In this Interview, Dr. Maria Paredes and Kari Pryor discuss Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT), a model of family engagement that is research based and aligns grade-level learning concepts, student performance data, and family-teacher communication and collaboration. Dr. Paredes is a Senior Engagement Manager at WestEd and leads Family Community Engagement and APTT. Pryor is an Professional Learning Coordinator at Carson City School District, in Carson City, Nevada.
*Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
What was the Genesis of APTT?
Paredes: I came from teaching in the classroom to being a school administrator and then became the District Director of family and engagement at Creighton Elementary School District in Phoenix, Arizona. My responsibility was to oversee family engagement and family services for the district. What I noticed was that there was a very big gap in information for parents in how their child was performing in school and what they can do to support them. Teachers felt that they gave families all the information and that they talked to families about their children, but families didn’t necessarily understand what the benchmarks meant or what they could do to help.
The only time formally available for teachers and parents to communicate was during parent-teacher conferences, and when teachers met with parents 15-20 minutes, twice a year, that wasn’t enough time to have deep discussions, develop relationships and share strategies that help parents understand how their child was doing. It also wasn’t enough time for teachers to know the parents and understand the assets they brought to the table.
There was a clear need for a more updated system for parents and teachers to come together, and taking the time of conferences and making it more collaborative, and more often.
What inspired Carson City to adopt APTT?
Pryor: We had a previous partnership with WestEd and we found the APTT model aligned with the approach we wanted to take. The significance of APTT is that you’re saying to parents that we want them as partners in education. This isn’t a spaghetti dinner or a movie night, we’re going to actually talk about student data. We’re going to ask parents to make a SMART goal and commit to that goal, and we’re saying to the families that we need them as a partner in academics. It was really giving parents some ownership of their students’ academics. Depending on the demographic you’re dealing with, the parent may feel like they can’t be partners, they’re not sure how to help their students, and we were saying to them that we want to be partners in this and support you and give you the skills. All to encourage parents and build their efficacy.
What is the actual model and timeline that people should follow?
Pryor: With APTT, it starts out with a whole community meeting to begin the school year in early September. At that first initial meeting, it’s all the parents of one classroom together, looking at one data set and setting a goal that’s usually a foundational skill that students are always working on like high frequency words, fluency reading, computation- skills that look familiar to parents so it gives the parents a point of familiarity.
The second meetings are individual meetings. This is so teachers and families still feel like they have their own personal time, and we do that in October, so that they can look at the goal that is set. At that time students receive a progress report, so they’re able to look over the goal and look at student’s progress on that and all of the other academic areas, because it is occurring during the normal parent teacher conference time.
There were then two more team meetings, one in January, and then have that final meeting in March and we really use that as our final push to encourage parents to prepare their students for testing happening in May.
How are the meetings themselves structured?
It starts with a team building activity to break the ice and continue building relationships. Then the teacher introduces the foundational grade-level skill or skills- sometimes there may be one in math and one in language arts. Then the teachers go over their datasets that they’re going to share with parents. The parents get to see the assessment the students took to learn and discuss the data graph. They have time to discuss it with each other and discuss it with the teacher to understand how their child is doing in that particular skill. The fourth part is teachers model practice activities. These activities are to help parents to know what to do to practice those particular skills, to give parents insight into the types of games and activities that reinforce the skills. The parents get to practice the activities with each other so they understand how to do then. The final part of the meeting is setting a goal, based on that data graph and where they want to be by the next team meeting. In the next team meeting they get a post assessment so they can see what progress was made between the last team meeting and the current to hold everyone accountable and so families can see how effective their practice at home can be.
How do you accommodate these meetings for ESL/ELL families?
Pryor: At each of the APTTs we have an interpreter there. We also emphasize that it doesn’t always have to be the parent, its whoever is with that child can support the learning at home, then we open it up to a sibling, or a cousin, or grandma or the babysitter. Whoever is supporting the child at home, we encourage to be brought to the APTT.
How do you ensure a high attendance and all families are getting the benefits of this meeting, even if they can’t attend?
