What will be your story?

It’s not always easy to measure the impact of family and community engagement efforts.

Some aspects of education — like test scores or report card grades — (notwithstanding the wide variety of controversies around their use) are pretty straightforward to measure.

They’re already quantified. They’re known entities. We can tell that story.

But when we talk about measuring the impact of, say, a super successful family science night, our minds go blank. 

Thinking of our present situation, in which family and community engagement is more critical than ever, how can we tell the story of how a school or organization engaged and supported its students and families and even its neighbors during the pandemic?

How do we collect and measure both the individual or personal impacts and the large-scale results?

Erica Green and Lola Fadulu did such an effective job of this in a recent New York Times story about how school cafeterias across the country have become “relief kitchens” for not only students and their families, but also community members in need.

The cafeteria manager featured in the story effortlessly rattles off the incredible numbers of people she and her team have served and also shares stories of individuals she’s encountered.

Not only is she a hero in her community, but she’s a perfect example of one of my core beliefs — that you don’t need to be a statistician to effectively use data in your work.

If your team is not sure how to start measuring your COVID-19 impact and telling its story, here are three steps to get started: 

Brainstorm the different types of data you already have

There will be more than you thought!

Traditional sources of school data, such as attendance records, event sign-in sheets, or academic data, may be less available right now, so get creative.

For example, think about all that you can learn from a log of phone calls made to families.

You’ll know which numbers worked and which didn’t (which is basically a list of hard-to-reach families who need additional support), you’ll know which staff members have made the most calls, you’ll know how the families who were reached are doing, and you’ll know where subsequent outreach is needed.

Pop that information into a spreadsheet, add some labels or color-coding to indicate who needs what, and you’ve got yourself a working database for the students in your school.

If you add in all of your other data sources, your team will be data-rich and able to act.

Consider collecting other data that you need. 

There are many ways to collect information from students, families, and community members right now.

Think of all of your touch points with your key stakeholders.

Students may be logging in for online class, families may be checking social media for updates, and all of your stakeholders may be accessing meal sites, like the one I mentioned above.

At all of these venues, you can easily ask about needs, satisfaction with the school’s efforts, or any other questions you may have.

You could have teachers post a poll for their students on Zoom, you could post an online survey on social media (or on the district website, like my home district in Columbus has done), or you could have surveys on half-sheets of paper available at meal sites.

For families you can’t reach in one of these ways, there are always mailed surveys or text message options.

You could also invite families you do reach to virtual focus groups, to learn more about their experiences and collect their insights. 

Make data analysis a team effort. 

Using these rich sources of data should not be the sole responsibility (or luxury!) of the principal or district evaluators.

Building a culture of data means getting everyone involved and modeling for them how to use data and why it’s so important.

Consider hosting virtual staff meetings to work together on this data. I’ve seen a lot of districts hosting virtual PTA or PTO meetings as well – that’s the perfect place to get families involved.

You could even make posters of important data and hang it on the walls at your meal sites.

If you need some ideas for how to engage stakeholders in data analysis and interpretation, here is a blog post from the American Evaluation Association and here is a great list of resources from Better Evaluation about hosting data parties. 

This is just a short list of ways to use data to measure your impact and involve your community in doing so. Of course, if your school or organization needs some guidance, I’m here for you.

I offer a few different ways to support schools, districts, and organizations with this work. I’m also happy to do phone consultations to help you brainstorm. 

Regardless of how you do it, this is the time to make data a priority. What will be your story?