Head Start Family Engagement

Family engagement is crucial to the success of Head Start, the federal program committed to helping young children from low-income families learn and thrive. Engagement is based on the principle that children cannot succeed without thorough collaboration between families, educators and administrators. Effective collaboration is no simple matter. It calls for extensive coordination and the active participation of all involved. For administrators and teachers to meet their Head Start family engagement responsibilities, they must have efficient, effective tools at their disposal.

Recent trends toward blended learning and distance learning have further complicated the picture. Teachers and administrators must not only meet their in-classroom goals, but also meet the needs of children who learn both in the classroom and at home. The same holds true for those children who learn at home full-time.

Learning Genie is a nationwide leader in the creation of effective online resources for Head Start programs. We offer a comprehensive, all-in-one suite of tools designed to provide seamless family engagement services for both parents and education professionals. With our help, teachers and administrators can simplify their many Head Start-related tasks while improving outcomes across the board. Massive flexibility and a choice of app or web access make it easy to reach out to families at a distance and maintain strong, supportive bonds of communication.

Overview of Family Engagement for Education Professionals

For teachers and administrators, successful Head Start family engagement is based on a set of  relationship-based competencies, or RBCs. These competencies are goals intended to ensure that fruitful, respectful Head Start parent involvement is fostered at all times. The 10 RBCs for education professionals are:

1)  Creating relationships with families that are positive and goal-oriented

2)  Respecting the values, culture and structure of every family

3)  Helping families become advocates for their own learning and well-being

4)  Supporting parent-child relationships and parents’ lifetime roles as models for their children

5)  Helping families strengthen their connections to their communities and other parents

6)  Fostering families’ use of resources available in their communities

7)  Working with parents to improve their leadership and advocacy capabilities

8)  Collaborating with other professionals to deliver effective and coordinated services

9)  Using previous results as a starting point for ongoing program improvement

10)  Making a commitment to further development of professional family engagement skills

While the RBCs are the same for both teachers and administrators, implementation goals differ between the two groups. This makes sense, since teachers are focused on specific groups of children, while administrators must take a wider view.

The government-sponsored Head Start Early Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) has created RBC assessment tools for both teachers and administrators. These tools outline objectives and practices designed to help you fulfill the terms of each relationship-based competency. They also give you a way to track progress toward fulfilling each competency.

The following example illustrates how teachers can track their progress for the first RBC: positive, goal-oriented relationships. Administrators track their progress on a separate, role-specific tool.

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Family Engagement and the PFCE Family Interactive Framework

The ECLKC has also created a separate tool called the Parent, Family and Community Engagement (PFCE) Interactive Framework to illustrate the interconnectedness of successful Head Start family engagement. This framework outlines the progression of interaction that leads to optimal outcomes for education professionals, families and children.

PFCE Family Interactive Framework (read in progression from left to right)

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The PFCE Framework serves as useful guidance for such things as:

  • Making strategic plans for your entire organization
  • Designing and managing your program
  • Engaging in continuous learning and improvement
  • Developing your professional skill set

Implementing the RBCs: Fostering Communication

Communication is at the core of family engagement. Teachers must have a way to stay in contact with the family members of each child in their care. Those children may be present in the classroom. However, they may also be learning remotely from home. Families enrolled in Head Start programs often come from a number of diverse cultures and speak a wide range of languages. Programs must develop effective ways of communicating with all members of their communities.

The Benefits of Technology

In principle, modern technology provides an effective solution for communicating with families and encouraging engagement. However, not all technological options are equally well-suited to tackling this complex task. To achieve your goals, you must have access to the most useful options available.

Learning Genie’s suite of Head Start tools includes a dedicated Family Engagement Module. This module provides a ready avenue for two-way communications between families and teachers. It also gives teachers the ability to do such things as:

  • Make posts that detail daily activities
  • Send push notifications
  • Create RSVP notifications for virtual or in-person events
  • Provide parents with helpful reminders

Parents can access the Family Engagement Module by using email or the Learning Genie parent app. One of the module’s most important features is an auto-translation function. This function allows you to chat with families speaking any one of more than 100 different languages. The module also features a convenient text-to-speech function for easy comprehension. Together, these options help eliminate the communication barriers that often hinder Head Start services for diverse communities.

 Implementing the RBCs: Gathering Family Feedback

Timely feedback is another aspect of effective Head Start family involvement. Families must have a way to reach out to teachers and administrators and provide their insights and opinions. And educators and program staff must have a system in place for processing feedback and using it as a resource for change and improvement.

While essential, the feedback process can be cumbersome. Educators sometimes find it difficult to contact each family and solicit their information. In addition, they face a range of challenges when it comes to analyzing that information and putting it to work.

The Learning Genie all-in-one suite helps you stay on track with its convenient Survey Module. This module provides you with two options for reaching out to families and soliciting feedback:

1) A completely anonymous satisfaction survey

2) A brief questionnaire that includes identifying information

Families can access this material either online or through their app. As you receive each survey or questionnaire, you can use it to generate detailed results that you can analyze and collate with ease. The Survey Module even includes a prompt system for sending reminders to families that have yet to complete their questionnaire or survey.

Implementing the RBCs: Distance and Blended Learning

Today, distance learning and blended learning are part of everyday life for many Head Start families and educators. These learning options are sometimes a matter of choice. In other cases, it may be necessary to adopt these models in order to maximize health and safety.

However, both distance learning and blended learning come with a unique set of challenges. Teachers must have a reliable method of guaranteeing that all children receive the same access to support and classroom materials. That’s the only way to help ensure that program goals are met and children continue to make progress.