Pryor: We chose a time that seemed to increase attendance, we had a great turnout district wide with 58% attending the initial meeting. We surveyed parents on what time worked best and it varied in different schools. The teachers did follow-up one on one meetings with parents that weren’t able to attend. Some of our meetings were held directly after drop off some were in the evenings. On the RSVP form we encourage parents if they can’t attend, to send someone in their place. Some parents sent a grandparent or the evening babysitter, an older brother. We wanted to make it accessible to as many families as possible.
Paredes: We want to make sure no parents go without information, so if parents can’t attend the meeting, there needs to be a follow up. Schools aren’t aiming for 100% attendance, but aiming for 100% of parents getting the information. The meetings are held when the most families can attend, but you work to make sure everyone gets the information. Teachers aren’t always accustomed to doing this much outreach, this is often the greatest point of development for them. It’s really on the educator to initiate the communication and the relationship.
How are you ensuring that families don’t feel that their child singled out for being lower? How is that conversation structured?
Pryor: Many teachers have this concern before they experience it. The entire class’s data is on one graph and on the x axis is numbers and the parents know what number their child is. At the beginning of the meeting every parent is given a folder and the folder contains what number their child is. Teachers were apprehensive but families are excited to learn how their child is doing as soon as the school year starts so they don’t have to backtrack and find out this information when it’s too late. The information is shared early so it’s less of a conversation around being behind, and instead it’s a conversation around working towards the benchmark goal by the end of the school year.
How are you able to get educators on board? What's the time commitment and commitment on their end?
Pryor: This was a pilot program and we asked for volunteer teachers. We held informational meetings and I shared the information that WestEd had available. A county to the north of us had already implemented APTT and we had met with them and we had data and feedback and I was able to share their story to the teachers. We were seeking teachers that were seeking something different and are always reflecting and wanted to work with the families.
We funded 40 teachers the first year to pilot the program and we have around 225 elementary teachers total so it was a nice number so it was a nice number to start. I spearheaded APTT from the district levels and worked with the teachers, because we are a small district- around 8000 students. I can manage it as part of my role, but know that as I step away, principals need to carry the program and be engaged every step of the way.
The teachers that have started doing APTT are fired up about it and really love and believe in it.
Our parent surveys were extremely positive and principals were excited about it, but principals also have a lot on their plate. If there’s ordering to be done, or figuring out the calendar and the babysitting and the interpreter calendar and the administrative work, I did that- and now we’ve turned it over to the sites, they recognize that it’s great, but one more thing they have to do.
Is there a partnership at the district level that you encourage to fill in the gap of the logistics?
Paredes: For the most part, we implement APTT where both the schools and the teachers are going to be a part of it. The principals and instructional coaches have to participate in professional development so the competence and the capacity stays at the school but also at the district level.
We also have what’s called a readiness checklist that the building principal uses and goes over to see if their school is ready including the buy in from the teachers, from the families, that they have time to plan and outreach to families, to put together the materials and powerpoint and everything that goes into having an organized and well attended meeting. All of that necessitates time.
What were some of the challenges you experienced during implementing, and some of the lessons learned?
Pryor: One of the challenges we experienced was building the structure. This included offering childcare to increase attendance. Another was scheduling- if we were going to host your APTTs during all the same times, we had to make sure we had a Spanish interpreter in the greater majority of the rooms. The third challenge was supporting teachers to presenting to a group of adults. Teachers talk and facilitate learning all day long, but some of them are not comfortable or trained in adult learning and when you pull a group of parents together who can be chatty and hesitant to engage. Our West Ed trainer acknowledged all of that and helped our teachers through it. She would go to the meetings for the teachers that were nervous, and was responsive in answering questions and helping in any way possible.
What were some of the expected and unexpected outcomes from implementing this model?
Pryor: From the family side, we surveyed them at the beginning and the end of the year asking them questions like “are you confident in supporting your learner?”. By the end of the school year, their confidence had increased greatly. They now had a relationship with the teacher and felt comfortable asking about other things happening in the classroom.
The teachers confidence grew in interacting with families. Teachers reported very positive outcomes. Some felt that it was time consuming but those that chose not to continue felt that it was time consuming, but we had very few drop out.
for more information visit: https://www.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/services-appt-brochure.pdf