Parent-Principal Chats

Parent-Principal Chats (aka Parent-Principal Coffees). Parents, caregivers, and school leaders meet monthly as thought partners to learn from each other and exchange ideas about student learning and school improvement. The chats are a two-way dialogue whereby families and the principal listen, learn, solve problems, and share information with each other.

Parent-Principal Chats are the signature activity that Teaching for Change requires of every school with whom we partner on family engagement. Not only do principals and parents value the monthly meetings, consistently we have seen that the Parent-Principal Chats have the highest parent attendance, on average, of the many meetings and activities we support. Each year, both formal and informal evaluation data indicate that this signature activity factors heavily into our success engaging families and creating a welcoming school culture.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our schools are making efforts to continue their Parent-Principal Chats.

What Our Principals Say

Teaching for Change partners with public schools in Washington, D.C. that predominantly serve students of color, immigrants, and lower income families. Principals at our partner schools agree to hold monthly Parent-Principal Chats, and receive training, coaching, and materials (our Parent-Principal Chats Manual) to implement the activity using our approach. Here is what our school leaders (principals and assistant principals) say about the impact of holding these monthly meetings with parents using Teaching for Change’s approach:

“The Parent-Principal Chats are planned with purpose and intentionality, with shared voice. We hear stories from parents and struggles that they have chosen to share which builds trust and community the way we haven’t been able to before.”

“I started adapting the format of the Chats to other parent interactions, trying to mirror the experience. (For example, ice breaker, saying something positive, getting to concerns.) They have helped me be more responsive instead of reactive with parents.”

“There are more relaxing conversations with parents during monthly Chats. And it works both ways, we get to share info, and they get to bring things up that they want to talk about. Outside of Chats, often parents are coming to me with a problem or an issue that they have. I think we’ve gotten to a place where those interactions are happening with more positivity. But the Chat is different because it builds trust and relationships between staff and parents.”

“Monthly Parent-Principal Chats allow parents to engage with other families and school leaders on all concerns and truly creates a sense of community.”

School leaders at our partner schools also “agree” and “strongly agree” that they see multiple benefits from holding monthly Parent-Principal Chats using our approach:


Top Benefits to Principals Top Benefits to Families
Parent-Principal Chats help me feel more
comfortable and confident in my ability to engage with parents and caregivers on an ongoing basis.Parent-Principal Chats help me build trust, respect, and warmer relationships with parents and caregivers.

Engaging with parents in the monthly Chats influences/informs decisions I make as the school leader.

Engaging with parents in the monthly Chats helps me to recognize the assets of my students’ families and challenge biases and negative stereotypes.

Parent-Principal Chats help me do a better job fulfilling my role as the school leader.

Parents and caregivers learn more about academics, school life, and how the school/education system works in Parent Principal Chats.

Parents and caregivers use the monthly Chats to advocate for their children’s educational experience.

Parents and caregivers get to know each other better across differences (race, nationality, language, socioeconomic class, children’s grades, etc.) in the monthly Chats.

Parents and caregivers support each other by sharing skills, resources, knowledge, and their time as a result of Parent-Principal Chats.

Top Benefits to the School Community
Parent-Principal Chats attract more marginalized families (immigrant and lower-income parents of color) and more accurately reflect the school population than other formal, school-wide parent
meetings (e.g. PTO meetings).Parent-Principal Chats are structured so that marginalized families speak up, ask questions, and actively participate.

Parent-Principal Chats are a chance to collaborate and co-create with families.

Parent-Principal Chats help improve communication between parents and the school.

Parent-Principal Chats help build a sense of community in our school.


Here are several examples of what Parent-Principal Chats look like in Teaching for Change partner schools:



When executed well, Parent-Principal Chats can be a strategy for equity that strongly aligns with key findings and recommendations from the field of family engagement:

Tellin Stories Approach Graphic | Zinn Education ProjectThe Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, first developed by the U.S. Department of Education with Dr. Karen L. Mapp, describes family engagement efforts as needing to be relational, linked to learning and development, asset-based, culturally responsive and respectful, collaborative, and interactive (

Karen L. Mapp, Ilene Carver, and Jessica Lander discuss the “Four Essential Core Beliefs for Family Engagement” in Powerful Partnerships (Scholastic, 2017). The fourth core belief states very clearly: “The responsibility for cultivating and sustaining partnerships among school, home, and community rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.”

