Modern Family Engagement

Hands: How often have you experienced "random acts" of family engagement at your child's school, those one-off events to count heads in the building toward the school's family engagement plan?

Research demonstrates that when families are engaged in children's education, student achievement and graduation rates increase. Also? Studies show that effectively engaging families is cost effective, so much so that schools would have to spend more than $1,000 per pupil to get the same results.

So, it's clear that schools need families to help close learning gaps, but few know what good family engagement looks like, and fewer are willing to take the risk.

It's been observed that, in the homes of high-achieving children, the academic climate is in-sync with the academic climate of their schools. Together they generate a series of beliefs, attitudes, skills, and motivations that lead to higher achievement of many kinds.

Modern families play critical roles for student success, raising their children in multiple settings and across time, in collaboration with many others:
  • Modern family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to engaging families in meaningful and culturally respectful ways - and families are committed to actively supporting their children's learning and development --> where families and schools co-create responsibilities and roles for student success
  • Modern family engagement is continuous across a child's life --> where schools and communities provide opportunities for family engagement
  • Modern family engagement is carried out everywhere children learn - at home, in pre-K programs, in school, in after-school programs, faith-based institutions, and community programs and activities --> where families, schools, and communities take stock to learn and improve
It's important for schools to be intentional in their approaches to build relationships with families, yet many teacher preparation programs provide very little preparation on how to work constructively with families. As the Lead Learner in a school building, Principals set the tone, co-constructing roles based on a shared responsibility and their understanding of complimentary responsibilities.

How family friendly is your school? How do you know? One way to find out is through a welcoming school walk-through. Invite some families, some community members, teachers, and support staff, including custodians, cafeteria workers, and school secretaries. Walk through the building and ask them to look at your school as a new visitor would see it:
  • How inviting is the entrance?
  • Are signs clear and in the languages represented by families whose children attend the school?
  • How welcoming is the front office?
Consider using a guide like this checklist from Beyond the Bake Sale.*

All parents have the capacity to support their children's learning and there are many different kinds of learning. Many times, educators don't understand how they intimidate families, especially those whose first language isn't English. How can you shift culture in a school?
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* Beyond the Bake Sale is a great book for the whole school to read together, but it's even more effective to read it in mixed teams of educators and parents. I've read it several ways and one of the most powerfully engaging was as a virtual book study across 10 time zones using blogs, twitter, and voxer to share learning and challenge thinking.

Too Small to Fail is an initiative of the Clinton Foundation and The Opportunity Institute to empower all parents with tools to talk, read, and sing with their young children from birth. Check out their Programs & Partnerships to see how they are shifting awareness in the media, in laundromats, on the playground and more.

Harvard Family Research Project helps stakeholders develop and evaluate strategies to promote the well-being of children, youth, families, and their communities.