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How Can Schools Work to Better Involve and Engage Families?

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve heard school leaders and teachers talk about how essential it has been to connect with families. Certainly, distance learning only truly worked when schools and parents worked as partners. But, now that most schools are beyond the point of needing to provide full distance learning for all students, how do schools continue to value those connections that were made and work to meaningfully partner with families?

In a webinar I attended this winter, they focused on the term “family-centric”. Their simple definition for the term is that it means start with the family. As schools are working to plan for graduation, summer school and next year, they need to truly seek to know what the families want - what are THEIR priorities, THEIR goals, THEIR needs, THEIR resources? Research from the Flamboyan Foundation shows that families play five essential roles in support of their children’s education:

  • Communicating high expectations

  • “I know you can pass that test.” or “I believe you can go to college.”

  • Monitoring their child’s performance

  • “How did you do on the test?” or “Are you on track to meet your goals?”

  • Supporting learning at home

  • “Can I help you study for the test?” or “Let’s read together.”

  • Guiding their child’s academic path

  • “You should take this class first.” or “Let’s explore college entrance requirements.”

  • Advocating for their child

  • “Who can we ask for help” or “I will ask your teacher about that.”

By starting with the families, it assumes we have much to learn from them - and we truly do! Educators need to believe that all families, regardless of income level, race, or other social factors, dream of success for their children and all families have the capacity to support their children’s learning. As schools are starting to work to make key decisions about the future of education, what are we doing to self-reflect and assess OUR (educator) family-engagement understanding, assumptions?

There are many things to consider when when making key decisions, but here are some simple questions to help you start to become more family-centric when making decisions:

  • What have you learned from families about what worked and didn’t work for them during distance learning and the adjusted learning schedules from this year? How do you know?

  • As you plan forward, what role will families have in making critical decisions (input, feedback, collaboration)?

  • When considering an important decision, how do you learn how families feel about this decision?

  • When getting input from families, whose voices are missing? How do we assure we hear the voices of those families as well?

  • What commitments have you made to equip families to support student learning during the pandemic? How can you continue and expand that commitment?

There have been many challenges brought on by the pandemic, but there have also been opportunities to grow and improve. Undoubtedly, REAL family engagement looks different for schools and partnership with families is more critical than ever. During unprecedented times, educators and families must be true allies in education so that all students succeed, and all families feel supported. As we all work to rebuild and reimagine the new normal for schools, be sure to take the opportunity to meaningfully involve families in the process.

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