By Megan Okrand, contributing writer
The academic achievement connection
As the old adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and in the realm of K-12 education, that adage couldn’t be more accurate. Let’s paint a vivid picture — a student who feels the unwavering support of both their school and family, like two sturdy pillars standing below their feet, providing encouragement, guidance, and collaboration. This student isn’t just acing their academics; they’re blossoming with personal growth and radiating self-assurance.
Studies by the US Department of Education reinforce the strong link between family-school partnerships and improved student learning. Metrics such as test scores, graduation rates, and overall academic progress? They all nod in agreement. This is why effective family engagement strategies for schools are critical to implement.
It’s also vital to understand that academic achievement, social-emotional development, improved mental health, and stronger social connections are the delicious fruit that this powerful collaboration bears.
Narrowing the achievement gap
With this in mind, let’s shine a light on the notorious achievement gap, the disparity in academic performance between groups of students — a widespread challenge in our educational landscape. It’s not just a theoretical concern; it’s a real and tangible issue that needs to be addressed. With the strong backing of research from organizations like the National Committee for Citizens in Education, family engagement emerges as a bridge to close this gap.
When families actively join the educational journey of their child, it levels the playing field for students from diverse backgrounds, especially those who have been historically underserved. The achievement gap extends far beyond mere test scores; it’s about ensuring all students have equal access to opportunities and resources. Family engagement’s positive influence can do wonders in narrowing these educational disparities, guaranteeing every student, no matter where they come from, gets a fair chance at success.
Fostering family-school partnerships
Family engagement is an essential cornerstone of a student’s educational journey. It’s not just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. But here’s the thing — it’s not all on the parents.
School administrators, teachers, and staff play a key role, too. They are the architects of a friendly, engaging school environment where family-school partnerships can bloom, steadily closing the achievement gap while improving well-being, family relationships, and social-emotional skills.
Creating a unified school community
The success of family-school partnerships hinges on the collective efforts of school administrators, staff, and the broader school community. These key players work in unison to foster a nurturing and inclusive school climate. Here’s a glimpse into how each member of the school community plays a unique part in enhancing engagement:
- School Staff: Building Bridges — Let’s talk about the school staff, from dedicated educators to support personnel who keep the school running smoothly. They are like the connective tissue between families and the school. Every day, through their interactions with students, they create invaluable opportunities for engagement. These moments offer a peek into students’ unique needs and interests. But here’s the trick: the magic happens when staff approaches these interactions with open arms and a supportive attitude. It’s essential that families feel comfortable sharing their insights and concerns, knowing that the school staff is here to collaborate and ensure every child’s success.
- School Leaders: Setting the Tone — School leaders, including principals and district administrators, are the pioneers of inclusivity. They lead the way in fostering relationships with families, setting the tone for the entire institution. By walking the talk and showing that family engagement is a shared responsibility, they inspire higher levels of participation. This not only contributes to a positive school climate but also creates a community with higher levels of parent participation.
- School Counselors: Facilitating Student Social-Emotional Learning — School counselors are well-equipped to bridge the gap between families and schools. Their expertise in guiding students, supporting their socio-emotional development, and facilitating communication between families and schools makes them invaluable contributors to school-family partnerships.
- School Community: Strengthening Bonds — Last but not least, a vibrant and active school community plays a crucial role in forging bonds and support networks. When the school, caregivers, and local organizations come together, amazing things happen. Think tutoring, exciting extracurricular activities, and so much more. Studies also underscore the power of this collaboration, revealing that schools deeply involved with the broader community experience higher levels of family engagement and success in student outcomes.
Creating pathways for effective engagement
Engaging families can be a multifaceted endeavor, considering the ever-busy schedules and varied backgrounds that families bring to the table. With the right strategies, the gap between home and school can be bridged effectively.
Communication strategies for effective family engagement
Building strong relationships is a two-way street. Parents play a crucial role, but schools also have a part to play. It’s all about meaningful and respectful engagement. Prioritizing empathy and providing informative resources helps schools build strong relationships with parents.
