First 10 Blog

Practical Ideas for Deepening Family Partnerships


We at First 10 were excited to welcome Dr. Karen Mapp to our May network meeting. Dr. Mapp, a Senior Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and Faculty Director of the Education Policy and Management Master’s Program, developed the widely-used Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships for the U.S. Department of Education. At our meeting, she shared practical ideas for deepening partnerships with families. Dr. Mapp emphasized that given the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing presence of systemic racism, it is important now more than ever to cultivate and deepen liberatory, solidarity-driven, and equity-focused family engagement practices.

Dr. Mapp provided a definition of family engagement that was developed by families, educators, and policymakers in Connecticut: a full, equal, and equitable partnership among families, educators, and community partners to promote children’s learning and development from birth through college and career. Effective family engagement includes the following characteristics:

  • Relationships are based on mutual trust: mutual respect, seeing each other as competent, telling each other the truth, and holding each other in high personal regard
  • Conversations connect to student’s learning and development
  • Families are viewed as assets
  • Partnerships and activities are culturally responsive and respectful
  • Collaboration is encouraged, taking the form of listening to families and acknowledging their perspectives
  • Practices are interactive: there is a two-way flow of information-sharing

When asked by a First 10 leader how to begin incorporating this approach, Dr. Mapp urged them to start small. The first step is to understand and appreciate the power and value of deepening partnerships with families. There are benefits not only for students, but also for families, educators, schools, and communities.

The first step is to understand and appreciate the power and value of deepening partnerships with families.

The next step is to recognize that there are already family engagement activities that schools are spending time on, from open houses to parent-teacher conferences, that could be strengthened. Making a list of these practices and repurposing them to make them more effective and impactful by building in best practices—strategies and conditions from the dual capacity-building framework—is a small, manageable step toward cultivating successful partnerships.

Acknowledging the ambitious scope of her approach, Dr. Mapp answered another First 10 leader’s question by noting that none of this is sustainable nor can it be scaled without organizational conditions necessary to make it so. Educators need support: there must be a commitment on behalf of leadership. The dual-capacity framework lists three organizational conditions necessary for sustainability and scale:

  • Systemic: A strategy of teaching and learning needs to be embraced by leadership across the organization
  • Integrated: The commitment to building family engagement needs to be embedded in all strategies and across students’ transitions to higher grade levels
  • Sustained: Educators need to be provided with support, resources, and infrastructure

For more detailed information about Dr. Mapp’s approach and how to build and sustain effective family engagement practices, please consult the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, watch the recording, or view Dr. Mapp’s presentation slides.