Taking Positive Steps Toward Involving American Indian and Alaska Native Families and Caregivers in Their Children’s Schooling


November 28, 2018


Mandy Smoker Broaddus has over 15 years of experience working toward social justice, equity, inclusivity and cultural responsiveness, particularly in the realm of American Indian education. She has served at the tribal college, K–12 and state education agency levels across her home state of Montana, where she is a citizen of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck reservation.

In my previous post, I shared strategies schools can use to become more culturally responsive as a way to increase engagement with American Indian and Alaska Native students, families and communities.

In this post, I provide a set of steps you can take that will help you better engage indigenous people. For the most part, these strategies can be implemented relatively quickly and make an immediate impact.

Build an awareness of cultural norms and protocols through teacher training and by working directly with cultural experts. New teachers, in particular, need training to learn American Indian and Alaska Native cultural norms (such as body language, physical proximity, familial structures, etc.) that can help them connect with students.

Attend cultural events and activities that are open to the public. People notice when you show up. Find a guide who can teach you the expectations for these sorts of events—and don’t be afraid to ask questions and build your knowledge base.

Make the purpose of surveys clear and engage families in group discussions and dialogues. Schools often ask American Indian and Alaska Native students and families to fill out a variety of surveys. When doing this, it’s important describe how the feedback they provide will result in changes. Don’t forget to follow up on how the survey information is eventually used.

In addition, learn about more culturally responsive ways to collect data, such as group discussions and dialogues with students, families and community members. These methods can help people feel more comfortable by giving them a chance to talk with one another and build on the overall discussion. They can also generate more authentic feedback and lead to a community-based response.

Contact families for positive reasons. When I was an administrator, disciplinary issues were one of my main reasons for contacting families. We want to stop being reactionary and find ways to connect with families for positive reasons that honor the assets that all students bring to a school community. The more good news you can share, the more welcoming your school climate will become for families and the community.

Share data. Data can tell a story, and American Indian and Alaska Native families are curious about the stories your data tell about their children. In addition, they have a right to that information.

The more we can provide opportunities to be transparent about our data and involve them in creating solutions, the more indigenous families will trust our ability to educate their young people—and the more likely they will take a seat at the table.

Check out Part 1 of this blog post series on the rationale behind ”Creating a More Welcoming and Culturally Responsive School Community to Engage American Indian and Alaska Native Families.” Part 2 dives into ”Ways to Become More Culturally Responsive in Engaging American Indian and Alaska Native Families.”