and what that looks like—to paint real pictures for people.”
Using the strategies and resources in the toolkit can help users to shift from holding harmful stereotypes of families to viewing families from an asset-based perspective. Ultimately, schools and educators can practice deeper, more hospitable connections and engagement with parents and caregivers, creating a shift in perspectives, behaviors, and approaches.
Communities and organizations across the nation that are trying to support child, adult, and family outcomes are searching for more meaningful and relevant ways to engage youth, parenting adults, and families. By valuing many perspectives and listening to diverse views, we challenge long-held structures and identify new solutions to complex problems. Valuing and incorporating multidimensional insights fosters shifts in mindsets and mental models, thereby laying the groundwork that leads to transformative, lasting change with exponential impact.
If you are part of a community that is ready to embrace more transformative practices and center the voices of children and families to produce systems change, please complete the form at www.familieslearning.org/60x30.
To learn more about our 60x30 Vision, read my past blog posts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville.
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, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling 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
resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.
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, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.
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
U.S. Department of Education
Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania.
The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education
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