Welcome to the Turnaround for Children Toolbox! Please tell us about your professional role so we can learn about our community and provide you with the most relevant tools and resources.

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Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child


Family, Caregiver and Community Partnerships

Children develop within a context of relationships that extend beyond the school walls and that are central to their learning and development. In schools guided by a whole-child purpose, families, caregivers, and community stakeholders are engaged inclusively in partnership with school staff to co-create and contribute to the school culture and learning community. Through these partnerships, a wide range of community supports, resources and perspectives strengthen the developmental and learning experiences for all students. These relationship-filled contexts don’t happen by chance—intentional individual and collective actions disrupt traditionally uneven power dynamics and patterns of exclusion, creating contexts where all partners belong, are heard and are valued.


Welcoming and Accessible School Environment

The school environment feels impersonal, overly procedural or disorganized. Visitors often find it difficult to navigate the school and interact with staff, which may resurface or reinforce some visitors’ own negative experiences with schools.

Interactions between school staff and the broader community (families, caregivers, community members) are often directive and transactional, rather than bi-directional and relational. There is limited engagement in building adult relationships across roles and lines of difference (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language). For these reasons, students, families and communities may be stereotyped or problematized.

Family, caregiver and community engagement is planned with little input from participants about location, timing or content of the event or meeting. This may result in the exclusion of those who are unable to attend events/meetings during regular school hours or low attendance due to poor communication, lack of collaborative planning or lack of perceived relevance. Rarely are attempts made to modify school approaches to family, caregiver and community engagement.

Inclusive Partnership and Shared Power

Opportunities to engage in discussions and decisions that impact the school are often limited to school staff. This restricts opportunities for other members of the community to contribute their values, experiences, culture and expertise into shaping the school environment (including school goals, norms, policies and student supports).

Decision making and partnership are characterized by a top-down, high-control approach (e.g., school leadership creates a policy that all school community members follow) and engages a subset of families and community members in constrained activities and advisory input (e.g., PTA meetings, logistical use of a community space for a school function).

This type of perfunctory and limited inclusion can contribute to a schoolwide culture that signals school staff (often, school leaders) as the owners and exclusive experts on the needs of the school community.


Communication often takes place in one-way exchanges between individuals, with the purpose of sharing information, not opening dialogue (e.g., notices sent home with students, a teacher phone call to report a concern, a presentation on a new policy). Language supports are rare and must be advocated for. Students, or a subset of multi-lingual staff, often carry the burden of communicating and translating between school and home.

The content of the communication is largely defined by academic and behavioral topics and often occurs in a reactive manner (e.g., student misbehavior, missing assignments), which can result in strained or damaged relationships.

Due to a lack of normed and systematized communication practices, families and caregivers may experience vastly different frequencies of communication (e.g., some never hear from a teacher, others are constantly being called by school staff) and inconsistent access to information. Communication rarely reaches beyond current families/caregivers, neglecting the school as part of a larger community.

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Welcoming and Accessible School Environment

The school environment is inconsistently warm and accessible. Visitors may sometimes experience ease navigating the school, accessing individuals or information, or engaging as a member of the school community, while other times they might experience difficulty and confusion. These experiences may arise differentially based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability or language.

The types of interactions between members of the school community may vary by individual and setting. Some staff may make a significant and successful effort to connect with parents, caregivers and community members, while others are less relationship oriented in their interactions. Similarly, some interactions and experiences may feel friendly and inclusive (e.g., a community potluck), while others are intimidating or hard to access (e.g., a special education meeting, conferences).

There are instances of collaborative planning to support a welcoming environment, but often in gated groups or with a predictable set of stakeholders (e.g., planning that takes place with only PTA members). There are missed opportunities to more inclusively engage family, caregiver and community members due to lack of monitoring and outreach.

Inclusive Partnership and Shared Power

Opportunities for more inclusive partnership and shared power between school staff, families/caregivers and community members are being explored and may be in place in certain venues or with certain partners.

Some traditional power dynamics are dismantled, giving greater voice and decision-making opportunities to a more diverse group of school community members. However, this is not yet a common practice across school settings and for all stakeholders. Often, the people who are given more inclusive and meaningful opportunities are identified as “safe” and “agreeable,” and/or have societally attributed power (e.g., white families, community members of influence). Traditional roles and power dynamics are often present in the most consequential school decisions (e.g., decisions on schoolwide policies, curriculum, budget, annual goals).


