For schools, engaging families in effective partnership is challenging work. Data is a great tool to navigate the course, and without it, efforts can feel unfocused and purposeless.
Using data instead of intuition
Educators wouldn’t dream of developing a comprehensive instructional plan for students without first conducting a diagnostic assessment. By the same token, impactful school leaders rely on more than intuition and gut feelings when articulating a comprehensive family engagement strategy.
Understanding the need to assess family engagement practices is step one. Step two is to make sure the measures assess the right things, and that information is distributed to the right stakeholders.
If we believe family engagement is a critical strategy to support student achievement, then what we assess should produce data to indicate how effectively we engage families in the learning process.
While many schools and districts survey families annually, this doesn't paint a complete picture of the quality of the home-school partnership. Collecting feedback from families is important: however, to measure the effectiveness of the home-school partnership, we must also collect feedback from teachers and administrators, since they are critical to the success of the partnership. We should also look a bit more closely at the other ways we invite families to engage with us as partners.
Besides surveying families, what are the other ways to measure the effectiveness of the home-school partnership?
The first thing to look at is how you welcome families to the school. If families do not feel welcome, it is difficult to engage them as partners in the learning process. An onsite physical walk-through assesses the school from the moment families’ drive into the parking lot. A complete assessment of the physical environment looks at:
availability of visitor parking spots
main office signage
signs of learning throughout the building
A campus walk-through is critical, but many families don’t have time to come to the school on a regular basis. The information they find about the school comes from what they read about online. A website review looks at the school's online presence from the family perspective:
Is it easy for families to navigate?
Is the information written in a language and format families can understand?
Most important: can families easily find the information they need to support their child’s learning?
Take, for example, the parent portal. The parent portal is where families stay up-to-date on their child’s progress. The link for the parent portal should be easy for families to locate and access.
How many times have you visited a restaurant or business only to be ignored, dismissed or treated rudely? When this occurs, how likely are you to visit the business again?
"Customer service" is equally important in schools. Each and every contact with a family should make them feel welcomed, valued and invited to participate in the learning environment. Besides assessing customer service during an onsite review, conducting a mystery shopper phone call is also a smart way to assess how friendly staff is to families when they call the school. These calls are done anonymously and at random times during the school day in order to assess the level of customer service.
This is what a comprehensive family engagement assessment looks like: it's not intuition and gut feelings, but a comprehensive assessment that provides you with actionable, qualitative and quantitative data.