Family Engagement Lessons from the Teacher & Principal School Report

Ron Mirr, Senior Vice President of Learning Supports and Family and Community Engagement (FACE), joins edu@scholastic to discuss research findings around family & community engagement in the Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education.

The Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education provides insight into the resources educators need to help all students succeed. One of these critical resources is the ability to effectively engage families and community partners to support student learning. This engagement can be grouped into 4 key areas: welcoming, communication, information, and participation.

We heard from educators that strong partnerships with families and community partners are essential to student success. As one elementary school teacher shared, “In order for a teacher to be the best, the whole community must be working on the same plan for each child. Everyone in the child’s world is part of the team.” Teachers and principals across the country (99%) agree it is important to student success for families to be involved in their children’s learning. Ninety-seven percent of educators say that families and school staff should be equal partners in supporting student learning.

Welcoming

Strong welcoming relationships with families and community agencies are not just nice, they are necessary. Make “welcoming” intentional in your school—post welcoming signs and messages in your school and on your website, take turns welcoming families in the morning when they drop off their children, ask families what would make them feel welcome and included at the school and then work with families to implement those ideas. 

Communication

The survey results indicate that ongoing, two-way communication between schools and families is the cornerstone of effective family engagement. Respondents overwhelmingly agree that schools must use multiple formats to communicate with families. However, many teachers and principals also told us they encounter multiple barriers to effective communication. They need help knowing how to address these barriers, especially in high-poverty schools. In fact, 30% of teachers in high-poverty schools say they are unable to reach half (or more) of their students’ families at least once a year. Remember, not everyone likes to communicate in the same way. Ask your families about the best way to communicate with them and make sure you use multiple methods of communication—phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, school/teacher websites, face-to-face conversations.

Information

The Teacher & Principal School Report also shows that teachers understand the importance of sharing information about student learning. Educators know they must communicate what students’ learning goals are for the school year, and guide families on their role regarding homework. 

Respondents highlighted the importance of helping families know how to have meaningful, ongoing conversations with their children about what they are learning in school. A high school teacher from Montana said, “The school needs to build a positive culture surrounding parent engagement. We need to move beyond just having traditional parent-teacher conferences twice a year; this shouldn’t be the only time for parent-teacher communication." (Read more: Family-Teacher Conferences: What You Need to Know.)

Participation

Teachers and principals know that what families do at home can have a positive impact on student success in school. A middle school teacher from Illinois shared, “I understand that many just don’t know how to help. I wish we had more resources to connect and build the relationship between home and school.” The survey respondents shared many ideas for how they could increase family participation in student learning. Seventy percent of teachers believe they should host and encourage participation at family activities and events that involve their children, while 69% of teachers think they should encourage families to read aloud with their children and support independent reading at home.

In addition to reading with their children, families can support student success by talking with children about the importance of education and sharing their aspirations for their child. Families can play a critical role in helping students be confident learning and believe they can be successful in school. Families can also help their children manage their own learning by monitoring homework and other assignments and guiding them on how to seek help from their peers and their teachers when needed.

So why, if so many educators understand how to engage families in learning, aren’t effective family engagement initiatives in place in all schools across the country? The answer is simple—we don’t provide enough training and information through pre-service and in-service experiences to help educators know what do. Seventy-four percent of teachers and principals tell us they need help engaging the families of their students in support of their children’s learning. Many educators (47%) say that professional development on ways to work effectively with families from all cultures is among the most important things educators should do to increase family engagement. Unfortunately, only 27% of educators say this is happening to the degree it should. 

Resolutions

As we start a new year, I’m hoping we use what we learned from educators to make three resolutions for engaging families in student learning. 

First, let’s find a way to help build the expertise of schools to welcome families as partners. Next, let’s build the capacity of educators to employ multiple methods for communication with families—methods that share information about what students are learning. Finally, let’s help educators provide experiences that empower all families to increase their participation in support of their child’s learning.