In the CASEL framework, authentic partnership with families and caregivers is one of four key settings for SEL efforts. In an authentic partnership, partners work together to define challenges, develop shared goals, and design plans to promote SEL. This requires intentional relationship-building and genuine appreciation for the perspectives and skills that families bring (from this point forward, the word “families” is used to refer inclusively to the variety of attached relationships between students and the adults who care for them in homes and residences). When schools and families work together, they can build strong connections to ensure that SEL is taught in culturally responsive ways that celebrate the assets, identities, and diversity students bring to school, making SEL more impactful and lasting.
School personnel must reflect on the power dynamics between schools and families that may hinder authentic partnership, then work to recalibrate relationships. It is common for family engagement strategies to be enacted with a deficit lens, especially in communities where many families experience marginalization based on race, class, language, or immigration status (Mapp & Bergman, 2021). Recalibration requires that school staff position all families as experts about their own children, whose experience and knowledge make them essential partners for shaping students’ school experiences. 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.
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, and their values. Schools can build upon and learn from these funds of knowledge and the strategies that families are already using to support SEL (Mapp et al., 2013).
Families are far more likely to join partnership efforts when the school’s norms, values, and cultural representations reflect their own experiences (Atunez, 2000). A sense of school connectedness is stronger when students feel that they, their family, their culture, and the people and contexts with which they feel most at home are respected and included in their schools. For these reasons, it is important for teams to foster a culturally responsive and welcoming school environment as they authentically engage families as partners in promoting students’ SEL.
If you have already begun develop family partnerships for SEL, use the rubric or the questions below to identify areas for continuous improvement: