What is family engagement?
Engaging students’ families is an important step toward improving school climate, boosting teacher morale, and strengthening the school community. But in order to achieve the benefits of family engagement it is important to understand the difference between “family engagement” and “parental involvement.” The practice of family engagement goes beyond parent involvement. The phrase “parental involvement” implies a goal of parents taking part in teaching and learning. While this goal is certainly admirable, not all parents have an equal capacity to play this role. On the other hand “family engagement” implies a goal of making families a part of school life, which is a broader goal, and one that makes room for many types of interaction between not just the parent and the student, but the family and school life generally.
Once the concept of family engagement has been adopted and inculcated throughout the school community, a school can begin to structure specific and deliberate family-friendly activities aimed at building the school’s capacity to support and develop family-forward communication strategies directed at keeping families aware of what is happening in school and supporting more active participation from families.
Why is family engagement important?
Throughout my 20+ years of education and school leadership experience (which includes two successful school turnarounds) I have seen that family engagement results in improved academic achievement and teacher morale. Teachers and administrators can both benefit from knowing the why and how of family engagement. Principals, teachers, and school communities engage with families on a daily basis. From individual schools to the district office, families are an integral part of the education ecosystem. The sooner we can acknowledge this fact and begin to meet families “where they are”, the better they can be positively integrated into the school community, with the following results:
- Teachers feel more supported when they experience engagement from their families.
- Consistent and timely family engagement keeps families abreast of what’s happening naturally and eliminates the need to “get in touch” with families that haven’t been contacted in months.
- Students ultimately benefit when families are not only involved, but engaged in their child’s academic experience. From attendance to behavior to academic achievement, when families are engaged, students and schools are the winners!
- The varied and oftentimes complex needs of students are met more effectively. Whether the issues are academic, behavioral, socio-emotional, or involve IEP’s, family engagement is a conduit for supporting and training families so that they can constructively contribute to the educational processes involving their children.
So without further ado, here are my top 5 family engagement strategies for teachers and principals alike!
My top 5 family engagement strategies:
1. Engage families at the door
Encourage faculty and staff to greet families as they enter and leave the school building. Establish a routine of saying, “Good morning” and “Have a nice day!” Making families feel welcome when they are visiting can go a long way towards building relationships. This simple act is just the tip of the “welcoming” iceberg: At one of my schools, I brought in a customer service consultant from the retailer Nordstrom (which is known for superlative customer service) for a PD on making people feel welcome and engaged. It was money well-spent!
2. Offer parent workshops based on “real time” learning experiences and provide support during the activity.
Almost all parents want to help their children succeed. But only some of them know how. The school can be a resource for these parents, teaching them skills that help them understand how to engage. Some examples:
- Offer a workshop on the importance of accessing the schools’ website, complete with a live demonstration.
- Provide a workshop explaining how to log into the classroom student portals that monitor student learning.
- Conduct a workshop on learning how to navigate an internet search and explain the different search engines that could be enlisted.
Once families begin to see the school as a learning resource they may develop stronger bonds with the school. At the very least, they will have learned important skills that help them engage with school life.
3. Employ a number of outreach strategies when attempting to meet with families.
Let families know about what is happening at school and in the district. Email, phone, robo-calls, text, and mailing flyers home are all sound methods of communication. in my experience I found that since every family is different, with different access to multiple forms of communication, be sure to incorporate several communication strategies, through several type of media channels.
4. Showcase student achievement!
Oftentimes, we don’t celebrate academic achievement on par with sports, musical performances, and the like. A proven way to get families into school is to provide opportunities for students to show off what they’ve learned! The sense of pride and accomplishment that your students will feel will be, “worth the price of admission” alone! Be proud of the work that your students and teachers are doing and share that joy with families!
5. PLEASE be open to feedback from families.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of engaging our families in improvement surveys and other measures to incorporate their input and suggestions. Believe it or not, families care about their children and want the best for them. Our job as educators is to support and guide them in expressing that support in a constructive manner.
Following these 5 steps will ensure that your school begins to develop real connections with your families, that will ultimately provide students with the “circle of support”, that they so desperately need to be successful in school and beyond!
Let’s talk about family engagement!
About the Author
Marlon Davis is a school turnaround specialist who trains principals on leadership, parent involvement, change management, and data-driven instruction. A former teacher, school principal and charter school executive director in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mr. Davis holds an M.Ed. in education leadership from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
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