Develop and Strengthen Family and Community Partnerships

Develop and Strengthen Family and Community Partnerships

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is reinforced and sustained when districts, families, and community partners align and work together.

Below you’ll find an overview of: WHAT high-quality implementation looks like, WHY it’s important, WHEN to engage in this key activity, and WHO to involve. Also see the PROCESS page for step-by-step guidance on how to engage in the work, and the RESOURCES page for additional tools to support your efforts.

What are family and community partnerships that support SEL?


Family and community partnerships consist of far more than public relations or sharing SEL strategies to try at home. A genuine district-family partnership prioritizes a two-way flow of information and perspectives and engages families to guide a district’s decision-making and drive sustainability of SEL. A strong district-family partnership leverages families’ expertise and diversity to ensure that SEL is taught in culturally responsive ways that celebrate the assets, identity, and diversity students bring to school, making SEL more impactful and lasting.

Districts develop strong family partnerships when they:

Prioritize positive staff-family relationships and develop strategies for two-way communication with families at the district and school levels.

Provide regular opportunities for family partners to build understanding of SEL and experience the district’s approach to SEL.

Offer meaningful opportunities for families to participate and collaborate in SEL goal-setting, decision-making, and reflecting on data for continuous improvement.

Regularly collect feedback about families’ experiences and changing needs, and use these data to improve family partnership strategies.

Use the Rubric to assess your approach to developing family partnerships.

Community partnerships for SEL leverage relationships with external organizations or groups that have the potential to reinforce social and emotional skill development, whether the setting is during the school day, before or after school, inside the school, or out in the community. For some community partners, SEL may be a primary part of their mission, while for others it may be a fortunate byproduct. Either way, districts can provide guidelines, training, and technical support to ensure that schools and their partners recognize common goals, adopt aligned frameworks and language for SEL, and coordinate practices to model and reinforce SEL for students.

Districts develop strong community partnerships when they work with partners to:

Intentionally align the language and practices they use to describe and promote SEL.

Ensure that SEL is a priority during the school day and during out-of-school time.

Ensure that students and families have access to a broad range of SEL-related community services.

Use the Rubric to assess your approach to developing SEL-related community partnerships.

Why does my district need family and community partnerships?


SEL doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom. All social interactions are learning experiences, and many of a young person’s formative experiences will take place in informal learning environments at home and other social spaces. Family and community partnerships build bridges between a school and the world students experience outside of its walls.

Family and community partners are situated to model, reinforce, and sustain SEL. When young people see peers and adults outside of school modeling the same social and emotional skills they are learning about and practicing in the classroom, these skills become more than just the answer to a teacher’s question. They see social and emotional skills as central to the way they process events and interact in the world.

Research suggests that evidence-based SEL programs are more effective when they include strategies for connecting with students’ families (Albright & Weissberg, 2010). Families can provide educators with key insights about their children, their community, their assets, their culture, and their values. School districts can build upon and learn from these funds of knowledge (Mapp et al., 2013) and the strategies that families and community partners are already using to support SEL as they plan for and continuously improve districtwide SEL implementation.

When should my district develop family and community partnerships?


Districts should involve family and community members as partners on the front end, as they set a vision and make important decisions about how SEL will be rolled out, what curricula and SEL strengthening practices will be promoted, or what SEL or school climate guidelines or standards will become policy. This will pay dividends down the road in the implementation phase—a plan that has community support and has been shaped to the unique culture and characteristics of the community will have greater school and staff member buy-in. It will also be more likely to be sustained over time and have the desired impact with students.

Family and community partners should also be included in the way the district collects and reflects on data used to measure progress toward SEL goals. Partners can support with designing research methods, surveys or interviews, collecting data, and interpreting and acting on data to continuously improve.

During implementation, districts also should play a role in facilitating school-based processes to strengthen family and community partnerships. Districts should set a clear vision for school-level partnerships, provide resources so that schools can meet expectations, and create a structure to provide technical assistance and accountability.

Who needs to be involved?


When cultivating partnerships with families, a district should take care to engage families who represent the widest range of family structures, backgrounds, circumstances, and perspectives. In any district, there are parent advocates who readily volunteer for a leadership role or are quick to voice their point of view or suggestions for improvement. It is essential to include families beyond the most outspoken advocates, and in particular those who experience marginalization based on race, class, language, or immigration status (Ishimaru, 2020). This requires district staff to do outreach in culturally competent ways, ensure all families receive information in a way they understand, and feel welcome and encouraged to participate in processes that impact their children’s learning.

Likewise, individual schools build trust with families when they are aware of and responsive to community needs, cultural practices, and history, and when they center the voices of students, families, and the community as they set goals and make decisions. Districts should guide school teams to approach family and community partnership equitably and ensure families are able to contribute in meaningful ways to shape SEL implementation.

When connecting with community partners, districts should reach out to organizations that provide direct support for a significant percentage of students and have potential to incorporate social and emotional skill-building into their program or support model. This might include:

  • OST providers
  • Recess support
  • Summer programs
  • Academic enrichment or arts programs
  • Tutoring or mentorship services
  • Parks department, athletic leagues, YMCA
  • Organizations that employ many high school-aged youth
  • Social service organizations
  • Counseling, social skill-building, or mental health services
  • Restorative justice organizations
  • Churches
  • Shelters
  • Organizations that host students for service projects
  • Juvenile justice
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