At the Heart of Family Learning: Activating family voice is the key to sustainable community solutions

Since Activate!, not only do I feel confident in my ability to advocate for the early childhood field, I feel called to advocate for the early childhood field.

– Activate! National Participant

Earlier this year, the third cohort of NCFL’s Activate! National kicked off with an in-person convening in Nashville. Composed of parenting adults and early childhood practitioners from across the country, participants will work together over the coming months to co-design equitable practices for early childhood systems and develop webinars and other materials to share these practices with the field. At the same time, participants will gain confidence in their ability to advocate for change, alongside knowledge on collaboration, working in groups, and racial equity, and proposing or informing policy. 

During this convening, we were able to interview several Activate! National participants about the importance of ensuring that family voice is heard as part of educational systems. Watch the video below to discover more about NCFL’s family leadership programming.

At both the local and national levels, the Activate! model serves an important role within NCFL’s larger family leadership body of work, providing coaching and support to enable parenting adults to raise their voice and develop solutions to the challenges that most impact them. For many, the confidence to speak out and spotlight community challenges comes naturally. But for some–especially those from socially, culturally, or economically diverse backgrounds–that kind of self-assurance can be more difficult to access. This difficulty is often compounded by educational systems which far too often view historically marginalized children and families with a deficit lens. Despite these challenges, at NCFL we know that families have a wealth of existing leadership capacity. Our goal is to amplify that capacity and provide families with the tools they need to constructively engage system leaders and create more equitable outcomes in their schools and communities. 

Through surveys and interviews with past cohorts, we’re seeing that our family leadership programming is galvanizing participants to act. The changes in participant responses from pre–program to post-program surveys were especially pronounced. Early in the program, participants often expressed tentativeness and lack of clarity and confidence in their ability to change policies and narratives and 77% of participants reported having little or no knowledge of proposing or informing policy. At the end of the program, 87% of participants expressed some or a lot of knowledge in this area. Additionally, participants were energized, expressing clear, focused goals and confidence in their ability to advocate for change.  Even six months post-program, this confidence persisted. Said one participant, “I am now much more aware of the power I have and I am not afraid to speak up when I see injustice.” 

What the success of NCFL’s family leadership work highlights for me is the importance of ensuring that family voice is integrated into the foundation of all community and school-based problem-solving efforts. If community leaders wish to find sustainable solutions, they must begin to find more intentional ways to collaborate to tap into the lived experience of those most impacted by the issue. This is why NCFL’s vision for Family Learning Communities brings together families alongside community leaders and institutions to co-design equitable solutions. As I continue to travel the country working with school and community-based leaders, I continue to hear a strong desire to bring this vision to life. Communities across the country are in need of support for making this a reality, and NCFL’s family leadership efforts will play a crucial role in each community’s success and the sustainability endeavors.  

Interested in bringing family leadership programming to your community? Contact us to get started. Learn more about NCFL’s vision and commitment to child, family and community outcomes here.


A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville.

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