Lessons from school

At Keystone we know that effectively communicating with the people you serve is a great way to build trust and improve outcomes. In this blog we explore the work of Flamboyan Foundation, partnering with schools in Washington DC to improve learning outcomes for students through effective family engagement.

At the heart of the approach is effective, respectful communication between educators (teachers, principals, counsellors, and other support staff) and families – building trust and creating a team that works together for the children’s education.

The process starts with a home visit. Before the school year starts teachers visit families and ask about their hopes and dreams for their children. They discuss the children’s interests and experiences within school. They also ask the parents how they prefer to be contacted.

Once school starts, the visit is followed up through ongoing communication, including phone calls and textmessages. Educators try to provide parents with five positive pieces of feedback on their children for every negative one.

Teachers report that this constant communication improves their work. They understand better what is happening to the students outside school and inside the classroom can better tailor their teaching to the students’ interests.

Teachers at Stanton Elementary School, one partner school, which Flamboyan has worked with since 2010/2011 when, based on standardized testing, it was the second lowest performing elementary school in Washington DC. When the Foundation started working with the school in they found that parents, who in many cases had been poorly served by the education system themselves, were reluctant to attend school events and could be defensive when called by teachers about students’ performance or behaviour.

With the support of Flamboyan Foundation the teachers at Stanton built trust with the parents through one on one engagement. It took a lot of phone calls to set up the first home visits but after a while parents were calling the school to ask when their teacher would show up for a visit.

Teachers carried out 200 home visits over the summer holidays and at the next ‘back to school night’ it was standing room only. That year, while teachers regularly communicated with parents about what their children were doing in school, the behaviour of students improved. Academic achievement also went up.

Samantha Cohen, Senior Managing Director of National Family Engagement, at the Foundation said: “The story at Stanton is similar to the stories across the district; families and educators who have strong relationships are empowered to serve on the same team, supporting students’ academic and social emotional success.”

That year (2011/12) 11 students were suspended from school, down from more than 280 the previous year.

This approach is now recognized as so successful that it is spreading across the schools in DC. And last year a quarter of children in the district received home visits from their teachers. A study by John Hopkins University of 4000 school students found that students who received home visits had 24% fewer absences compared to those who had not received home visits.

It’s a lesson that building trust takes time, effort and good communication but once established leads to better outcomes.

Flamboyan Foundation is now working with 35 elementary and 12 middle schools. To find out more visit their website.

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