Learning Genie’s all-in-one suite provides a range of methods to help programs maintain top-quality distance and blended learning, including:

1) The Digital Portfolio Tool – This tool gives the families of distance learners effective ways to report their children’s experiences. That includes sharing both evidence and personal observations. Teachers can use this information to stay informed on each child’s progress and make any necessary adjustments.

2) Digital eBook and Learning Libraries – Parents of distance and blended learners enjoy ready access to a Head Start-approved list of books. They can also take advantage of an extensive learning library that lets them focus on specific topics of interest. In turn, teachers can use these resources to foster family engagement.

3) Virtual Events and Reminders – The all-in-one suite makes it easy for you to plan and coordinate virtual events. That includes scheduling each event and sending attendance reminders. Even when they’re not at home, families can access events through the Learning Genie app.

COVID-19 Safety Compliance

Concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the importance of effective distance and blended learning. They also underscore the need for Head Start programs to take the steps required to keep everyone as safe as possible.

That’s why Learning Genie has created a detailed reporting and monitoring system for safe re-openings that follow current public health guidelines. Specific tools used for this purpose include:

  • A convenient, digital health screening form that parents can fill out remotely
  • A contact-free way to check in and out of Head Start facilities
  • A live, health-focused dashboard for real-time information-gathering and rapid response to any potential problems

Meeting the Federal In-Kind Requirement

The federal government covers 80% of the cost of Head Start programs. The remainder of program funding must be generated at a more local level through what is known as the in-kind or non-federal share. To stay within budget and foster the goals of family engagement, many programs call on parents and families to help them meet the in-kind requirement.

Accurate tracking of in-kind contributions is often challenging. At the classroom level, teachers may need to account for the contributions of multiple families. They may also need to make specific in-kind requests.

Learning Genie’s In-Kind Module streamlines the process of enlisting Head Start parent involvement to meet the non-federal share. The module features a library of ready-to-assign activities. When families complete their assigned activities, all they have to do is log in, submit their time and verify it for teacher review. In addition to activities, families can record:

  • Their donations
  • Any mileage they’ve accumulated while working on behalf of the program

All of the information entered into the In-Kind Module is displayed to teachers and administrators in real time. This simplifies the process of carrying out daily monitoring and completing periodic reviews. The resulting data can be sent straight to your organization’s financial department.

Bringing It All Together

With so many aspects of family engagement occurring at the same time, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the big picture. That’s especially true because teachers and administrators have so many additional responsibilities to fulfill throughout the day. However, unless a larger perspective is maintained, all your efforts in fostering Head Start parent engagement may go overlooked and underutilized.

To help prevent this from happening, Learning Genie includes a centralized Family Engagement Dashboard in the all-in-one suite. This dashboard functions in real time. It allows you to drill down to weekly or monthly data for any aspect of family engagement that you wish. Want to track current levels of family or parental participation? A quick look at the dashboard will tell you what you need to know. All other data is equally accessible at all times.

Your level of analysis is customizable. Teachers and administrators can look at the data for a specific classroom. Administrators can also look at the program as a whole. Larger agencies can track multiple sites or programs.

Learning Genie Training Resources for Teachers and Administrators

It takes time to learn how to use a new web or smartphone application. The trick is to shorten the learning curve as much as possible and make it easier for everyone to get started and buy in. The simpler this process, the faster teachers and administrators can be up and running.

Learning Genie understands the importance of making the training process as convenient and straightforward as possible. To help achieve this goal, we’ve created comprehensive training handbooks for new users of the Head Start family engagement all-in-one suite. There are separate handbooks for administrators and teachers.

The Administrators’ Handbook

Administrators learn how to tackle key tasks involved in setting up Learning Genie for single or multiple facilities. That includes such things as:

  • Creating an agency or facility account
  • Adding current staff and child rosters
  • Determining access to Learning Genie according to specific roles in the program

After completing these initial tasks, administrators get tips on helping teachers adapt to the new system. In addition, they’re introduced to the specific functions of the suite that help them fulfill their management responsibilities. Crucially, administrators also learn about best practices for successfully setting up Learning Genie to foster family engagement. Examples of these practices include:

  • Ensuring that teachers are developing familiarity with the new system
  • Developing norms for using the suite to promote high-quality engagement
  • Helping teachers with the process of encouraging families to start using the web portal or smartphone app

The handbook also covers all other topics needed to help administrators get comfortable using the all-in-one suite.

The Teachers Handbook

Teachers interface with both administrators and families while using the all-in-one suite. The teacher-focused handbook explains this dual role in detail. One of the most important tasks is inviting families to start using Learning Genie. Invitations are distributed through parent codes or invitations sent via email. Each child’s code is personalized and applies only to them. The teachers’ handbook also includes a step-by-step overview of how to use Learning Genie as a resource for effective Head Start parent involvement. Each module in the suite is thoroughly outlined and explained.

Administrators have the option to issue approvals for the daily reports that teachers send to families. The handbook explains how teachers can follow this protocol and gain approvals as needed. It also details other aspects of working with administrators to make the most of Learning Genie’s many features.

Effective, Convenient Head Start Family Engagement Is Within Reach

As dedicated professionals, teachers and administrators naturally want to create successful Head Start programs. However, given the multiple roles they must fulfill throughout the day, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of program goals. That includes the absolutely critical goal of harnessing the power of active, enthusiastic family involvement.

Learning Genie is dedicated to helping Head Start programs across the country make family engagement as effective and convenient as possible. To date, more than 200 such programs have adopted our all-in-one suite of tools. Together, these programs comprise more than 10,000 individual classrooms, each filled with eager children ready to learn. For more information on what Learning Genie can do for your program, just schedule an online demonstration of our tools at a time that’s convenient for you.