Inclusive and bi-directional communication may be present for some individuals in some spaces. For example, annual family/caregiver surveys are available in home language and format, but typical classroom forms and notices are rarely translated. Families and caregivers are able to utilize some standard methods for communication with the school (e.g., phone calls, arranging a meeting, sending a note), but the process may not be experienced as timely, and some families/caregivers may not feel comfortable engaging fully and authentically.

Some communications may reflect whole-child considerations, while others may not. For example, a class newsletter may detail academic studies, share a class list of strategies for stress management, and spotlight a member of the school community, whereas a progress report may focus strictly on mastery of academic standards. Communication sometimes references events and issues in the broader community, but the main focus is often on what is directly happening inside the school building.

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Welcoming and Accessible School Environment

The school environment signals that all who enter are welcomed and belong as valued members of the school community. The school operates as a community hub, where it is common to see visitors engaging in a variety of school activities and easily and safely navigating the school with accessible supports (e.g., clear signage, language supports, school greeters).

Interactions between school staff and the broader community (families, caregivers, community members) are multidirectional and center relationships, from logistical or informal exchanges to difficult conversations (e.g., relational consideration is given to whether information is conveyed via a notice or a personal conversation). Necessary interactions are comfortably initiated by all stakeholders, rather than avoided, due to a schoolwide prioritization of proactive and ongoing relationship building and responsive restoring when trust is damaged.

Family, caregiver and community engagement in school activities is fueled by inclusive, collaborative planning. It is common to see school staff actively monitoring for markers of inclusion and satisfaction (e.g., attendance of events, opportunities for collaboration, feedback), taking note of patterns, and actively working with family and community stakeholders to better understand and remove obstacles.

Inclusive Partnership and Shared Power

Opportunities exist for all school staff, families/caregivers and community members to engage in meaningful partnership in the multitude of decisions and roles that impact the school community. All adults demonstrate shared investment in co-developed goals and collaborate to learn about and from each other. It is common to see a wide range of community and cultural resources integrated into the school, reflecting varied contributions of knowledge and capacities, and building a web of support systems into the fabric of the school (e.g., partnerships with community health organizations and after-school providers, a network of mentors for graduates). Trust is built as stakeholders in the school community see their perspectives, expertise and values reflected in the way the school operates.

Traditional top-down power dynamics and patterns of exclusion are consistently disrupted, especially for groups who have typically been institutionally underserved (e.g., families from minoritized groups, low-income communities). Sharing power is a feature of all school committees, meetings, and decision-making structures. There is a shared recognition that schools are accountable to the community, and this guides the ways that groups operate in multidirectional ways (e.g., school leaders are a part of neighborhood coalitions and advocacy efforts, caregivers and community members are included in school policy and hiring decisions).


Regular and bi-directional exchanges between school, home and community groups, through varied and inclusive communication pathways, is the norm (e.g., surveys, phone calls, emails, newsletters, student-led conferences, home visits). Language supports and framing that is culturally affirming and sustaining are consistent across all methods of communication (e.g., translation supports are accessible to either party initiating a conversation, school staff work to understand and validate different cultural norms and practices within their school community).

Communication consistently reflects the integration of whole-child considerations (e.g., social, emotional, academic, cultural; recognizes diverse developmental pathways and student potential) and situates the work of the school within the work of the broader community. Communication efforts are initiated in both proactive and responsive manners from all stakeholders. These efforts are not only for informative purposes; they strengthen relationships and trust and create coherence between the places and spaces that engage students.

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Explore the following resources to reflect on and redesign the family, caregiver and community partnerships at your school

Getting to Know Your Students in a Million Words or Less

How does this strategy demonstrate inclusive partnership with families and caregivers?

What impact might this have on students?

In what ways have you partnered with families and caregivers to optimize student experiences?

[Video credit: Edutopia]

360⁰ Snapshots of School Arrival


These tools guide an inclusive, multi-stakeholder review of firsthand experiences of the school environment, in order to better understand how to make a more welcoming and accessible school environment for all.


School–Community Outreach Strategies


These strategies are designed for educators who are doing the active work to better understand and engage with the array of stakeholders who are a part of the community. Developing relational understandings and experiences between educators and community members creates opportunities to optimize student supports and experiences.


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