June 17, 2015
Just like the youth your programs serve, no two families are alike. Often we think of diversity just as race or ethnicity, but it has many other aspects (e.g., social class, geography, age, abilities). Acknowledging and better understanding differences can help build cultural competence and break down barriers to family engagement in your programs.
What comes to mind when you think of culture? Many people compare culture to an iceberg because the surface aspects of people’s cultures, or parts that the world sees such as style of dress and types of food, make up only a small part of the whole culture. Most people’s ideas of who they are and their culture come from much deeper aspects of self, such as religious beliefs, family ties and ideas about friendship.
During a recent Family Engagement and cultural competence training activity, participants reflected on what they believed were their surface aspects of culture and what they believed were deeper aspects. After, participants shared with partners, and a few commented that this activity helped them realize how often we make assumptions about families and don’t ever get to know them on a deeper level. When we understand families on a deeper level, we will better understand the students we serve and increase our ability to engage them and their families in our programs.
There are many strategies you can use to make culturally diverse families feel more welcome and involved in your programs, and to overcome the challenges to family engagement. Consider using an Understanding Families Program questionnaire at the beginning of the year to start building communication. This will help families share information and see themselves as resources for the program. Be proactive in building relationships with families through parent newsletters, good news postcards or other ideas from the Reaching Out to Families tool. Plan intentional and personalized next steps with the Knowing Families and Cultures tool to consider a variety of methods for involving families.
Our approach to understanding and connecting to each family and understanding their culture must be personalized and based on research. Help your staff actively recognize their individual cultural lenses and/or biases and learn how to be respectful of families and children by engaging in cultural competence scenarios. Also check out the Family Engagement Resource Providers webinars for effective tips, strategies and activities to support family engagement efforts.
For more web-based resources to improve family engagement into your program, visit Y4Y’s Family Engagement Learn More Library.
Also, please be sure to check out the Family Engagement plenary panel discussion and many breakout sessions that will occur at the Summer Institute in Dallas, Texas. More details will come soon, so stay tuned for announcements from our partner federal contractors.