Family engagement is essential in promoting healthy physical, cognitive and social-emotional development and academic achievement of children and youth from Kindergarten through to High School. Research shows that when families are meaningfully and continuously engaged in their children’s learning and development, they can positively impact their child’s health, development, academic, and well-being outcomes into adulthood.
Research from the National Education Association indicates that parent involvement is also linked with enrolling in higher-level programs, getting promoted to a higher grade level, regular school attendance, better social skills, improved behaviour at school, and adapting to school. Students with involved parents are more likely to graduate and go on to postsecondary education as well. Perhaps most significantly, these positive outcomes associated with increased parent involvement were found to be true for students across all socioeconomic backgrounds. Involving families in the education of students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.
What is Family Engagement?
So what is family engagement and how is it different from family involvement? True engagement takes place when families and school staff work together, on an ongoing basis, to support and improve the learning and growth of students. In short, when families have a primary and meaningful role in all decision-making that impacts every young person and their families. Meaningful family engagement, while being beneficial to the family unit as a whole, has the specific purpose of improving the developmental outcomes for the family youth.
Child and youth serving systems broadly define “family” in family engagement as including parents and other adult caregivers, acknowledging today’s varied family units and their needs for extended supports. For example, early childhood education and juvenile justice programming describe family engagement as including biological, adoptive, and foster parents; grandparents; legal and informal guardians; and adult siblings.
Some agencies have broadened this definition of family to include related and non-related members. As an example, transition-aged and foster youth work with their providers to identify and name their personal family system that includes peers, mentors, and service providers who they trust and can count on for support. Key service sectors that are implementing family engagement plans and strategies to increase and improve the engagement of families in their systems and services include education, child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, and primary health care providers.
The Importance of Connecting
To properly promote family engagement, it is important that parents be intentional with contacting their children’s teachers in order to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of what is required in order to see their children succeed. Recognising some of the biggest barriers that your child may be facing not just academically but also socially, emotionally and physically while attending school can help families to develop the most beneficial strategies to effectively connect, aid, and support their children as they navigate such life areas of development.
A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. While it should be an objective for schools to understand the diverse needs of the families and students in their system, realistically families should be proactive in reaching out to schools as faculty staff are more often than not willing to help however they can, but for them to initiate additional input beyond their outlined role entails can both feel like a big undertaking in order to seem unbiased with all student’s families and it can also feel as though they’re being somewhat invasive into a student’s when not being prompted by family for input. Waiting on school staff to initiate such contact can be a wasted opportunity as a strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.
In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015, 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.
3 ways Technology can foster meaningful Connection
With the accessibility that technology grants both teachers and parents, the ability to connect and stay informed on matters such as class updates, assignment reminders, creating shared calendars, sharing photos and distributing information is much easier than what it was even 5 years ago.
Studies have shown that there is an expectation from parents to receive frequent forms of communication from teaching staff, all the while not wanting to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. In order to set your kids up for a win, there are a number of ways you as a parent you can encourage the faculty to keep you informed of all that is happening in your child’s world. Below are three simple ways that technology can promote communication from teachers to parents in order to increase connection, engagement and sustainability in family involvement.
1) Communication Tools
By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. Bloomz integrates features of a messaging app, LMS, digital portfolio and behaviour management tool, which are all features that would help to reduce some of the barriers of time, lack of information and concerns about student progress. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.
2) Video Tools
Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as Educreations, Flipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio.
3) Blogging/Class Webpage
Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like Kidblog, Padlet, Edmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralised location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.
Family engagement is continuous across a child’s life and entails enduring commitment met with changing parent roles as children mature into young adulthood. Ultimately, if you’re wanting the best for your children, proactively seeking support and opening lines of communication with your school’s staff is the best way to strongly establish family engagement. Consistently soliciting teacher feedback and creating opportunities for shared dialogue, partnership, and decision-making to take place. As teachers are able to provide more insight into the life of your children at school, this knowledge equips you as parents to steward and champion your children’s success.