Parents & Schools: Putting a FACE on a School

By Joe Mazza
Principal, March/April 2013

Principals, assistant principals, directors, and superintendents can serve as family engagement deal makers or breakers. If school leaders don’t understand and respond to family engagement research and lead the charge, best practice family engagement is highly unlikely to occur.

At Knapp Elementary School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, we put together a family engagement team made up of parents and teachers to evolve our school’s family and community engagement (FACE) offerings. We chose the acronym “FACE” because it represents the most important ingredient in engaging all families: the face-to-face interactions with eye contact, tone, empathy, and mutual respect that help build strong relationships between home and school.

From tweeting back and forth between home and school, to virtual home and school association meet­ings, to sending hard copies of documents home regularly for families without Internet access, this elementary school offers a comprehensive two-way communication menu for families.

Root of Our Efforts
Knapp Elementary School is a diverse K-6 school of 600 students. Of the 22 languages spoken at home in our school community, Bengali, Korean, and English are the most common. While 40 percent of Knapp’s students live in poverty, others live in million-dollar houses. We seek to engage all families.

We firmly believe in making school learning as transparent as possible for our families. Our core beliefs are well-articulated in the 2006 book, Beyond the Bake Sale:

  • Core Belief 1: All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them.
  • Core Belief 2: All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning.
  • Core Belief 3: Parents and school staff should be equal partners.
  • Core Belief 4: The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.

Knapp Elementary parents and teachers discussed Beyond the Bake Sale during an evening book chat to delve deeper into the core beliefs and other strategies offered for parents, educators, and leaders.

Extreme School Lobby Makeover
Recognizing that the lobby is the public face of the school, our family engagement team began its efforts by overhauling the sterile and traditional “waiting room” look to create a warm, friendly, multilingual, fun, and innovative design.

Our daily goal is to welcome and honor families and to connect them to learning. We want our school community to feel like a family. Among the elements of a welcoming lobby are:

  • A warm office staff member who greets everyone who walks in within 10 seconds;
  • A front desk that looks like a concierge for families;
  • A parent-resource center filled with applicable and timely resources;
  • Multi-grade level student work on display;
  • Student, parent, and staff recognition areas; and
  • An LCD monitor with scrolling student learnings, tweets, and/ or photos.

Our lobby helped set the tone for family engagement goals to come to fruition.

Technology cannot replace the eye contact, tone, empathy, and mutual respect that speaking with someone face-to-face provides us as humans. But tools such as Skype and Facetime provide opportunities to have these discussions when physical meetings are not possible.

Through short technology surveys, we identified that 93 percent of our families are on either cell phones or computers with Internet access each day. With this data in mind, we crafted a menu of options for two-way communications. For families who do not have a computer and do not understand English, sending home a translated hard copy of what we have shared electronically is important as part of our commitment to equal access for all of our families.

We began our eFACE efforts by setting up a mass Google account to send broadcast email. After six years, we have more than 500 email addresses in our database. We have used this tool to link parents to vari­ous resources without sending large files and to implement other one-way communication efforts.

Through a solid partnership with our home and school association, we share many of the tools used to engage families, including a family engagement wiki. On that wiki, par­ents and teachers add and archive resources and events for families. Instead of sending out large docu­ments and flyers, information is housed in the wiki and parents are sent a link to the content.

The FACE team chose to develop a wiki, which means “quick” in Hawaiian, because it is quick and easy to update content and serves as a two-way tool, much like a blog. Staff time is more effectively spent teaching students and collaborating with other educators rather than struggling with formatting a website. Feedback from our families suggests that the wiki provides a user-friendly interface with lots of information for new and veteran families to digest throughout the school year.

One of our family engagement goals has been to get more parents involved in the leadership of our home and school association, which typically only attracted 15 to 20 par­ents to its monthly discussion. Enter Home & School 2.0, a live audio and video feed of our meeting. Through this effort, we grew our monthly participation from eight to 58 partici­pants in just three months. Our large population of working moms and dads now has a free option to tune in from home or work.

Knapp’s robust menu of family engagement offerings features the following:

  • eFACE Today blog (http://eface, regularly updated by principal)
  • Twitter (@KnappElementary, updated daily by staff, #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) hosted by principal weekly)
  • Facebook ( elementary, facilitated by Home & School Association)
  • Family Engagement Wiki (knapp
  • Knapp Elementary Family Engage­ment App (free download for Apple and Android)
  • eBully Reporting System, eBucket Filler, eVolunteer (all on app & wiki)
  • Zippslip family communication system
  • Home & School monthly 2.0 broadcasts
  • Google Textline (texting options to and from Joe Mazza’s iPad)
  • Remind101 (text alert system for emergency cancellations)
  • PollEverywhere (real-time polls for in-meeting feedback)
  • TodaysMeet (a backchannel tool that works much like Twitter with­out a log-in requirement)
  • KnappModo (Edmodo set up for students in grades 4-6 with parent access)
  • Google Picasa Photo Account (Knapp Elementary)
  • Google Translate on each wikipage
  • Language Line (conference call interpreting service for families)
  • KnappTV (YouTube Channel for student broadcasts)
  • Audioboo (Knapp Audio Channel for quick school announcements)
  • (students blog about life at Knapp Elementary)

Knapp’s family engagement team has carefully sculpted the school’s FACE over the past six years. The school’s FACE is open, friendly, accessible, and transparent. It will continue to evolve as new technolo­gies emerge to further Knapp’s goal to engage all families.

Joe Mazza is lead learner of Knapp Elementary School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.


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