Meeting the ever-changing needs of our communities:
Feedback loops are a best practice in all industries because making assumptions about what people need and want wastes time and resources. Providing multiple opportunities for family voice is essential. Learning with and from families eliminates guesswork, identifies unmet needs, and ensures that what we provide is responsive, relevant, and accessible. We must honor the time and trust families invest in sharing by being open to all feedback and explaining what we will do with the information they have shared.
Communication preferences and language change at a rapid pace. Having families collaborate on the development of materials and resources ensures that what we put out there is easy to understand and distributed in places where families look for information.
Increasing capacity, expanding our reach, and building community: We are more “connected” than ever, yet families and caregivers share they’ve never felt more isolated. As professionals, we can’t reach everyone on our own. By bringing diverse groups of families into our work, we expand our networks and capacity for reaching and connecting with more people. As a result, we cultivate community and make real connections.
Building trusting relationships: When families feel welcome and are valued members of our team, we gain clarity around each other’s roles, responsibilities, strengths, and challenges. This intimate knowledge of each other strengthens relationships and builds trust. Engagement becomes less of an obligation and more of a priority for everyone.
Sustainability and future engagement: People become invested and engaged when they feel understood, valued, and validated. They will remember and share the impact of their involvement with others for years to come.
Build mindset & culture
Mindset makes the difference when it comes to moving from check-the-box family engagement to meaningful and impactful family engagement.
Creating an environment where families and professionals thrive
Research shows that the most effective teams are ones where everyone does not share the same perspective or experiences. However, it is natural to have concerns about bringing new people with different experiences and perspectives on board. It is necessary to discuss these concerns candidly and explore strategies to support team members as the group expands and dynamics change. Below are a few questions to help guide an initial discussion.
How do team members feel about bringing family members on board?
How will bringing family members into this work help shape the development of programs, services, and policies?
How will bringing family members on board improve our culture?
What are some concerns folks have about bringing families to our table?
What assumptions do we have that we need to explore?
How can we ensure that all voices are heard, respected, and validated?
How will confidentiality be handled?
How will we cultivate an environment that is safe for all team members to be vulnerable, courageous, open, and flexible?
How can we embrace the differences of each team member?
How can we recognize and leverage the individual strengths of each team member?
It is the role of the team leader to model the culture for all members (family and professional) by encouraging and developing mindsets that are open, flexible, collaborative, and courageous. Just as we nurture the children we care about to adopt a growth mindset, we must do the same as family-professional team members.
Establish vision & goals
Having a clear sense of purpose and specific goals aligned with that purpose will keep everyone on track and leave room for the unexpected.
Establishing and documenting a team vision tells stakeholders who you are, what you do, and how your work benefits the community. Your vision will also serve as a beacon to which you can align your goals and actions. Vision planning, when done well, will be easily understood by the people who will benefit from your work and remain relevant.
Setting goals and priorities are critical to the success of any group or organization. Doing so helps streamline your team’s efforts and eliminates the risk of taking on too many projects that could potentially overwhelm team members. It also leaves time to address issues or needs that could surface in your community throughout the year.
Everyone comes to the table with different passions and missions. A vision and goals statement will set clear expectations for current and future team members, and the community at large.
Remember, families and professionals give their time and energy to work they are passionate about, and they are often are focused on taking action. It is helpful to establish your vision and annual goals as early as possible so that members can focus on the work ahead.
Vision and goal planning is often best facilitated by a knowledgeable third party trained in many vision and goal development protocols to identify the model that works best for the unique needs of the team.
Clearly define roles & expectations
Manage expectations, leverage each person’s strengths, and maximize the capacity of the team.
Providing clarity around team member roles, responsibilities, and expectations will;
Maximize the team’s capacity by preventing duplication of work and streamlining communication.
Leverage each member’s strengths and identify gaps.
Help members understand the commitment they are making by taking a seat at the table and what supports they will need to participate. Supports could include childcare, transportation, technology to participate in virtual meetings, background knowledge about a particular topic, or training and coaching.
Select diverse team members
Multiple perspectives will build broader solutions, provide access to more networks, and increase the collective thinking of the entire group.
It may sound like a simple question, but taking time to reflect on the different populations we serve and the different values, experiences, and perspectives each person has will tell us a lot about who needs to be at the table. We can’t reach everyone on our own and need members of different subgroups to help us understand and reach everyone.
Each community is different and has its own unique set of subgroups. The idea is to have many perspectives at the table to build broader solutions and have a wider breadth of networks, skills, and strengths to leverage.
Some subgroups to consider are;
Single and multi-parent households
Parents of children with disabilities
Parents who represent different cultures, races, and ethnicities
Grandparents who care full time for their grandchildren
Adoptive and foster parents
Families with multiple socio-economic circumstances
Look for team members that are not the “usual suspects.” We want partners that will challenge each other, surface the tough conversations, and increase the collective thinking of the entire group. If we only work with those who agree with us, we are likely to miss opportunities and solutions that could have a significant impact.
We can help
Of course, building working relationships like these is not always instinctual, which is why PIC and NHFV have programs that support both parents and professionals to build their capacity for this type of partnership through education and personalized coaching. We encourage you to reach out to us and discuss your family engagement goals and challenges.
Provide necessary supports
Supports to consider providing to ensure families and professionals have what they need to collaborate effectively.
Remember to ask members what support they might need to be an active team member. Opportunities for training, coaching, and gaining knowledge to become an effective team member should be available to all.
Make an effort to connect with all members regularly between meetings to keep them engaged, identify necessary supports, and debrief with them on their experiences at the table to ensure everyone feels supported.
Additional considerations to support members;
Subcommittees can be an effective and flexible way to collaborate and get the work done while meeting the needs of all members.
Virtual meetings can increase accessibility.
Materials that explain the team’s vision and goals are helpful for new and existing members.
Past meeting minutes, background information, and resources relevant to the work support the onboarding of new members.
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