First Virtual Family Life Education Summit a Success!

Dawn Cassidy, M.Ed., CFLE, Director of Family Life Education
/CFLE Network, Summer 2021

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On June 25, 2021, National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) held the first Virtual Family Life Education Summit. Although NCFR offers many services and resources for practitioners, the Summit marked the first full-day event focused specifically on those who work directly in the field, with and for families.

Practitioners are welcome to attend NCFR’s Annual Conference, but most sessions at the conference are focused on research and targeted to an academic audience. Additionally, although financial constraints can make travel to an onsite conference difficult for the academic audience, it is often not even an option for practitioners.

NCFR got a crash course in putting on a virtual conference during the COVID pandemic. It was an intense learning experience, but we all came through with a new set of skills. Before COVID, I had talked about putting on a virtual conference targeted to practitioners. Having a virtual conference on the scale of the NCFR conference under our belt made the reality of a virtual FLE conference much more attainable.

And so, we set to work! The CFLE Advisory Board played a significant role in the planning and implementation of the FLE Summit including conducting a needs assessment, creating a call for proposals (special shout out to Jennifer Crosswhite and Cindy Winter for sharing their vast knowledge and expertise about the process), creating a rubric for evaluating proposals, evaluating the proposals, and selecting the presenters. In addition, several Board members assisted in the facilitation of some of the session on the day of the Summit. I would be remiss in not also acknowledging the NCFR staff, especially Emily Vang, NCFR Education and Certification Coordinator. The Summit was an education department project, but it required a coordinated team effort on the part of the full staff. Being able to work with such competent (and fun) coworkers is one of the reasons I have worked at NCFR as long as I have. It was a pleasure to be part of such a well-oiled machine.

We purposely kept the Summit schedule small to keep this first event as manageable as possible limiting the number of sessions to 13 plus the plenary. We received 33 submissions. This made the selection process difficult because there were so many excellent submissions. The blind-review selections were based on the interests identified in the needs assessment survey and the quality of the submission in meeting the rubric criteria which included Clarity of Proposal Content, Theoretical Base, Application to the Practice of FLE, Audience Engagement, Contribution and Innovation, Implementation History, and Presenter Qualifications.

In the end we selected 13 presentations including such topics as coping with grief, adverse childhood experiences and corporal punishment, trauma-informed FLE, decentering Whiteness, starting and growing an FLE business, using social media, helping parents find trustworthy information, and a number of sessions focused on developing and implementing FLE programing, moving FLE programs online, and outreach and community engagement. CFLE Advisory Board Chair Dorothy Berglund, Ph.D., CFLE, provided the opening remarks, and Advisory Board Member Cynthia B. Wilson, Ph.D., CFLE, provided the perfect plenary presentation, Collaboration as the Key to Unlocking Family Well-Being.

One hundred seventy-two people registered for the FLE Summit. All sessions were recorded and are available to those who registered for the Summit. Those who did not register for the live Summit can purchase access to all recorded sessions.

Of course, I plan to view all the recorded sessions! The live sessions I attended were exactly what I had envisioned for this event. The information shared was solidly based in research, and references and resources were provided. However, the focus of most sessions was on the application of the presenter’s work and experiences within the day-to-day practice of FLE. Most of those submitting proposals for the Summit worked in Extension or identified as practitioners, and about one-third were university or college professors (many of whom also worked in Extension).

The FLE Summit provided an excellent opportunity for NCFR to ensure we are meeting our mission to provide an educational forum for family researchers, educators, and practitioners to share in the development and dissemination of knowledge about families and family relationships, establish professional standards, and work to promote family well-being. The Summit also fulfills the goals of NCFR’s Global Ends Policies (see ncfr.org/global-ends).

The response to the FLE Summit was overwhelmingly positive with 94% of respondents rating their overall experience at the Summit as Excellent (52%) or Very Good (41%). When asked how well the Summit content applied to the practice of Family Life Education, 94% also responded Excellent (62%) or Very Good (32%). There were a lot of great comments, but I will share two that confirm to me that we accomplished what we set out to do: “Meeting with other practitioners that work directly with families was wonderful” and “I really appreciated the practical nature of the sessions as well as the hands-on opportunities to practice what we were learning.”

We have not made any definitive plans yet regarding the future of the FLE Summit but based on the reactions throughout the day and evaluation data, I expect this will not be a one-time event. Ideally, the FLE Summit will come to represent the focused effort of NCFR to meet the needs of the FLE practitioner. I welcome any ideas you have for how we can continue to serve this important audience.