By Megan Okrand, contributing writer
When I was still teaching in the classroom, my favorite part of the year was graduation day. Now, you might think it’s because it was the start of a well-deserved summer break (and I’m sure that’s why many of my students loved it). But my love for graduation day ran deeper than that. It was the moment that everything came together.
A sea of graduates, adorned in their caps and gowns. Beaming parents, armed with cameras and tissues. Friends and family, proud and elated, gathered to celebrate this milestone. And then there was us: the teachers and staff who had the privilege of accompanying these students on their educational journey.
During the ceremony, you couldn’t help but notice the parents who cried (and truth be told, many of us educators shed a tear, or five). The sight of graduates embarking on their new beginning, whether marked by tears of joy or nostalgic sighs, was undoubtedly heartwarming. Yet, behind each cap and gown, there existed a profound force that significantly influenced the success of the students — family engagement. Graduation day was a reminder that education is a shared endeavor, a cooperative journey involving not just students but their families as well.
The vital role of family engagement
The evidence is in. A wealth of research on the importance of family engagement in education reveals its transformative potential. When families become active players in their children’s education, these budding scholars, bolstered by a supportive team of adults, not only dream big but work relentlessly to realize those dreams. Those chats about school, words of encouragement, and celebrations of success transform families from spectators into partners on the journey to educational success. This partnership fosters a profound sense of purpose in students. Graduation isn’t a distant dream; it’s a tangible reality.
But the importance of family engagement doesn’t stop at individual goals. It also molds the school climate. When parents actively participate in their children’s education, the school becomes a hub of collaboration and mutual support. Teachers, parents, and students forge meaningful relationships, enriching the educational experience. With their combined efforts, schools are not just places of learning, but also places of nurture, safety, and growth.
In essence, family engagement is the glue that bonds academic aspirations with reality and its impact goes beyond academics. It molds social-emotional development, ignites teacher engagement, and cultivates an environment that is nurturing and inclusive. It bridges the gap between potential and achievement, guiding students towards success. To gain a deeper appreciation for the significance of family engagement in education, let’s explore four compelling ways it leaves a lasting positive impact.
#1: Improved attendance and positive behavior
“I don’t want to go to school today.” We’ve all heard it from students. But it’s what happens next that matters most. A supportive learning environment is not just within school walls; it begins at home. Families play a crucial role in making students feel safe, respected, and motivated to attend school. They can be all the difference between a student hitting snooze on the alarm clock or jumping out of bed with a thirst for knowledge, ready to take on the day.
Boosting attendance and fostering school importance
In the context of a child’s education, parents and primary caregivers hold a unique role. They are the first educators, nurturing their child’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. When parents actively engage in their child’s education, they send a powerful message: school matters.
A study conducted by the Harvard Family Research Project revealed that family engagement has a direct impact on students’ perception of school importance. When families are involved, students are more likely to view education as a valuable, life-enriching experience, reinforcing the significance of school in their lives. Parents can make learning fun and engaging at home through activities like reading together.
Moreover, families can foster a love for learning by showing enthusiasm for educational activities and acknowledging their child’s achievements. This can make students feel confident and excited about their formal education journey.
When it comes to attendance, family engagement plays a pivotal role. Research by Anne T. Henderson and Dr. Karen Mapp has demonstrated that engaged parents tend to convey the significance of education and school life to their children, boosting their enthusiasm for learning.
This perception is instrumental in shaping students’ behavior and attendance. Engaged parents reinforce the importance of attending school regularly, but it doesn’t stop there. Schools can further support families in boosting attendance, whether by partnering with community organizations and local businesses to provide transportation options or by facilitating a car-pool program. In turn, these efforts create an environment where students are more likely to make that early morning trek to the classroom.
From listening to their child’s concerns without judgment to setting a consistent morning routine to reduce stress, parental involvement sets the stage for their academic success.
Promoting positive behavior in school through family support
The school environment can be a complex social landscape where student behavior can profoundly impact the learning experience. Positive classroom behavior is not solely manageable by the school or the teacher; it’s a partnership between parents and educators. Family engagement creates a platform for teachers and parents to communicate and align their strategies for nurturing good behavior. By reinforcing values of respect, responsibility, and kindness at home, parents help create a seamless, positive school atmosphere that is conducive for learning.
#2: Increased academic achievement
Academic achievement doesn’t happen by chance – it’s meticulously crafted with the active involvement of families, students, and schools. Parents and caregivers steer students toward success, igniting a passion for learning, cultivating effective study habits, and fostering a conducive environment that supports academic growth.
The driving force behind academic achievement
Imagine a student coming home after a long day of school, carrying the weight of assignments, exams, and the desire to perform well. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, they know they can turn to their family for guidance and support. Engaged families provide a nurturing touch that can significantly influence a child’s intrinsic motivation and readiness to learn.
Numerous studies emphasize the positive correlation between family engagement and improved academic success. For instance, a study published in Early Education and Development highlights the essential role of family engagement in fostering kindergarten readiness, and consequently, a smooth transition into formal education. Engaging children in activities that stimulate cognitive growth, such as playing memory games or identifying different shapes in their environment, is one way parents can contribute to student achievement. These activities boost a child’s problem solving abilities and critical thinking skills, both of which are essential for school.
To help increase parental involvement in education, ParentPowered provides families with a comprehensive whole child curriculum that grows alongside students, delivered to families via text messages, the most widely accessible technology.
Building a supportive network for excellence
Academic success flourishes within a supportive ecosystem. Engaged families are integral components of this network. Collaborating with educators and schools, they create an environment where students can excel academically. It’s no coincidence that schools with active family engagement witness higher graduation rates, increased math scores, and increased reading scores.
Think of it like this: a student faces challenges in certain subjects. Engaged families work closely with teachers to identify those difficulties and provide additional support, be it through tutoring or focused practice. For educators, this means open lines of communication with parents, sharing insights on the student’s academic journey, and collaborating on personalized strategies.
At home, it involves parents’ understanding their child’s specific learning needs and actively participating in their school life. For example, parents can establish study routines, creating a fertile environment for academic growth. By working closely with educators, they provide the unwavering support and guidance their children need to overcome academic challenges and thrive
This level of support isn’t just about improving grades; it equips students to conquer obstacles while nurturing an enduring passion for learning. When families and schools work together, students are equipped not only to succeed in their academic journey but to embrace future success beyond graduation.
#3: Enhanced social emotional development
Education goes beyond textbooks and test scores; it’s about preparing young minds for life. And for this, social and emotional skills, commonly referred to as social emotional learning, are as crucial as academic ones. Through collaborative family engagement, students become well-rounded individuals who are not only academically proficient but also emotionally resilient and socially adept.
Fostering essential social skills
The ability to interact with others harmoniously is a fundamental aspect of social development. Research has revealed an undeniable connection between family involvement and the enhancement of social skills in students. This means that these students are not only better at making friends but also resolving conflicts and working effectively in group settings. Why? Effective communication. When parents are actively involved in their child’s education, it promotes conversations about feelings, friendships, and daily experiences. Through open dialogues, students can communicate their thoughts, express their feelings, and learn the art of empathy — essential life skills both within and beyond the school walls.
Effective communication isn’t just about eloquence; it’s about active listening, body language, and understanding diverse perspectives. Family engagement introduces students to a myriad of communicative styles. When families actively participate in their child’s education, students learn that effective communication isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept, but rather a flexible tool that can adapt to different situations and audiences.
A crucial aspect of effective communication is embracing a trauma-informed approach. Recognizing the potential traumas and stressors that students and families may face, this form of communication prioritizes empathy, sensitivity, and support. ParentPowered Trauma-Informed equips parents, caregivers, and programs with essential communication tools to mitigate the impact of trauma and effectively address adversity.
In the nurturing environment of family engagement, students not only gain confidence but also learn to become more independent in advocating for their needs and communicating with their teachers. A strong parent-teacher partnership fosters a network of mutual respect, trust, and shared responsibility for a child’s education. When students witness this collaboration between their parents and teachers, it sets a powerful example, motivating them to cultivate similar positive relationships with both their peers and teachers.
Furthermore, enhanced teacher-student relationships translate to improved teamwork with peers. Students, equipped with effective communication skills and bolstered confidence, are more likely to engage harmoniously in group activities. As a result, family engagement plays a pivotal role in nurturing the social skills essential for successful teamwork, a vital skill not only in school but also in life.
Developing emotional intelligence
It’s more than just social skills – emotional intelligence also plays a pivotal role in shaping a well-rounded individual. Emotional intelligence involves recognizing, understanding, and managing one’s own emotions while being attuned to the emotions of others. Family engagement, as it turns out, is a potent catalyst in this process.
When parents actively participate in their child’s education, they create an emotional support system that bolsters the development of emotional skills. By providing an open space for children to discuss their feelings, fears, and aspirations, families encourage self-awareness and expression while recognizing that social emotional skill building grows and shifts as students grow up (just like ParentPowered does).
Family involvement equips students with the emotional intelligence needed to navigate a school’s social environment. In the classroom, students with a strong foundation in emotional intelligence can manage their stress, adapt to change, and engage in productive teamwork. As students develop an understanding of their own emotions, they are better equipped to relate to their peers and teachers and are more understanding of their needs. This empathy can ripple outwards, contributing to a positive school climate and fostering an inclusive learning environment.
#4: A more welcoming school community
Family engagement does far more than just benefit students; it’s the key to a vibrant school environment. Schools that champion robust family-school partnerships and prioritize effective family engagement initiatives don’t just educate, they create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.
