Howard University MS’s Protocol for Using Family Feedback in School Improvement

Share this post

Kerry Whitacre Swarr, Possip reporter and education equity consultant who is also working on her Ed.D. dissertation involving Possip, partnered with Howard University Middle School to develop a research-based protocol for using family feedback in school improvement projects. Keep reading to learn the protocol for your team!

Those of us in education know that our field loves a protocol.  A protocol is simply an agreed-upon set of guidelines for conversation.  But the real purpose of using Protocol in educational settings creates a space to learn together and create value while improving and potentially transforming schools.  This was the genesis of my dissertation topic.  What if we used a meeting protocol with a School Improvement Team or other existing school teams with families representing your school population to review and make meaning of Possip Family Feedback Reports, together?  I got to test this out with Howard University Middle School this fall.

The meeting protocol I created drew heavily from the works of both McDonald (2013) and Wegner and Wegner (2020). The protocol is basically a script that walks a group or team through three steps while reviewing a Possip Family Feedback Report–described below: 

Quietly and individually, write three or four Notice Statements based on your observations from the Possip Feedback Report on Post-Its or on virtual Post-Its. These statements begin with the phrase “I notice that…”  They should be free of inference, judgment, or speculation; they are fact-based, observing only.

Team members take turns reading aloud one new Notice Statement at a time and post them on a wall or virtual wall, without discussion.  Group “like” noticing together. The process continues until all Noticing Statements have been shared. 

Collectively reflect on why some noticing was more common than others.  

  • What do the Noticing Statements mean? 
  • Why should we care? 
  • How can we better understand the impact of what they noticed?
  • Is most of the feedback compliant?
  • What does that mean for building an equitable school community?


Quietly and individually, participants write three or four Wonder Statements about the family feedback. These statements, which begin with the phrase “I wonder why/if/how/whether…” may or may not relate directly to Noticing Statements shared in Step 1. Sometimes they offer a suggestion; other times they are merely inquiries. 

In no particular order, team members take turns reading aloud one new Wonder Statement at a time and post on a real or virtual wall organized by theme. This process continues until all Wonder Statements have been shared, without discussion.


The team reviews the notes. The team members have a dialogue about the noticing and wonder statements that were shared. Each person speaks before someone speaks again. When you speak, build off the point the person before you made. Actively listen to everyone. 

Dialogue Questions:  

  • Are there some themes?  
  • Do you have a new perspective from the noticing and wonderings of others?  
  • Now what? What are some actions that the team recommends the school take based on your collective learning that addresses family priorities, address power differences, and will contribute to building more equitable policies, programs, and structures at your school?
  • What other questions do we have? Can you collectively design questions to be used as the fourth question through Possip for the upcoming month that can? 

Facilitator and Notetaker Roles for the Protocol

I built two roles—a facilitator and a notetaker.  I recommend these roles change each meeting and include families, teachers, non-instructional staff, and school administrators to address any power differentials.  Although we were able to accomplish everything in the protocol in an hour, the team members I worked with thought it would be great if they had even more time for rich discussion, meaning-making, and value creation–something that is rarely prioritized in the busy school day.

Create a Safe Space and Anonymizing Your Reports

With any feedback, there are concerns by team members no matter their role in your school community that things will feel personal and potentially threatening.  But, we all know you don’t improve and get better unless you are open and truthful about how things are really going.  This requires trust and that can be built in your team over time.  Creating meeting norms to address these concerns that you revisit regularly will help. Also, school administrators can easily anonymize all feedback in the Possip portal and quickly and easily black out names in feedback to share with a team.  This took me less than five minutes.     

Why is it important to have a protocol and families at the table? 

This protocol helps school teams focus on what families are saying. Because there are different perspectives at the table, teams can quickly understand family feedback from different perspectives, including families.  Having families at the table makes schools immediately more accountable for making meaning from the feedback captured in the Possip Family Feedback Reports and doing something as a result to improve your school.  Try it!    

To read more on protocols and strategies for equitable family engagement, you can click here!


McDonald, J., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., McDonald, E. (2013). The Power of Protocols:  An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice.  Teachers College Press, New York. 

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2020). Learning to make a difference: Value creation in social learning spaces. Cambridge University Press.