In “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development,” a 2018 report from the UChicago Consortium, researchers describe the vital role school leaders play in creating and sustaining authentic family engagement. The report notes: “Communication with families works best when it is two-directional and when parent voice is visibly valued. School leaders and teachers can create a feedback loop with parents. This means frequent opportunities to regularly share important information, while simultaneously hearing and integrating parental perspective on both individual goals for their children’s learning and development and on important school decisions.”


Featured Resource: Parent-Principal Chats Manual

The Parent-Principal Chats Manual (Teaching for Change, 2019) is only available to Teaching for Change partner schools, and school leaders who attend our Tellin’ Stories Race, Equity, and Family Engagement Institute for Principals.

Some of the highlights of the Parent-Principal Chats Manual include:

  • Equity Checks
  • Agenda Guides
  • Language Access/Interpretation Guides
  • Favorite Ice Breakers
  • Sample Agendas
  • And more!

The Parent-Principal Chats Manual is a practical guide for school leaders that aligns with the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships and combines the four tenets of Teaching for Change’s approach: popular education, community organizing, racial equity, and family engagement research.


Tellin’ Stories 2020 Race, Equity, and Family Engagement Principal Summer Institute

The Tellin’ Stories Race, Equity, and Family Engagement Summer Institutes will prepare principals, assistant principals, and senior school-based administrators to apply an asset-based lens to family engagement that is grounded in popular education, community organizing, racial equity, and family engagement research.

The principal institutes are also the exclusive opportunity for school leaders to receive training in Teaching for Change’s approach to monthly Parent-Principal Chats, and to receive a copy of the Parent-Principal Chats Manual.

Summer institute topics will include:

  • Racism, Classism, and Equity Literacy: Building Context for Families’ Experiences with School
  • Building Relationships and Meeting Families Where They Are
  • Connecting Family Engagement to Academic Success
  • Learning and Applying the Research on Equity and High Impact Family Engagement

Teaching for Change has been recognized by the Harvard Family Research Project’s National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group as one of the most effective approaches in the country for engaging traditionally marginalized parents (2010), and in the past several years has been written about in Education Week, Rethinking Schools, ThinkProgress, Education Leadership, and The Atlantic.


What Participants Said about our 2019 Principal Institute

“Teaching for Change’s principal institute was an opportunity for me to reflect and grow as a person, and a great way to connect with school leaders from throughout the DMV to re-think some of our core tenets of family engagement, school culture, and staff development. I highly recommend it for any school leader who wants to come back to their schools with a fresh set of eyes and ideas.” – Graham McBride, Arlington Public Schools 

“The principal institute provided an opportunity to explore issues related to race and class to equip principals with tools to enhance parent engagement. The three-day training was planned very well and created opportunity for administrators to share ideas and network. Excellent experience!” – Drake Wilson, DC Public Schools

“I found this summer institute a very reflective, engaging, and powerful experience. It provided concrete and comprehensive strategies that I can implement in my school to ensure families engage with the entire school community.” – Judy Seeber, Arlington Public Schools 

“Agradezco de todo corazón el gran esfuerzo demostrado por el equipo del instituto de verano de Teaching for Change. A lo largo de estos tres días me han brindado no solo la oportunidad de colaborar con líderes de distritos escolares, sino también la oportunidad de reflexionar y mirar dentro de mí misma mis propios prejuicios y como impactan el apoyo que brindo a los padres.” – Isabel Messmore, Arlington Public Schools

TRANSLATION: I appreciate with all my heart the great effort demonstrated by the Teaching for Change summer institute team. Over the course of these three days they have given me not only the opportunity to collaborate with school district leaders, but also the opportunity to reflect and look inward at my own prejudices and how they impact the support I provide to parents. – Isabel Messmore 

“Teaching for Change benefits all educators from any district or background. They offer something for everyone. The summer institute for principals provided excellent resources and opportunities to reflect on how to work with families as partners in the complex work of K-12 education.” – Helena Chauvenet, DC Public Schools 

“The Tellin’ Stories principal summer institute by Teaching for Change helped shift my perspective on family engagement into a more inclusive and intentioned focus on involving all families.” – James Welch, Arlington Public Schools

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