Ed Eval TIG Week: Krista Collins and Eugenia Gwynn on Measuring Family Engagement among an Early Childhood Education Community of Practice

We are Krista Collins and Eugenia Gwynn, experienced evaluation consultants for Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs in Atlanta, GA. Over the past decade, ECE programs have become a major funding priority, with topics such as family engagement, pre-kindergarten, school transitions, and quality rated standards receiving a lot of attention. We have worked closely with programs taking the lead to define these innovative practices, and have supported their efforts to develop, measure, and validate best practices in ECE.

We recently collaborated on an evaluation of a local ECE community of practice (COP) convened to develop a family engagement framework to guide quality rated standards and practices throughout the state. To support these efforts, our evaluation focused on understanding how the COP stakeholders defined family engagement practices. With such a wide variety in how stakeholders were invested in family engagement, we had to capture this information using many different techniques. Below are a few successful strategies we employed in an effort to identify a singular definition of family engagement that summarizes the multiple perspectives of an ECE COP.

Lesson Learned: Learn the Language. Reviewing the existing literature is a great place to start, but learning how your stakeholders talk about the topic and identifying the resources they use can provide valuable information about the local context. Make time to become familiar with the organizations and policies that govern how stakeholders operate. Speaking the same language will not only help stakeholders participate in the evaluation more effectively, but it will also help you understand the data and form conclusions more efficiently!

Hot Tip: Just Ask! The most informative data we received came from a simple brainstorming session with parents. We invited parents to tell us what they did to be engaged in their child’s education, and what centers did to encourage their involvement. Instead of conducting a formal focus group with a prepared plan and list of questions, we facilitated a brainstorming session and had parents work together to define what family engagement in their community looks like. The best part – we were able to quickly see how family engagement practices look differently across communities!

Rad Resource: The Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) is comprised of educators, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers dedicated to strengthening family–school–community partnerships. The FINE Newsletter, which is published monthly by the Harvard Family Research Project (HRFP), shares the newest and best family engagement research and resources from HFRP and other leaders in the field. The newsletter provides useful information about family engagement, including research reports, teaching tools, and training materials.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PK12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

7 thoughts on “Ed Eval TIG Week: Krista Collins and Eugenia Gwynn on Measuring Family Engagement among an Early Childhood Education Community of Practice”

  1. Hi Krista and Eugenia,
    My name is Crystal and I am a Registered Early Childhood Educator from Ontario, Canada. As an RECE, I recognize the importance of your evaluation work in the ECE community. I am grateful to have a set of province-wide best practices that guide me as I work with children and families, and I am sure the ECEs and programs, for which you helped to develop best practices, have benefitted tremendously.

    In regards to your most recent evaluation that focused on developing a family engagement framework, you offered some great suggestions on how to effectively involve families in the evaluation process as you worked to identify a common definition for family engagement practices. I found that recognizing the importance of stakeholder involvement was a common thread throughout your entire post.

    You acknowledge that family engagement practices look different across communities. I am curious to know what your final definition of family engagement was. How did you take all the data and turn it into one definition, while being sure that this definition was representative of all families?

    Thanks for sharing your Rad Resource! I have never heard of The Family Involvement Network of Educators. What a great set of resources to evaluate and guide family, school and community engagement practices.

    Best, Crystal

  2. Stakeholders are a very important part of the evaluation process. Learning the language of stakeholders prevents misinterpretations and builds a better understanding that is conducive to the goal. Most important is giving the parents an opportunity to be a part of the process and giving them a voice in their child’s education. Asking parents to prepare a list of questions before any discussion session, gives the parents time to prepare well thought out questions. It is also time efficient. Parents are the major stakeholders.

  3. Hello Krista and Eugenia,

    I am currently a student at Queen’s University in the Graduate Diploma for Program Inquiry and am taking a course called Program Inquiry and Evaluation. I read your piece on family engagement among an ECE community of practice and found it very meaningful both professionally and academically. I am an early childhood educator and can attest to how family engagement is a huge priority in the field. It is no longer just about “allowing families to join in on special days and events” but more about how we can welcome families to be an integral part of their child’s learning and development in early learning settings; we value family input and operate with the assumption that families know and understand their child best and they are their child’s first AND most important teacher.

