5 ways to promote family engagement

In the wake of an isolating school year spent at home, communication and interaction is more important than ever.
By: | August 10, 2021
Family game nights are one way schools around the country are forming closer ties to their communities.Family game nights are one way schools around the country are forming closer ties to their communities.

Parent and family engagement and consultation have always been a key component of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Only when those closest to students are engaged and involved in decision-making and planning can gaps in educational opportunity and achievement begin to close. Today, in the wake of an isolating school year spent without in-person teacher-parent-student interaction, a host of ideas, programs and tools exist to make the development of modern parent-and-family-engagement policies easier to implement and more appealing, regardless of the student’s or family’s circumstances. Here are 5 of those ideas:

  1. Meet with families face-to-face on a regular basis. In addition to offering the benefits of face-to-face interaction, information gathering straight from the source, the opportunity for parents to pose questions to their child’s teacher as a captive audience, give input and build a support network, these meetings should be designed to be enjoyable as well as informative. For example, Laurene Edmondson Elementary School in Colorado holds twice-yearly events they call GET (Guaranteed Education Teams) Togethers, which break the customary stand-and-deliver format in which teachers do all the speaking by having the students themselves explain new homework policies, for example, or by offering parents workshops on topics that were requested by them, such as setting limits and understanding trauma.
  2. Utilize as many communication tools as possible to interact with families that can’t always make it to in-person meetings. Technology is one of the fastest-growing ways to link teachers, students, and their parents—such as through Zoom and Google hangouts, for instance—so it’s important to make sure both parents and students are comfortable and versed in using those tools. attendenceworks.org suggests that not only are such virtual meetings with families more productive than notes sent home with students, for example, but they can also be more convenient for parents who work odd hours or can’t make it to the school easily for meetings due to the flexibility of being able to log on from different locations at any time of day or night.
  3. Create a “family playlist.” Developed by the non-profit Power My Learning, an organization comprising educators, school administrators, business executives, nonprofit leaders and marketing strategists that helps education leaders identify and plan what to do next, A Family Playlist puts the student in the shoes of the teacher, allowing them to share what they’ve learned with their family members. The family then provides feedback to the teacher about how their student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. The assignments can be accessed via mobile browser in more than 100 languages and were found in a 2019 impact study of seventh-graders in New York state to have had a “statistically significant” impact on students’ math scores that was the equivalent of four months of additional learning.
  4. Assign students as mentees to school staff. Teachers, coaches, and other school personnel can then maintain one-on-one contact with their charges and check in with them on a regular basis to see how they’re doing and make sure there is accountability and communication between the student and the school. In cases where there is a second language being spoken at home, staff members can be matched up with students who speak the language of their assigned student’s family in order to facilitate ease of communication with parents if necessary.
  5. Make use of resources such as Parent Camp, a family-school-community engagement model that was designed to build a “connected school ecosystem of caring and supportive adults” surrounding our kids, built not around the premise of stand-and-deliver sessions but rather the idea that the entire room is the collective expert and that each person’s individual perspective is important. “We host virtual parent camps for and with schools and train school teams of eight people comprising family, school and community members,” says Laura Gilchrist, a former teacher and vice president of Parent Camp. “The compliance model of family engagement that we inherited and have all been a part of is not designed for connection and collaboration; it can never get connection and collaboration… We invite you to reframe your 2021 and transform it with virtual parent camp and the family-school-community integration system.”

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