By Rebecca Honig, Ready4K director of content
At my house, every morning this summer has included the same ritual. My oldest daughter emerges from her room (the last of us to wake up) and beelines for the nearest adult. “Have you checked the mail?” she asks, with a shocking amount of frantic energy for someone who has just rolled out of bed.
When the answer is (inevitably), “No, we have not yet checked the mail,” she races across the street to the mailbox, throws it open and grabs the contents. Frantically, she rotates through the envelopes like she’s dealing cards in Vegas. Then she rotates through again, just to be sure. And then stomps back across the road, hands on her hips, usually moaning, “Uuuuuuuuggggggg.” Or some other sound that captures large amounts of disappointment, resentment, frustration, and a whole other host of emotions that involve a furrowed brow and a frown.
The thing she’s been waiting for, day after day, is her class placement. And the REASON this particular piece of mail is so essential to her is that it will allow her to triangulate which of her friends she’ll be learning with this year. It is her great hope that she’ll be traveling from class to class with her closest, most trusted friends.
And I get it. I get why this one letter has come to represent security and hope as she heads into another school year. A school year full of unknowns. A school year that’s triggering all the feelings of loss and anxiety brought about by the stressors of learning during a pandemic.
I get it because I have watched, over the years, just how important these relationships are to her. They ground her. Empower her. And give her the confidence to speak out in class, make jokes, start clubs, and champion for change. They have helped her find her voice and become more herself. Her trusted relationships help her to be strong and resilient.
I get it. Because trusted relationships play the same role in my life. They help bring me to my best self. Give me a feeling that I am part of a larger team. And make me brave.
Trusted Relationships Are Essential
Trusted relationships also play a critical role in our work at Ready4K. As a company devoted to fostering family engagement and strengthening family-school partnerships, we recognize that trusted relationships are ESSENTIAL.
Dr. Karen Mapp, author and creator of the Dual Capacity Framework for Family School Partnerships, recently published a revised version of the Framework, placing trusted relationships at the top.
She explained of these changes:
“One of the things many people said, and is actually born out through the research, is that the relationship, the development of relational trust between home and school, is key for any other partnership work to actually take place.”
Over the next several months we’ll be taking a deep dive into trusted relationships and how they serve as the backbone of family engagement. But first: What are some of the ingredients that go into building trusted relationships? And how do we bake these ingredients into our work at Ready4K?
1: Trusted Relationships Begin with Listening
Why? As Dr. Karen Mapp puts it, “One of the best ways to earn someone’s respect is to let them know you value what they say and you’re listening to them.”
We all want to be heard. To be seen. We want to know that our input, values, identity and lived experiences are factored into the decisions being made. This is true in our roles as parents and caregivers, as individuals, and as educators.
At Ready4K, much of our content is informed by listening sessions hosted across the country. From the rural Pacific Northwest, to the suburbs in the Midwest, to the heart of America’s largest cities, we bring people together to hear about their experiences. We learn about their strengths, their pain points, and the areas where they’d like more support. And this feedback makes its way into the messages we write and the way we scope and scaffold our content. It leads to product innovations and new endeavors.
We also provide our partners with new ways to listen, too. Through our custom survey feature, they can reach families wherever they are. The in-text surveys are easy to administer, and they give our partners real-time insights into their families’ most pressing needs.
2: Trusting Relationships Are Strengths- and Asset-Based
The Brazelton Touchpoints Center says, “Building relationships with families is one of the most important things that family-facing providers do. Yet building collaborative, trusting relationships is not always easy. Research shows that using a strengths-based approach to family engagement supports the well-being of the family.”
All of our messages aim to celebrate the unique and irreplaceable relationship between parents and children. Throughout our content we build reflective practices that encourage parents and caregivers to notice what’s working and share their strengths, strategies, and insights with teachers, friends, and community members.
To maximize access, all of our messages are written in 160 characters and at a third grade reading level. They reach families all year long, three times a week, no matter what is changing around them. They offer consistent support.
And our activities are entirely built around the people, places, and things that families have in their lives. So parents and caregivers read our messages and think, “I’ve got this. I can do this activity. I can try this strategy.” That’s a sentiment that supports families in feeling STRONG.
“The messages are brief but great ideas and encouraging. Makes parenting seem less overwhelming.”
“The texts are helpful. During this pandemic you kind of run out of ideas on what to do with your kids. But when I get the text I say ‘oh yeah, we can do that.’ Thank you.”
Adding to this, our easy-to-use Ready4K Family Workshop Facilitator Guides offer step-by step instructions for bringing families together to learn and share strategies with one another too. Each workshop focuses on a different learning domain like Math, Literacy and Social and Emotional skills. Together, families move through a series of interactive games and activities discovering ways to layer easy learning onto the things they are already doing at home.
And all along the way, families share about the parenting strategies and learning activities they use at home, so that schools and programs can begin building an arsenal of learning games and ideas that come from their unique community.
“[The Ready4K messages] give me strength when I am weak. Helps me get through the day and the tough times with my little ones.”
3: Trusting Relationships Are Culturally Responsive and Respectful
As the Administration for Children and Families explains, “Family engagement is the process we use to build genuine relationships with families. Positive relationships with families promote strong parent-child relationships, family well-being, and better outcomes for children and families. Understanding the cultural beliefs, values, and priorities of families is key to the family engagement process.”
Our weekly Ready4K text messages support schools and districts in reaching and engaging families in their home language. Ready4K is offered in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. When we translate, we work with experts to ensure the messages are culturally resonant and responsive. And we don’t just do word-for-word translations. We make adaptations to help ensure our messages are culturally resonant.
Adding to this, in our Trauma-Informed program we link to community-based resources that celebrate and promote the unique cultures and identities of the communities we serve. This helps to connect families with cultural centers, books in their native languages and classes.
Finally, (though this really is just the tip of the iceberg), as a family engagement program that schools, districts, Head Starts, and community based organizations choose again and again, Ready4K brings another critical ingredient to establishing trusting relationships:
It works. In fact, it has the strongest evidence base in the field of digital parenting supports. So partners trust us, knowing their digital family engagement program is grounded in the most rigorous research out there.
Trusted Relationships Mean Confident Kids (and Grown-ups)
When the day finally comes and my daughter opens that mailbox to find her long-awaited class schedule, I’ll be watching as she tears it open and inspects its contents. Specifically, my eyes will be on her face. I’ll be hoping to see a look of relief and a smile that conveys this sentiment, which Ready4K recently heard from a parent we serve:
“Ready4K made me feel more confident and see the way even the smallest moments make a big difference.“