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.
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