As an educator, you often struggle to get families more involved in their children's education, whether it is helping in the classroom, increasing attendance at school functions, or attending parent-teacher conferences. But is that type of sporadic involvement the same as practicing family engagement?
Family Engagement is Much More than Family Involvement
The pandemic—with its social isolation, stress, and rampant mental health issues—damaged the connections between parents, students, schools, and community agencies. The school fabric was inevitably torn, negatively affecting students' academic progress, social-emotional health, and disruptive behaviors.
Now that classroom learning is back, it's the ideal time to repair the school fabric and make it more resilient than before by integrating families more fully into the educational circle. This is the focus of family engagement, which seeks to move the needle from typical family involvement to full engagement to improve academic achievement, participation, and social-emotional growth.
The family engagement model asserts that supporting student success is the shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities. Advocates say that not only is family engagement important to student learning and development, but it is essential.
Benefits and Challenges of Family Engagement
There is no shortage of the benefits of family engagement. Research from the National Education Association indicates that parent involvement improves academic achievement, regular school attendance, work habits, graduation rates, social skills and behaviors in school, and continuing to higher education. Family engagement makes it more likely that children and adolescents will avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as violence and substance use.
We can agree on the fact that these are worthwhile goals. The problem is that it's hard enough to get parents to attend school functions and parent-teacher conferences, no less asking them to engage at a much deep level. Common obstacles include busy work schedules, not knowing about opportunities, having trouble getting child care, or feeling they don't belong—especially with disadvantaged and marginalized populations.
How Can Schools Adopt Family Engagement Strategies?
Schools can overcome the challenges to family engagement, but it takes persistence and a well-defined plan to develop and implement policies and strategies.
The first step is providing education about the concept and getting buy-in from all groups. Developing the larger program requires a multi-faceted approach that includes skill building, sharing knowledge, and gaining district commitment.
As family engagement is introduced, it may also shift parent-child dynamics, causing friction. To ease the process, the school may want to educate parents about restorative practices, a non-punitive disciplinary approach to dispute resolution that strengthens relationships, builds collaboration, and creates a trusting community.
Once the foundation is laid, schools must develop ways to sustain and strengthen the parent-child-school partnerships that represent family engagement.
What Does Family Engagement Look Like?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to family engagement, but it is crucial to have a systematic method that ensures families have a voice in their child's educational experience. They should never be passive bystanders.
As schools develop solutions, they must provide flexible options that meet the needs of a variety of caregiver situations, socioeconomic strata, and cultural differences. Broadly speaking, we can invite them to share priorities, concerns, and feedback—bringing them into the decision-making process. Finally, explore tools to create a meaningful two-way dialog between the school and caregivers.
Family Engagement is Proactive
Family engagement doesn't happen by itself, even with schools that already have strong parent involvement in the traditional sense. It takes consistent effort to build rapport, mutual respect, and pathways to strengthening communication, skills, knowledge, and shared decision-making. If your district is looking for ways to remove barriers to learning and engage families and the community in student wellness solutions, talk to us about STOPit's safety and wellness solutions.