WEBINAR SUMMARY: Stronger Together – Linking Learning to Family, Community and Place

Lori Grassgreen and Konrad Shak’Shaani Éesh Frank

Lori Grassgreen and Konrad Shak’Shaani Éesh Frank of AASB led participants in an interactive discussion on how educators and school staff can incorporate family, community, and place into classroom instruction. Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for families and schools to redefine roles and form partnerships to help ignite and reinforce learning. 

Their presentation began with a question:

What is a life lesson you learned from your family that still resonates with you today?

Learned lessons some of the participants shared included:

  • Honesty is key to relationships.
  • What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger..
  • One lesson that I learned from my family is also a Cup’ik value and it goes a little something like ‘there’s time to play after all your work is done”
  • When you are scorned, endure it.
  • Do your homework first before you go out and play.
  • Turn the other cheek.

We remember a lot of things we learn from our families, which build neural pathways. What we know from the research is that if the family is involved with student learning, there are better outcomes for students, including academically.

How do we make sure our school staff and our families are ready for partnering? 

One of the first steps is for schools to reach out to families. Families also need to reach out to teachers to form partnerships. The Stronger Together framework was developed by families and schools throughout Alaska, and offers foundational information and practical tools for school staff to strengthen their family partnership practices. 

How do we make sure school school staff are prepared, and families feel welcomed to the school as partners?

Building blocks include:

  1. Embedding a Mindset
  2. Relationships
  3. Culturally Responsive Partnerships
  4. Links to Learning (& Place) 
  5. Building Confidence and Skills
  6. Co-Regulation (Regulating Emotions Together)

Where the examples and experiences have come from:

  • Brain Science and Education Science
  • Dr. Karen Mapp, Joyce Epstein, Michele Brooks
  • Ao Tearoa- New Zealand
  • First Alaskans Dialogues
  • Education Science
  • Place-based Programs in Alaska and Nationally (Educators).
  • Alaska Culture Bearers
  • Zaretta Hammond: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain
  • Michele Brooks

How can we do more to link learning to family and place through partnerships? 

Relationships are the core of family partnerships. We learn more when ideas are “sticky” and are linked to our experiences. Relevant references help learning become more deeply embedded. Attendees were asked to review a list of strategies and note which ones they are actively using in their district to link families to learning. Their most commonly selected answers are highlighted in bold text. 

  • Families are told how important they are to their child’s academic, social and emotional, physical and cultural outcomes.
  • Offer easy to understand information on the subject areas and learning goals
  • Families and school staff share homework tips and ideas for activities.
  • Families can suggest topics to match key standards.
  • The team understand each other’s communication needs and learning styles.
  • Materials are adapted to local context
  • Practices including student-directed research of family members about their experience or knowledge in key areas.
  • Organize child-and-family member community learning trips
  • Send home kits (recycled materials, jars to can fish, building)
  • Build practices into easy to incorporate into family routines
  • Create a youth service-learning project especially for families
  • Use families’ talents and expertise in designing and carrying out projects
  • Invite parents to a staff in-service on preparing young children for school, new reading strategies, trauma-informed training, or improving math skills.
  • Have families post their own projects on social media
  • Text fun ideas to families once a week; create a facebook live recording.
  • Providing holistic support and services so families can more fully engage

Families Already Share Knowledge and Have Shared Experiences to Build on.

Day-to-day family Interests, experiences, and stories can provide lots of opportunities to link local learning to school. Local and regional issues can be linked to classroom learning. One way AASB has worked with districts and partners to integrate local language and culture into instruction has been through the creation of digital books that incorporate local stories, language, culture, and elders from the community.

The ideal place for Place-based and Project-based Learning is the home. It takes some creativity to incorporate into their learning process, but you can make the most out of activities students are already involved in outside the classroom.

What can you do as a board member to help support linking learning to families and place?

Participants shared the following observations:

  • One of the board’s roles is to develop a strategic plan. If you can make family-school connections a goal for the district, the superintendent can implement it. 
  • Covid hunkering has been a challenge, but it has encouraged parents to call their students teacher to establish a dialog.
  • Be intentional about including getting reports during board meetings on progress for how family-school connections are being implemented so the board can track it. 
  • Work with key staff members to invite parents inside the school for food and school conversations once a month.
  • Because of Covid there is more connection between parents and the school than ever before. This may serve as a good foundation to take forward into a post-Covid world. 
  • Develop a strategic vision based on place and environment and include it in the strategic plan. Consider budgetary considerations associated with linking family and place. 
  • Since Covid, social media has become a place for learning for many. There’s more communication between families and teachers now with online learning.
  • Develop partnerships with local businesses and organizations, which automatically gets parents involved. We get more people attending Zoom board meetings that we ever had for in person meetings, and hope this will continue. We have board work meetings and get public input. The work then gets reported back out to the community. 
  • Hire a good superintendent. Include family-school connection as criteria in the search process.
  • Developing policy to support family partnership and place-based work. 
  • Aligning curriculum to link to families and place

How can learning be linked to family, place, and solutions needed in the community?

With many students attending classes from home, linking family and community experiences to an online learning environment can be challenging. One approach is, there are lots of lessons that can be done outside or around the house. Online instructional time can then be used to discuss what students have learned and answer questions about the lessons.

Having these types of conversations and taking the time to support your students, their families, and your communities is now more important than ever. Uplifting students with familiarity, and using what they already know, will help them grow their minds and continue learning throughout their lives. 


Click the button below to access the video recording,

slideshow, and other resources from this webinar.