By acknowledging the diverse backgrounds and experiences of families, schools can recognize that not all parents have access to the same information. Establishing open lines of communication is key in fostering these relationships.
Here, we’ll explore practical strategies your school community can implement to achieve just that.
- Regular Newsletters and Updates — We all love a good newsletter, right? Share regular school newsletters and updates that spill the beans on what’s happening in school — upcoming events, the latest buzz, and any important announcements. The trick here is to make sure the information is accessible and relevant to all families, regardless of their cultural backgrounds or their work schedule.
- Digital Platforms — Ah, the beauty of the digital age. Make use of digital communication tools such as email, school websites, and social media, to reach out to busy parents who may find it challenging to physically attend school events. ParentPowered, for example, has a fantastic digital family engagement curriculum to help families get involved with their child’s learning through everyday learning moments.
- Educational Workshops — Who says learning is just for kids? Host workshops that help foster strong parent-teacher communication. These sessions aren’t just about Q&A; they’re about equipping parents with the skills they need to be top-notch advocates for their kids’ education. ParentPowered’s virtual family workshops make it easy to engage families in your family engagement program, especially for the many parents who are unable to attend in-person workshops.
- Supportive School Programs — Supportive school programs are the magnets that draw parents in. Organizing activities within the school, such as community clean-up days or student art exhibitions, alongside virtual options like technology training for parents, makes it easier for families to actively participate in their child’s education.
We get it, introducing family engagement strategies in schools can seem like a tough task. But here’s the good news: ParentPowered curricula align smoothly with the standards of all 50 states, ESSER, Title I, III, IV, and V, the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, PFCE Framework, and Quality Improvement initiatives. What’s more, teachers won’t have to add extra work to their load as the curriculum offers engaging activities for the entire family for them. It’s a win-win. Take a look at these sample messages to see examples of the evidence-based learning activities families receive.
The value of face to face interaction
Parent-teacher conferences are invaluable opportunities for meaningful dialogue between educators and parents. These conferences enable parents to gain insights into their child’s school life, from their A+ moments to areas that could use a little extra love. Beyond grades, conferences can also provide a platform for parents to express their thoughts and ideas. So, it’s crucial for school administrators to organize and encourage these conferences to ensure that they are accessible and convenient for all families.
Consider these helpful tips for successful, inclusive conferences at your school:
- Scheduling Flexibility — Recognize that parents often juggle busy work schedules. By offering flexible and virtual conference scheduling options to accommodate their availability, you not only remove a significant barrier to engagement but also show unwavering commitment to including all families.
- Language Accessibility — Ensure that a parent’s home language factors into your efforts to encourage parents to attend and feel comfortable in a conference. Provide interpreters or translated materials. This allows parents from diverse linguistic backgrounds to fully engage in and benefit from the conference, fostering inclusion and stronger connections among all families.
- Goal-Oriented Discussions — Encourage parents to come prepared with questions and goals for the conference. This will give parents an opportunity to connect with their child about, whether they aced a Biology test or had a bad day on the soccer field. Teachers should likewise be prepared to address any suggestions or concerns raised by parents in advance.
The journey of building strong partnerships doesn’t stop with parent-teacher conferences. One effective way to leverage face-to-face opportunities is to meet families in the heart of their communities, where they gather and thrive. Think local youth centers, faith-based organizations, or community groups.
Here, educators can breathe life into dynamic information sessions and workshops. By taking the school to the community, educators can engage parents in familiar and comfortable settings, making it easier for them to participate actively in their children’s education.
Moreover, it’s all about embracing the magic of informal moments. School events like sporting matches, school plays, and extracurricular activities provide casual yet valuable opportunities for parents to interact with teachers and school staff. It’s in these spontaneous interactions that partnerships come to life.
Empowering all families: equitable approaches to family engagement
Research shows that families, especially those from underserved communities, often encounter various barriers when trying to participate in their children’s education. These barriers can range from limited access to transportation, busy work schedules, or unfamiliarity with school processes due to cultural differences.
