Strong Families, Strong Schools

Based on my keynote at the Family Leadership Conference, Saturday, May 21, 2016.
When our eldest entered school, I wanted to know his teachers, the principal, and other families* in our neighborhood. I'm on the state Board of Ed now as the Parent Representative and I'm there with no particular education expertise to speak of, but by virtue of having a child in the public schools at the time I was appointed by Governor Deval L. Patrick in August 2014.
I've learned quite a lot about our children and our schools over the years as a parent, as a former Lexington School Committee Member and Chair, and as a past state PTA president. I want to share some of what I've learned about what it means - and why it's important - for modern families to be engaged in their child's education.
Over forty years of research demonstrates that when families are engaged in their children's education, student achievement and graduation rates increase and this holds true regardless of a parent's level of education, country of origin, or socio-economic status.
Schools need families to help close learning gaps, and we all need to work together to help our schools fulfill the promise that public education holds for every child, but what is it supposed to look like?
I attended a conference a while back that was focused on helping families help their children succeed at school. I didn't write down who the speaker was, but I did write what was said, and it reveals some profound indicators for families and schools:
In the homes of high-achieving children, the academic climate is in sync with the academic climate found in their schools. And together, they generate a series of attitudes and beliefs, skills and motivations that lead to higher achievement of many kinds.
With the federal update of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the language for families has been sharpened from "family involvement" to "family engagement". It's a challenging provision because we all know how busy families are these days.

Modern family engagement is not a checklist; it's about building relationships with families for student success no matter the family's culture, language, or socio-economic status. It's about understanding and co-constructing complementary roles, but before you can get there, you have to establish some core beliefs. This is what the book Beyond the Bake Sale is all about.

In Bake Sale, the authors share 4 Core Beliefs which are the four corners of family-school partnerships. I highly recommend reading and discussing the book in mixed teams: of parents, teachers, building leaders, custodians, secretaries, school committee members, selectmen, faith-based and community-base leaders, etc., because the whole community shares a role in student success.
Sharing responsibility means families become full partners with schools in an integrated, strategic way for students, not as a stand alone event, or a thing that a school or individual does. Effective family engagement is woven into everything the school does.
Approaching relationships with families in this way is to focus on a strength-based model, wherein family engagement is systemic and integrated, not something added to an already full plate; it's the sauce that brings everything together.
Shared responsibility is continuous across a child's life - from birth through adult - and it happens everywhere children learn: at home, in pre-kindergarten programs, before- and after-school programs, in school, and in faith-based and community-based programs and activities. Shared responsibility is identified as having three dimensions:
  1. Opportunities: where schools and communities provide opportunities for family engagement;
  2. Roles: where families, schools, and communities co-create responsibilities for student success;
  3. Learning: where families, schools, and communities take stock to learn and improve practice.
Modern families engage with schools and communities to support children's learning, guide them through a complex school system, advocate for more and improved learning opportunities, and collaborate and communicate effectively with school and community partners.
Modern schools engage with families and communities in order to build relationships, communicate effectively, provide activities that link to learning and address differences, and support advocacy and share power.
* * *
* "Parent" or "family" refers to the adult/s who serve a care-giving role in a child's life.
  1. 1647: 
  2. Building Capacity for Family Engagement: 
  3. Family Engagement in Anytime, Anywhere Learning:  
  4. Harvard Family Research Project:
  5. Massachusetts Parent and Community Education and Involvement Advisory Council: (See Family, School, and Community Partnership Fundamentals:
  6. National Association for Family and Community Education (NAFCE):
  7. National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA):
  8. The Equity and Excellence Commission Report to Education Secretary Arne Duncan: