Three SWSD (Sun West School Division) teachers recently won the McDowell Foundation Research Award.

They received the award from their research on Promising Practices for Meaningful Family Engagement. Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty presented them with their award on January 31st, and the report contained input from 42 parents and identified promising practices to engage families in the rural context.

Pam Grasby Sawatzky, Amber Thompson, and Carly Robson Gilchrist are teachers from Westberry Elementary School in Kindersley, Outlook Elementary School, and Walter Aseltine School in Rosetown.

This project expanded from the Sun West Engagement Circle, which all three teachers were a member of in spring 2016. According to a blog post on the school division website, the aim of the Sun West Engagement Circle was to bring together stakeholders across Sun West to create a common understanding around parent engagement. The success caused the three teachers to continue working together after the engagement circle had come to a close.

The teachers met again in April 2017, in a gathering they fondly remember as “The Tim Horton's Summit”. They discussed their future plans, and later attended a McDowell Foundation information session to see if their plans fit the McDowell Foundations ideology. The foundation proved to be an amazing fit, and the groups grant application was successful.

The SWSD was also very supportive of the project, granting release of time to do this work, and support from Superintendent Vicki Moore.

Another important piece to the puzzle was Dr. Debbie Pushor, a Professor of Education at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Pushor is a well respected expert on parent and family engagement, as well as a previous advisor to Mrs. Grasby Sawatzky in her Masters program. All three teachers had a valuable mentor throughout the project, and Ms. Robson Gilchrist even took undergraduate courses from her.

The teachers goal was to find out what engagement practices mattered the most to parents, and why they are effective towards our youth, and to same extent, why some practices are less meaningful.

In their final report, the teachers made the following top five recommendations:

• Communicate – the more the better – early, often, and timely.

• Build an open and welcoming environment that fosters relationships with families.

• Use an online learning platform that makes learning visible and allows two-way communication such as Seesaw or Class Dojo.

• Select building blocks that honour family knowledge such as home learning projects.

• Personalize engagement opportunities to meet the needs of the families in your care. Consider access to technology and work schedules.