Volume 14 | December 8, 2020
Founder's Focus: Looking Forward to 2021
During a truly remarkable 2020, my colleagues and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to reach, impact, and connect with a growing number of leaders, educators, and families through our work at Family Engagement Lab with FASTalk. Yet, as I look to 2021, what brings me the greatest hope is the feeling that our work is part of a powerful collective effort, and our organization part of a greater community working to advance equitable educational outcomes through meaningful family engagement. 

From California to Texas to Louisiana to West Virginia to Maryland, we’ve connected with passionate educational leaders who are thinking about family engagement in new and innovative ways. They are committed to improved, authentic family engagement practices; committed to high-impact family engagement that promotes student success by connecting learning that happens in the classroom with learning that happens at home. And they are driven by a shared dedication to supporting students from under-resourced communities. But what is most striking and resonant is how these leaders see families in their school communities: as critical partners and assets. They have seen the pandemic widen educational opportunity gaps and they see families as essential to the solution. 

As Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises powerfully noted in her recent EdWeek article, “we can make our “new normal” better than the old, engaging parents as the partners they are.” With a community of leaders across the country committed to authentic family-school partnership, I am optimistic that we can make our “new normal” a better normal. Our growing team at Family Engagement Lab is ready to support that journey in 2021 and beyond.

Elisabeth O'Bryon, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, Family Engagement Lab
Family Engagement Lab News
Family Engagement Lab welcomes Marci Goldberg and Hailey Kuhn to the team!
Marci Goldberg
Chief Operating Officer
Hailey Kuhn
Head of Partnerships
FASTalk Connection
In partnership with the Louisiana Department of Education, we’re excited to be kicking off new early childhood FASTalk pilots in Allen, Morehouse, and Tangipahoa Parishes. Families of 3- and 4-year old students will receive weekly text messages prompting regular engagement and support around critical cognitive, social and emotional, language/communication, and movement/physical developmental milestones.
The Louisiana Department of Education, like so many other agencies, developed a response approach to best support the networks and communities in navigating a challenging and uncertain time due to the global pandemic. Our partnership with Family Engagement Lab is supporting the opportunity to continue to engage with families through a virtual model (FASTalk) so that families understand how children develop and feel equipped to take action when there are concerns. The ability to implement strategies for ongoing touchpoints with families gives us hope that we will continue to monitor the individual needs of all children and provide intentional support, regardless of their educational environment.” 
-Britt Braun, 619B Coordinator, Office of Teaching and Learning, Louisiana Department of Education
Meaningful Moments
In “Conversations that Matter: Talking with Children About Big World Issues,” NAEYC shares basic guidelines to help educators hold meaningful conversations with children in the face of difficult events and situations.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has produced a broad sense of unease and fear which transmits the message that the world is not safe (however much adults try to shield young children). Many children in quarantine with their families are experiencing exceptional amounts of screen time—and having to make sense of images, ideas, and terminology that can foster fear and prejudice. Included in these messages are racist ideas falsely attributing the cause of the coronavirus to people of Chinese descent and, by extension, to people of other Asian and Pacific ethnicities. However, as challenging as this period is, it also offers opportunities to engage young children in rich, meaningful conversations. 

In addition, beginning in the month of May and beyond, even very young children heard about, saw on television, or saw in person the wide-spread demonstrations focusing on the need to end racism in police systems and other societal institutions. Children need help making sense of what they are seeing and hearing. These conversations also offer us important teachable moments to engage young children in discussion about their identities, human diversity, fairness and unfairness, and the right of people to stand up for their beliefs.

*This article is adapted from the blog, “Conversations that Matter: Talking with Children About Big World Issues,” and Chapter 4 of the NAEYC book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, 2nd edition, by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards, with Catherine M. Goins.
Family Talk: What are parents saying about FASTalk? Join the conversation and share their thoughts with us.
FASTalk Weekly Activity

Monday: This week, ask your child to retell a favorite story. You're helping them practice ordering & summarizing - key 1st grade reading skills!

