Bibb Hubbard is the president & founder of Learning Heroes, whose mission is to equip parents and guardians with information, resources, and actions they can take to help their children reach their goals. She joins edu@scholastic to offer educator strategies to increase family engagement.
In reading Scholastic’s new Teacher and Principal School Report, I was struck by both its timeliness and the depth of its insights. In particular, the way in which educators defined equity is powerful: "equity in education is not the same as equality … equity means that each student has the individual supports needed to reach his or her greatest potential." To achieve equity, we must look beyond the classroom at the role families play in helping every child find academic success.
As shown in the report, despite educators’ overwhelming agreement (99%) that family engagement is important to student success, three-quarters of educators (74%) said they need help engaging their students’ families. We also saw wide gaps between what educators know to be important family engagement activities and the extent to which those activities are taking place in their communities. These gaps emphasize both the barriers to and opportunities available in engaging parents and families.
While the path to effective family engagement will look a bit different for every school, below are five action steps that schools can employ to engage families and support students.
1. Personalize Communication
Fifty-two percent of educators say providing guidance on how to have meaningful conversations with children about what they are learning at school is among the most important actions that schools can take to help families engage with their children’s learning. Twenty-four percent of educators say it is happening to the degree it should.
As we know, the start of school is an important time to welcome families and forge the foundation of a mutually respectful and meaningful parent-teacher relationship that can be built on throughout the year.
As a teacher, share your professional background and personal history with parents to make sure they understand your expertise and experience. Similarly, ask parents about their child’s interests, habits, academic and personal goals for the year, as well as strengths and struggle areas for extra support. Parents are the "expert" on their child, and can reveal a lot of helpful information that can enhance the learning experience.
2. Share Clear Expectations
We know from Parents 2016, Learning Heroes’ research, that 66% of K-8 parents say they would benefit from a detailed explanation of what their child should be learning each year. One resource to consider is the Readiness Roadmap (bealaerninghero.org), which offers a range of resources by several trusted sources such as Scholastic, National PTA, and the Council of Great City Schools. The Roadmap includes grade-by-grade expectations, short videos of what mastery looks like at every stage, and how parents can help support learning at home.
3. Provide Context
Seventy-four percent of educators believe it’s important to clearly communicate to families what learning goals are for the school year. Fifty-two percent report it’s happening to the degree it should.
Parents can get frustrated when they’re not clear on what their child is learning and why. To provide parents with the rationale behind what what’s happening in the classroom, ask them to bring their child’s previous year’s state assessment results to their first parent-teacher conference. While these results are just one part of a broader picture of academic wellness, they can help ground parents in their child’s goals, expectations, and how skills mastered one year are essential for the following year’s success. They can also help you, as an educator, know where the child might need additional support or challenge.
4. Go Beyond Academics
Forty-five percent of teachers and 60% of principals say reaching out to community partners to offer services to families is among the most important things educators can do to help families be engaged with children’s learning. Thirty-five percent of teachers and 38% of principals say these partnerships are happening to the degree they should.
Parents don’t just think about academics. From Parents 2016, parents’ top worries include peer pressure, emotional health and happiness, and using technology safely and responsibly.
It helps when teachers talk to parents about their child’s overall well-being, as we know this can affect academic wellness. Asking questions about how well the child is sleeping, eating, and engaging with friends outside of school, as well as areas where they are struggling, or sports and hobbies that bring them great satisfaction contribute to getting the whole picture of the child. This is a great way to help parents connect the dots between student success and overall learning goals, as well as build meaningful relationships with families. Here are some Learning Tools that can help parents support their child’s social, emotional, and academic development.
5. Promote the Love of Learning: Anywhere, Anytime
Fifty-five percent of educators say providing guidance on the role families should play regarding homework is important. Thirty-one percent say this is happening to the degree it should.
To supplement teachers’ ideas, suggest local after-school resources as well as online tools that parents can use to help support learning at home. Additionally, it’s important to share how parents can help make learning come to life as part everyday routines and activities with their children—whether this means measuring and practicing fractions while cooking, or pointing out and reading words together while running errands. Also, giving parents a friendly reminder to make sure their child has completed and turned in homework reinforces that they play an essential in keeping their child on track with their classwork.
As teachers, principals, and parents overwhelmingly agree, for children to succeed, parents and families need teachers and teachers need parents and families. As we strive to ensure equity in our schools and communities where every child’s individual needs are met and their potential realized, we must acknowledge that building and sustaining these critical relationships can be tricky and time-consuming.
I hope that some of the ideas above can help make this important task a bit more manageable. If you have other actions that have worked for you and your colleagues, I hope you’ll share this post along with your ideas using the hashtags #bealearninghero and #teacherprincipalreport. There is nothing more important than the work of educators and families in raising healthy and happy children, prepared to reach their dreams.
(Read our previous post on this topic: Family Engagement Lessons from the Teacher & Principal School Report.)