    I am in the process of developing an evaluation plan for my studies and it relates to an educational, drop-in program for children and their families within their local school board and community. These programs are called Child and Family Learning Programs and they aim to prepare children and families for entry into kindergarten with a focus on play-based learning. In the section “Hop Tip: Just Ask!” you described how a simple brainstorming session with parents garnered rich input and participation from parents. You mentioned how you did not have a prepared plan or a list of questions but invited parents to share how they were involved with their child’s education and how their involvement with/at centers were encouraged. This sounds so much more meaningful for the participating parents and I am curious to know how you framed this brain storming session with the parents at the onset- how were they invited? How were you able to get parents to join in? As you are well aware, it can be difficult to get parents to attend evaluative events like these and another challenge is that their time can be so limited and concerns around child care at the time of participation are also of importance- what were your strategies around such considerations? Lastly, how did you document the brain storming session as it relates to your evaluation?

    Thank you for reading my response to your article. I look forward to your correspondence! Thanks in advance.

  4. Hello Krista and Eugenia,

    I am a student enrolled in the Professional Master’s of Education Program at Queen’s University. Right now the focus of my studies is on evaluation. Currently, I am learning how to evaluate social programs using theory and inquiry, and working towards understanding program implementation and effectiveness.

    This course requires us to complete an evaluation plan and I find your article to be extremely relevant. My evaluation plan concentrations on improving the professional learning of educators involved in an educational program for children and youth with special needs. With our youngest participants in particular, we are currently looking for ways to increase family engagement in their child’s learning and social interactions.

    Your article mentions a great strategy to help evaluators gather information on increasing family engagement in Early Childhood Education and also helps to inform families of the importance of being involved in their child’s education. I believe that this brainstorming session that you have mentioned maybe beneficial to our parents and us educators. Many struggle to understand what family engagement means and that its definition differs from one family to the next. Mostly importantly, our goal is to ensure that parents and caregivers understand what their children are learning, what are their abilities and how do these abilities change, as children get older and enter different stages of development.
    I intend to bring the readings, which you have suggested, to my colleagues to expand our knowledge on this topic.

    Thank you for your valuable information.

  5. Allison Gorloff

    Hi Krista and Eugenia,

    Thanks so much for your post!
    I am currently a student in the Professional Master’s of Education program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I am currently enrolled in a course called Program Inquiry and Evaluation where we have been discussing a lot of alternative forms of evaluation and understanding what works for certain programs and what does not.

    I am currently an Early Childhood Educator in the Kindergarten program here in Ontario and your post really inspired me! We are constantly trying to get parents as involved as possible and I really like the idea of holding a brainstorming session to see what they would be willing to participate in. Early learning is such an important part of the overall success both socially, and academically for young children, and having family involved in their learning is so important!

    We are constantly trying to involve parents and family more on a daily basis in our students educational life and continue to evaluate what is working and what needs to be changed. I look forward to reading through the Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) by Harvard Family Research Project more carefully to gain some more insight into this subject.

    Thanks again for this information.

    Allison Gorloff

    email: 15aeg@queensu.ca

  6. Hello Krista and Eugenia! Thank you for you post! As an educator and parent this topic is near and dear to my heart on so many different levels. I have spent most of my teaching career in the early years (K-3) and I have always been so impressed by the direct, long-term benefit that home and family can have on a child’s academic progress, social emotional learning and overall success in life. The foundation is set at such an early age for success in life. I have often wondered, how do we quantity and translate this knowledge to the various stake holders (parents, caregives, guardians etc). Our province has committed a substantial amount of money to support our youngest learners (Ontario Early Years Centre, Full Day Kindergarten for 4 and 5 year olds etc) but I often wondering about family engagement and involvement on a day-to-day basis. Thank you for your reference to the Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) published by the Harvard Family Research Project. I am looking forward to reading through this site more carefully.

  7. I like the idea of a brainstorming session instead of a formal focus group. Do you have a template you could share? Do you have any information about whether evaluation audiences would see the findings as less credible than focus group findings?

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