Wednesday: Ask: what came first, next, last? Make sure they include major events and characters as they retell the story.
"Esta muy bien la idea de los mensajes ya que a veces como padre no sabe uno como ayudar a los hijos y esto es de gran ayuda. Muchas gracias." (The idea of ​​the messages is very good since sometimes as a parent one doesn’t know how to help their kids and this is a huge help. Thank you very much.)

-Parent, Mesa Public School, Arizona
"[FASTalk is] good for families who aren't sure how to incorporate learning into everyday activities."

-Parent, Alameda Unified, California
Educator Highlight: Theresa Lozach, Site Administrator for Burbank Preschool and Diagnostic Center, Oakland Unified School District
This month's Educator Highlight features Principal Theresa Lozach, an outstanding site administrator committed to family engagement in early childhood. In order to ensure a smooth implementation, Theresa went above and beyond by working with the FASTalk team to create a custom playlist of messages with high-quality FASTalk tips modified for families with students with disabilities. She is also piloting the use of school leader-level messaging to inform families about resources and virtual events.

"The Early Childhood Department in Oakland Unified (OUSD) began the use of FASTalk this fall to fill a critical need: to communicate easily and regularly with families in multiple languages. 

As many people are aware, OUSD has families that speak over 40 languages — and it has never been easy to make sure that all of our families have the information and the tools they need to support their children's development. 

FASTalk has opened the doors of communication for our teachers and administrators that we have never had before, and have done it with a spirit of partnership and openness. The people at FASTalk are interested in what our department thinks and how the tool could work better for us. And after they are done listening, they go to work making improvements and adjustments. I don't know what we would have done without FASTalk during this intense time of serving families in distance learning."
FASTalk Tip of the Month: Make time to connect with your FASTalk families over the holidays
As you approach winter break, take a moment to deepen the connection with your families and send a positive message, especially to those you haven’t heard from in a while. Check out these tips for teachers created by Oakland Unified School District’s attendance support services team for the “Everyone & Every Day Counts: OUSD Attendance Campaign”:
Tips for Phone Calls/Texts Home to Parent/Guardian

  • Start out the call introducing yourself. Many parents only get contacted when there is an issue, so start with a warm introduction. Immediately assure the parent that there is not an emergency and you are calling to share positive news.
  • Share something positive. It can be a piece of schoolwork that a student worked hard on, a positive trait you saw the student demonstrate, growth on a skill level, or something the student is excited about.
  • Allow time for them to ask questions. For meaningful relationship building it is important to make the conversation 2-way. Allow them to share something they are excited about, or ask about something at school. 
  • Thank the caretaker for their time.
Remember that you can send a text message to your entire class and it will be automatically translated into each parent/caregiver’s home language. Or, you can send personalized, individual messages to each student’s family. Follow this step-by-step guide to send your own messages through FASTalk.

The holidays can be a stressful time for many families even during normal circumstances, so it’s an opportunity to re-engage hard-to-reach parents/caregivers and remind them that they are a valued part of the school community. 

Questions? Find helpful information on the Teacher Resources page or email us at support@fastalk.org.
Share the Good News
As teachers, you can encourage parents to become more involved in their child's learning by providing them with quick tips on how to support learning at home. Here are a few social media posts to use this month to help build family engagement in your classroom or school.
#FASTalk is having a powerful impact on the achievement of English Learners, students from low-income backgrounds, and students who start the year behind their peers academically. Learn more: http://www.familyengagementlab.org/ #familyengagement #FELfamilies
During a recent FASTalk activity, a parent shared the following feedback, “¡Muchas gracias me encanta estos consejos!” (Thank you very much I love these tips!) Parents, what do you think of #FASTalk?
Contact Us
Have questions? Email us at felcommunications@fastalk.org.
Don't forget to follow us on social media for the latest tools and resources to support family engagement.