Northside Achievement Zone
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
Parent engagement and leadership begins with Achievement Planning, the process by which parents partner with Family Achievement Coaches to set and achieve goals related to their child’s education, family stability goals in housing, health, career, and finance, and leadership opportunities. In the last year, incorporating our learning about how both Coaches and parents are best engaged and most successful in Achievement Planning, we have developed a “Goals to Action” framework to help guide and support Coaches in this process with families. Stronger Achievement Planning has led to increased opportunities for parent engagement and leadership, both by providing opportunities for parents to identify their own leadership goals, and by providing opportunities for Coaches to notice and nurture leadership qualities in parents that naturally emerge in the Achievement Planning process.
Family Academy, particularly our Foundations class, is another important component in parent engagement and leadership. Foundations classes provide empowerment skills for effective parenting and goal attainment for parents and their families. Based on curriculum developed by Twin Cities RISE!, Foundations has been tailored to draw on NAZ parents’ personal experiences and strengths, which are then incorporated into each class. The curriculum is presented as a dialog between the facilitator and parents, and among the parents themselves, leading to strong bonds among parents in each class. This structure and emphasis on peer support further supports and empowers parents to invest in their families, each other, and the class, with many parents emerging as facilitators for future Foundations or other Family Academy classes. Foundations thus equips parents with solid leadership and goal attainment skills and provides a concrete pathway to a leadership opportunity. Recent data show that graduates of NAZ parent classes completed education goals for their kids at twice the rate of those who did not attend, and a growing number of our parent leaders come from among Family Academy alumni.
Another important aspect of our work has been learning to recognize existing leadership or leadership opportunities and then deliberately articulating and building upon those moments with families. Many NAZ parents initially do not see themselves as leaders. However, as parents achieve goals and increase their sense of self-efficacy, their mindset begins to shift. Coaches are trained to notice this change in thinking and help parents see areas where they are already leading – in their families, at their child’s school, or in their neighborhood – and then build on those skills. Leadership development can happen informally, or through a formal leadership path to a role such as serving on the Parent Advisory Board. In contrast to a more traditional leadership development program, this method of cultivating leadership embeds opportunity across programs and allows for parents to truly lead the process. We’ve seen dramatic growth in parent leaders, from 31 in mid-2015 to 65 today, on pace to our goal of 100 parent leaders each year. Drawing on this success, we are currently revamping our Parent Advisory Board to include representation from parent leaders from each of our Anchor Partners.
Key lessons learned
Another valuable lesson we learned was that retention and graduation rates in Family Academy classes improved when we recruited participants from among our already enrolled NAZ parents. Retention in Family Academy has been an ongoing challenge because our families themselves face considerable barriers to participation; these include conflicting or inflexible work schedules, transportation challenges, and juggling multiple priorities, often exacerbated by issues of poverty or being a single parent. Despite these challenges, we attribute improved outcomes in Family Academy participation to a combination of having two Family Academy Specialists on staff to specifically recruit and retain parents, helping them overcome barriers to participation; active recruitment efforts from Coaches, who help parents see the initial value in participation; the benefit of wraparound supports provided by NAZ partners, and, perhaps most importantly, engaged parents who themselves recruit and help retain participants from among their friends, neighbors, and peers. Our Foundations class has high graduation rates (65%-90%), and we expect to see continued success in this area.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
Being resourceful has been the most important element in making progress in this work. We are leveraging both the resources our parents already possess and the resources from across our collaborative partners to support parents on their path to leadership. Success is therefore determined by how well are able to combine existing resources – inherent leadership potential in a parent, a well-trained Coach, participation in Family Academy classes, and support from a Career and Finance partner to find employment, for example – to best support each family’s individual path to leadership. This process is reflective of our belief that parents and children already have the internal resources to be successful, and that with the right combination of supports we are able to help them realize that success. It is also consistent with our practice of working in collaboration with our partners, using the expertise and resources we each bring to the table, to achieve unprecedented results with North Minneapolis families.
Other key elements of Community Innovation
One of NAZ’s core values is using a results-based accountability framework to drive our work. Data collection and analysis is just one part of this effort; more broadly, we use this framework to hold each other accountable to our shared goals. Through this process, we are committed to finding what works for North Minneapolis families. If we find that what we are doing is not effective, we will revise it until we get it right. Applied to our parent leadership work, this means that we are committed to bringing together parents, staff, and collaborative partners to consistently assess and revise our methods and strategies to ensure ongoing success.
Understanding the problem
The need we identified in our application was opportunities for and actual parent leadership in North Minneapolis. Our work has led to more clarity about the fact that addressing this need has two parts: first, parents need to be inspired to believe in themselves as leaders, then obtain the skills and support needed to move into leadership roles. Second, the community needs to recognize this leadership. NAZ works to address both these elements by inspiring belief and building skills with parents and working to improve systems that can sometimes be skeptical or even dismissive of parent leadership. NAZ staff can serve as intermediaries between parents and institutions or systems to help facilitate mutual recognition of parent leadership. Over time, as parents take on more leadership roles and systems begin to shift to recognize parents as leaders, we anticipate that the need for this staff function will decrease.
If you could do it all over again...
We would give our past selves this advice: with an end goal of leadership development for the families with whom we work, we need to be sure to focus on leadership development in ourselves. Just as we recognize that true parent leadership must come from within the community, so too must we as staff ensure we have the skills, processes, and understanding to develop leadership within ourselves and our organization before we are able to be effective in supporting leadership within others. Using the “Goals to Action” framework sets up a parallel process of goal achievement for staff and families – while our Coaches are working with families to set and achieve goals, they themselves, as well as other staff, are also getting professional support to transform their goals to action. This is important because the Goals to Action process is what moves families, Coaches, and staff forward and gets results. By creating both an internal and external culture of goal achievement and leadership, we are better able to support families in their leadership paths.
One last thought
We appreciate that the Bush Foundation recognizes that community breakthroughs often occur through a non-linear process, and that ongoing learning, testing, and revising of strategy is a valuable part of the process. This gives us opportunities to reflect on what we’re learning and how we’re learning it, along with the outcomes we’ve achieved. Community change takes time, and your support – both financial, and the recognition that the learning process is as valuable as the end result – gives us the time and space to seek solutions that will work long-term and lead to genuine breakthroughs. Thank you for partnering with us in this work.