Let’s not just engage families. Let them lead.

I am so proud to have partnered with my friend and school leader, Sabrina “Bri” Moore on the #SchoolAfterCOVID Team Fellowship. Below she shares her reflections on the Fellowship and what we learned. – Yanira Wandera
Community Leadership Director, GO Public Schools Oakland 

This past school year was unlike any I have ever known in my 11 years as an Oakland teacher and school leader. While our students, families, and educators faced obstacles that often felt insurmountable, it may come as a surprise to hear that this school year also brought with it a myriad of opportunities. 

What we have now is a chance to reopen, recover, and rethink school as we know it. But we cannot — and were never meant to — do this work in silos. If we, as practitioners, are truly going to seize this moment and build on this historic investment in education, we must start by including families in this work as our codesigners. 

Recently I teamed up with my friend, fellow advocate, and former principal, Yanira Wandera, to run the #SchoolAfterCOVID fellowship through GO Public Schools Oakland. Our hope was to create a safe space for 10 school teams, comprised of students, families and educators, to figure out how to work together as codesigners to address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. We encouraged our fellows to use Liberatory Design, a unique approach to creating solutions that help interrupt inequity and increase opportunity for those most impacted by oppression.

We spent the majority of the time on listening with safe to fail actions — thinking about the transference of power to identify with families the most pressing reopening equity challenge for each school community.

Some of the equity challenges that were explored include:
– How do we shift towards family partnership as opposed to family engagement?
– How do we design the Fall full reopening in a way this is responsive to student/family needs and experiences?
– How can we partner with students to give more choice/autonomy around what and how they learn?


Our KIVA Protocol  Panel with Fellowship participants.

Throughout our sessions, we embedded community-building and active listening protocols to help our fellows honor and learn from one another. After several weeks, it became clear that our school teams were eager to find ways to move from surface-level family engagement to authentic partnership in the new school year. When we convened the group one last time to reflect on the fellowship experience, three key learnings were shared that Yanira and I believe will help other educators shift their mindset about working collaboratively with families: 

Schools, parents, and students represent a tripod — at the center, holding it together, is trust: Initial trust-building conditions for family co-creation are in the smallest moments: talking to families with no agenda beyond simply to connect or personally inviting families to a community convening. 
Educators can help develop parents into leaders: To ensure families move beyond surface-level engagement to co-creation, educators must invest in helping families develop as leaders. To truly engage as experts, our most marginalized families need both a sense of belonging and the conditions to step into their agency, including understanding how our school systems are designed in order to know how to rethink these approaches as experts.
Parents are engaged, but it’s our job to remove the barriers to more active participation: Aligning our actions to an asset-based lens rooted in the belief that parents are, and want to be, engaged is key. Our schools must continue to remove barriers, such as language, literacy, and methods of engagement to build relationships with families and meet them where they are.  

By no means is change easy nor does relationship-building of this nature happen overnight, but it’s important to remember how much power there is in even the smallest of movements. And it all starts with listening to families, because those closest to impact must be closest to power, and families have been historically deprioritized from our school systems for far too long. 

Let’s change that.


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