Find Expert-Led Strategies That Work for Your School
Visit the Waterford webinars page to learn from educational experts like Candra Morris, Dr. Jenni Torres, Julie Christensen, and others on topics that include:
- Fostering Family Engagement
- Teaching with the Science of Reading
- Understanding the Six Literacy Strands
- And more!
On both the classroom and schoolwide level, family involvement in education can make a profound difference in early learning outcomes. When educators build strong relationships, families can reinforce what their students are learning in the classroom as they set their own routines and expectations at home.
As an educator, it’s important to remember that all families are different. While they may face barriers to their involvement, such as scheduling or transportation needs, always assume that families are eager to support their children however they can.
Focus on getting to know families so you have a solid understanding of their needs and what is going on in their lives. Use that knowledge and work with families to find ways to support their students at home and, if desired, in your school. Read on to learn what family engagement includes and how you can build a community where families are valued at your school.
What Is Family Engagement?
Educators can connect families with opportunities to actively contribute to the school community, set student goals, and create strong home learning environments. Families understand their child’s needs, strengths, and areas of growth and use that understanding to inform the strategies educators use.
Engagement can involve a variety of opportunities depending on the individual family. Some families may want to take an active role in the classroom by volunteering or joining parent-teacher organizations. Others may prefer at-home options in which they stay connected with teachers through digital communication and help students build the skills they’re learning in class from home.
Family Engagement Leads to Mutual Respect and Student Success
The importance of family involvement in education is clear, and the benefits profound. In a retrospective looking at 50 different studies, researchers found strong connections between family involvement and academic achievement. Support and involvement from educators and families are crucial to a student’s academic performance. This is one reason administrators must value families as a crucial part of their school environment.
By engaging families, educators can create partnerships founded on respect. Educators recognize the valuable understanding families have of their child’s learning needs. As they build trust over time, families likewise come to recognize the expertise and training educators have to help students learn.
Remember that there is no way to know a student’s full history and needs without connecting with their family. Likewise, educators can’t effectively involve a child’s caregivers without understanding events and communication options that interest the family most. In the most effective partnerships, educators work with families to determine the individual and school-wide strategies that will best involve caregivers and meet each student’s needs.. .
As Candra Morris, Waterford’s Director of Family Partnerships, notes in a recent article, “We must include opportunities to elevate family voices and to involve them in the process to ensure they get what they need.”
Recognizing and Addressing Barriers to Engagement
Teachers and administrators must be aware of significant barriers as they determine how to involve families in the classroom. Many families face structural barriers like a busy work schedule or a lack of transportation that make in-person options challenging. Other families may encounter societal barriers that discourage them from working with educators, especially if schools do not actively make sure families feel respected.
As you address structural barriers, get to know the families in your school and find ways they can get involved in their child’s education that work with their needs. If a family is facing transportation issues or a busy work schedule, for example, advise teachers to consider virtual calls or provide flexible meeting times if they can.
To address societal barriers that alienate families, create a school-wide culture that values diversity and embraces every family’s voice. Offer professional development opportunities to your teachers that include strategies for creating inclusive classrooms and recognizing implicit biases. Additionally, seek anonymous family feedback (e.g.,through surveys) to learn specific areas where your school can improve and determine ways to reach those goals.
The more you connect with families in your school, the better you will understand the barriers they face. No matter how you respond to these issues, the key is this: by definition, your strategies cannot follow a universal template. Instead, adjust them to meet the circumstances of the families you serve.
How Administrators Can Support and Engage Families
Because family engagement is so essential to a learning environment, it’s never too early in the school year to start building connections. “[Back to school events] are great opportunities to meet families and let them know right off the bat that they can speak on behalf of their child,” says Candra Morris, “and that you’re eager to listen.”
As teachers open their classroom doors for back to school nights, consider leaving your office door open or spending time in the front lobby. Start conversations with families and learn the names of people you haven’t met before. Give them your contact information so they know how to reach you if any questions or concerns arise.
Through the school year, administrators play a crucial role in assisting and advising teachers as they build relationships with families. Establish yourself as a trusted leader for teachers to voice the barriers to engagement they come up against and ask for insight. As you model open communication and a willingness to listen with your teachers, you also encourage them to do the same with families.
To promote classroom engagement plans on a larger scale, consider offering professional development opportunities to teachers. Independent options like online courses, webinars, or in-person training sessions can give teachers fresh ideas to connect with families through the school year.
1. Hill, N. E., & Tyson, D. F. “Parental involvement in middle school: a meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement.” Developmental psychology, 2009, 45(3), 740-63.