Family engagement strategies for schools that center equity
Family-school partnerships for equity involve collaborative efforts aimed at leveling the educational playing field. For instance, schools can organize regular meetings where parents and teachers discuss strategies to help struggling students. These partnerships may also encompass community involvement, where local organizations provide resources like tutoring or mentoring programs, ensuring that all students have access to support beyond the classroom.
In these partnerships, families aren’t just bystanders; they’re the driving force. They actively participate in school decisions, influencing curriculum choices, and contributing to the creation of a more inclusive, diverse, and vibrant learning environment.
Overcoming common barriers to engagement
When it comes to developing family engagement strategies, one size does not fit all. It is important to adopt innovative and equitable approaches that consider the unique challenges families may face. Removing barriers to engagement is paramount, ensuring that all families, regardless of their circumstances, can actively participate in their children’s education.
As we strive to break down engagement barriers and embrace diversity, here are practical steps you can take to create meaningful connections with families of all backgrounds.
- Virtual Engagement Platforms — Virtual parent-teacher conferences or meetings make it easier to stay engaged. Schedule regular webinars or virtual parent nights to ensure all parents have access to school events and discussions.
- Online Surveys — Conduct online surveys to gather feedback and insights from parents, making it easier for them to share their opinions and concerns. ParentPowered programs use custom in-text message surveys for quick and easy feedback collection, simplifying the process for parents and promoting active engagement. Moreover, by sharing analyzed feedback results with parents, schools demonstrate transparency and the impact of parent input on program development.
- Translated Materials — Ensure that all communication materials, including newsletters, announcements, and academic updates, are available in multiple languages to support families whose primary language may not be English.
- Accessible Locations — Choose easily accessible venues for school events, considering public transportation and proximity to families’ workplaces. When organizing events, keep the family’s location and convenience in mind (bonus points if there is a virtual option available as well!)
- Child Care and Transportation Services — To alleviate logistical challenges, work with volunteers or the PTA to arrange onsite childcare during school meetings or events, allowing parents to attend without worrying about their children. The more the merrier! Additionally, if possible, organize carpools for families who have difficulty reaching the school.
Another important factor in equitable family engagement is recognizing the diverse cultural background of families. Cultural diversity can impact the way families engage with schools. That’s where cultural responsiveness comes into play.
The power of cultural responsiveness in family engagement
Every family brings their own unique cultural backgrounds, values, and ways of communicating to the educational journey. These differences can have a big impact on how families and schools interact, how they see the education system, and how involved they are in their child’s learning. But here’s the thing: research tells us that acknowledging and respecting these cultural nuances is vital for meaningful family engagement.
Cultivating cultural responsiveness
Prominent scholar Dr. Karen Mapp, known for her work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, stresses the pivotal role of cultural responsiveness in family engagement. Her research emphasizes building collaborative relationships between schools and culturally diverse families.
Mapp underscores the significance of incorporating family knowledge, traditions, and cultures within the school environment. Her work advocates for genuine parental involvement in decision-making, ranging from program development to outcome assessment, ultimately stressing the need to include families in school decisions.
To put Mapp’s insights into practical use, schools can consider initiatives such as a culturally inclusive curriculum that integrates diverse cultural perspectives, thereby honoring family knowledge and traditions. Additionally, creating opportunities for parents to share their cultural expertise during school events, like international festivals or heritage days, can foster authentic parental involvement in shaping school programs and activities. This approach ensures that cultural diversity is not only acknowledged but actively embraced within the school environment.
Remember, culturally responsive family engagement is not about knowing everything about a community’s culture but rather being aware of the need for cultural sensitivity, curiosity, and openness. Specific training for school staff can help build cultural proficiency and create a school culture where diversity is valued.
Empowering student success through family engagement: your next steps
Now, you might be wondering, “Where do I start?” We understand that implementing these strategies can be challenging. That’s why we’re here to assist you. ParentPowered offers evidence-based family engagement programs designed to facilitate the journey toward student achievement.
To take the first step, join a ParentPowered info session to learn more about how our low-lift, high-impact, and evidence-based programs can support your mission to empower student success through family engagement.
About the author
Megan Okrand is a former High School History teacher turned writer taking her passion for education outside of the classroom and onto the World Wide Web. Connect with her on LinkedIn.