Strengthening parent-teacher relationships
In the realm of K-12 education, the quality of parent-teacher relationships is fundamental. These relationships lay the groundwork for the success of students, and the reason is simple: when parents and teachers collaborate, they work together in the best interests of the child
Effective family engagement efforts are key in building these connections. It’s not merely about reporting on grades; through meaningful two-way communication, families and educators can share insights into the student’s progress both academically and personally. When parents are informed and actively participating, they feel more at ease with the education system, and this trust can lead to improved parent-teacher relationships.
To strengthen parent-teacher relationships, schools can organize events like parent shadow days, allowing parents to shadow a teacher for a day. This firsthand experience provides insight into the classroom and fosters empathy for the teacher’s role.
Because not all families are able to take time out of their day to come to campus, schools can develop options for family involvement. One valuable approach is to transform the student take-home folder into a communications tool for families and teachers to exchange information regularly and informally as part of a routine. Alternatively, schools can establish a pen pal system. Family-teacher pen pals can exchange letters or emails discussing not only academics but also sharing personal stories and cultural experiences. No matter what strategies work best for the individual school community, encouraging and nurturing ongoing communication strengthens parent-teacher relationships.
Bringing parents into the picture
One of the undeniable benefits of family engagement in education is the increase in parent involvement within the school community. When families are connected within the educational journey of their child, they are more inclined to volunteer their time and energy. As they attend school events, participate in activities, and contribute to school-decision making, their involvement fosters a sense of belonging.
To encourage parental involvement and build a supportive school climate, schools might consider creating volunteer opportunities within the school, such as assisting in the library, organizing extracurricular events, or participating in school improvement projects.
To foster inclusivity and engagement, schools can explore innovative ways to connect with parents who may not be able to physically attend events. For example, educators can take school events into the community by hosting parent-teacher meetings at local community centers or organizing storytelling sessions in neighborhood libraries. This proactive approach ensures that all families, regardless of their physical presence at the school, feel connected and engaged in their child’s education.
Moreover, it could be beneficial to establish channels or platforms for parents to provide feedback on school activities, their concerns, and suggestions. By actively engaging with this feedback, schools demonstrate the value placed on the opinions and voices of parents.
The shared responsibility of inclusivity
Engaging families in the educational journey is not without its challenges, yet recognizing and addressing these barriers to engagement is key to fostering effective family engagement. The Family Research Project at Harvard University stresses the significance of embracing diversity and promoting engagement among all families, regardless of their socioeconomic status. The shared responsibility for creating inclusivity ensures that no family feels left out, strengthening the bonds that hold the school community together. Below are some hurdles that schools often face in promoting family engagement, with effective family engagement practices that overcome them:
1. Strategies for enhanced engagement
Many families are juggling multiple responsibilities, and finding time for school involvement can be a struggle. This barrier is particularly common among households. Flexible events and meetings that accommodate varied schedules including online meetings or meetings held off campus within community hubs are ways to address this barrier.
2. Stategies to build trust and bridge gaps
Some parents may have had negative experiences with their own education, leading to skepticism about their child’s school. Overcoming these preconceptions is important. One approach is to host “Meet and Greet” sessions, either in person or virtually, where parents can ask questions and share their concerns. This creates a space for open dialogue, where schools can address any misconceptions and demonstrate their commitment to a positive learning environment.
3. Strategies to empower parents
In certain cases, parents may be willing to engage but lack knowledge about how to do so effectively. Workshops and training sessions, for example, could help parents to learn more about family engagement strategies and how to support their child’s learning.
As a helpful low-lift, high-impact resource, ParentPowered provides online family workshops brimming with valuable parenting knowledge, engaging educational games, and practical expert guidance that can be effortlessly applied.
4. Strategies to promote cultural responsiveness
Culturally responsive family engagement is essential when creating an inclusive and supportive environment. Diversity training programs and workshops can help staff understand and respect the cultures, backgrounds, and linguistic diversity of all students and their families. Schools may consider working with parents and community leaders to develop a curriculum that represents the varied backgrounds of the student body, or programs that encourage parents from different backgrounds to interact, share their experiences, and learn from one another.
When parents are actively engaged, they perceive the school as a partner rather than an institution. Consequently, their perceptions of the school become more positive. They are likely to appreciate the efforts of school programs designed to foster engagement. At the same time, educators develop a deeper trust in the parents as active participants and allies in their child’s education. This improved relationship has a ripple effect on the entire school community, fostering a more supportive environment for all.
Embracing the future
Now that we’ve journeyed through the remarkable impact of family engagement on student achievement and future success, we must conclude by revisiting that iconic day — graduation. The beaming graduates on the stage are a testament to the support and unwavering encouragement of their families. It’s a collective celebration of the small victories, late-night study sessions, and a shared belief in the potential of our students. So, let’s keep embracing it and ensure that every future graduate doesn’t just receive a diploma but a ticket to a future that knows no bounds.
If you’re interested in creating these transformative moments for your students and their families, join a ParentPowered info session to learn more about our evidence-based family engagement programs.
About the Author
Megan Okrand is a former High School History teacher turned writer taking her passion for education outside of the classroom and into the World Wide Web. Connect with her on LinkedIn.