Building Blocks to Improve the Relationship Between Schools and Families
In Part I of our Home-School Connection Series we discussed many different benefits of family engagement for students, parents, teachers and administrators. If you’re left wondering, “how can I help to foster a culture of increased family engagement,” read on.
It Takes a Village
In a perfect world, all of the adults in a child’s life, including teachers, principals, coaches, family members, etc. would be working together to help a student thrive and achieve his or her potential. But with all of the barriers to family engagement, sometimes you need to think outside the box to make it happen.
Luther Burbank High School, an urban school serving 2,000 students in Sacramento, California, has made it a priority to connect with families that are hard to reach. Each summer dozens of teachers, counselors, and classified staff make hundreds of home visits to incoming freshman, taking the time to build relationships with students’ families.1 The goal is simple: listen and engage parents. There are even organizations dedicated to reaching out to families in a non-digital way, including, PARENT TEACHER HOME VISITS. Their mission is to achieve high impact student, teacher and family engagement.
These are two examples of how some schools are bridging the gap between their school and student’s families. Here are some other ways to begin to encourage and expand family participation in your school district.
Best Practices for Increasing Family Engagement in Your School District
- Acknowledge leadership starts at the top. As a school administrator, be cognizant of your role as chief communicator with families in your district. Include a goal to increase home-school engagement as part of your strategic plan. Come up with real tactics to implement to achieve your goal. Include your school board and administrative staff in your plan to help you achieve your goals.
- Ask and listen. Communication should be a two-way street. Promote activities and events that bring parents and school staff together to discuss, solve a problem, or brainstorm. Ask parents how the school can improve communication and what you can do to help them become more engaged in their child’s education. You can accomplish this with an electronic survey, phone calls, in-person visits, or even by setting up a committee or panel of various parents from different backgrounds. This will help to foster an environment where parents are collaborators.
- Look for positive opportunities to communicate with parents. Principals and teachers, this one is for you! Families should be communicated with on a regular basis, and not only as a result of a discipline problem or academic issue. Through open teacher-parent communication, parents can become involved with creating strategies to support student learning. Far too often, teachers and parents only connect on negative issues. Principals should lead by example and reach out to parents on a rotating basis. Ideally, teachers will follow suit and open lines of communication that reach beyond disciplinary issues.
- Welcome and encourage parents to lead a fundamental role in their child’s education. Hit the ground running in August or September and educate parents about what to expect during the school year, curriculum, and how they can support their child’s education at home. Further, encourage family members to become active participants in their child’s classroom. At St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville, NY, the second grade has a Mystery Reader each week. Family members share three clues about themselves and then surprise the class and bring their favorite books to read aloud. This is a simple idea that the students and parents look forward to!
- Look for ways to reach out to all parents in the community. It’s easy to rely on active PTA members, but don’t stop there. Consider ways to get people with different backgrounds to participate in their child’s education. For example, start a service committee led by parents whom are interested in this type of work.
- Offer opportunities at different times of the day and on different days. If many activities are scheduled during the school day, look for ways to incorporate weekend or weeknight events. Lastly, offer lower stakes parent involvement. Try to get hard-to-reach parents involved in one-time or short-term commitments, in an effort to slowly build a relationship.
- Build connections throughout the entire community. Collaborate with community organizations, community service programs, historical societies, local arts programs, etc. to connect students, families, teachers, and administrators to expanded learning and service opportunities.
What is your school district doing to create more family engagement?
Share your ideas, tips and advice below.
1. Ferlazzo, L. (2011). Involvement or Engagement? Educational Leadership, 68(8), 10-14. Retrieved May 21, 2018, from http://schd.ws/hosted_files/wssi2017/e3/Educational Leadership_Schools, Families, Communities_Involvement or Engagement_.pdf↩