At the Heart of Family Learning: Families learning, families leading, equitable communities

Excitement is in the air as we gear up to host the virtual portion of our hybrid 2022 Families Learning Conference on October 25-26! In my blog post this month, I highlight conference sessions that tell the story of our deep partnerships in communities working alongside parents, families, and community stakeholders. The conference theme this year is “Families Learning, Families Leading, Equitable Communities.” Our vision for 60X30—and the conference presentations—reflect NCFL’s commitment to weaving equity, diversity, and inclusion into our efforts to co-design with communities to reach more equitable outcomes for children and families.

Graphic with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith's headshot and a red ribbon in the shape of a heart. The text reads At the Heart of Family Learning with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

In “Grit, Grace, and Gratitude,” NCFL’s Founder Sharon Darling writes, “Listening to what parents want and need, to realize their dreams for their future and their children’s future, should be the essence of a great education system and community development strategy” (Jacobs, p. 170). Challenges within communities are best solved by those nearest to the challenges, and every family has expertise, assets, and strengths to contribute.

Co-designing programming with and alongside families means fostering community leadership, building capacity, and working towards systems change. Parent Nation’s parent leadership programming, Parent Village, is a strong example of these principles in action. Tune in to Elevating Parent Power to Build a Parent Nation during the Families Learning Conference on Oct. 25 to learn how to host a Parent Village in your community.

Libraries are fundamental institutions in family learning systems. NCFL recently partnered with the Public Library Association and three public libraries in regions of the U.S. on a project granted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project, titled “Exploring a Program Co-design Approach to Better Serve and Engage Low-income, Latinx Communities,” set out to identify the existing barriers for Latinx families’ use of public libraries and potentially reveal community-driven solutions to the issues. The libraries facilitated investigative community conversations that centered people with lived experiences. To practice inclusivity, the libraries incorporated ways of helping participants feel welcomed and valued. Through these meaningful conversations, the libraries now have actions they can take to make their spaces more inclusive and inviting for Latinx patrons. Learn more about this work during the Conference session Listening to the Latinx Community–Lessons Learned and Recommendations on Oct. 26.

Lastly, co-design is showing up in virtual reality spaces as well! For the last few years, NCFL has partnered with schools, education agencies, and parenting adults in Florida and Kentucky to pilot learning experiences in VR. While we may not know what new jobs will be created in the years to come, we can bank on the knowledge that 21st century jobs will demand a high level of digital literacy. Therefore, family learning systems need to support digital skill development and capacity building. Last month, parenting adults at AMPED in Louisville, Kentucky, began a weekly class with NCFL to co-design a VR experience to accompany learning modules of our newly published Equity in Family Engagement Toolkit. We’re excited to share more about this experience in a future blog post—but for now, plan to learn about using VR in educational settings during the panel session Digital Innovation in Education on Oct. 26 during the Conference. 

The Families Learning Conference is our signature event in which we amplify and embrace storytelling of high-quality, multigenerational programming happening across the country. If you’re planning to attend the conference, you’ll hear directly from our team, partners, and parenting adults engaging in co-design to strengthen learning opportunities and build equitable communities. It’s not too late to register! Secure your spot at


Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

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. 

Follow Dr. Felicia C. Smith on Twitter and LinkedIn.