For Family Engagement, Not All Information Is Created Equal
Over the last two months, Ron Mirr and I have written about the pathway to effective family-school partnerships. I kicked the series off by sharing how schools can welcome families to campus to become learning partners, and Ron shared how best to communicate with families. What is next on the pathway to engaging families in meaningful ways?
If the focus of communication looks at how we communicate—the systems that are in place for effective home-school communication—information is what we communicate: the information families need to know to support learning.
It may come as a bit of a shock to some, especially as the national dialogue around education shifts and evolves, that children spend significantly less time at school than they do at home. That’s why it is so important to focus on the information families receive that supports their role as an effective and engaged partner in their child's learning. It is about providing the right information, not necessarily about asking them to do more. (Frankly, who has extra time to do more?)
What do families need to support learning at home? This is what they need to know:
What their child should know and be able to do by the end of the school year
How well their child is doing, and
How to support their child’s learning at home.
If you are an educator, ask yourself whether you regularly share this information with families. While the question is rather simple, I would guess that we have room to increase the number of families that consistently receive this information and can answer these questions.
These three questions should become the yardstick by which we measure what we display around the school, send home to families, or post on the school website and on social media.
Let me share a couple of easy ways to ensure families receive the information they need to stay current on their child’s performance and actively engaged in learning at home:
Use a consistent color to help families know what information is most valuable or directly related to their child's learning
A school I recently worked with used bright green paper to print all publications aligned to student learning. Anytime a family member saw a green document, they knew it contained valuable information connected to student learning. Families could quickly scan their child’s folder and know which materials needed more attention or a more thorough review.
Share a quarterly curriculum outline with families
Many schools provide a curriculum overview at Back-to-School Night. However, for many families (including this parent!), come January, we’ve either lost or forgotten the information we received back in September. It might be more beneficial to encourage staff to share a quarterly curriculum outline with families. It is easier to keep track of something for nine weeks rather than 36! As we learned in Ron’s blog post last month, we need to make sure to place the curriculum outline in newsletters/class bulletins or on teacher web pages. Include a section on the outline for strategies and tips for families to support learning at home.
Utilize wall space to showcase and spotlight progress and achievements towards schools and student learning goals
The interior of a school should always resemble a house of learning! Know the difference between displaying student work and evidence of learning. The picture on the left displays student work (which is good), while the picture on the right showcases evidence of learning (which is great). Can you see the difference?
Enhance your school website to include a family resource section with updated links to grade-level tips and tools that connect family engagement strategies to what is happening in the classroom.
Information is powerful. What you communicate to families makes all the difference in establishing effective home-school partnerships. Make sure what you provide to families focuses on the right things to impact student outcomes.
Photos courtesy of Maple Elementary (top) and Northeast Elementary (bottom), Vernon Schools, CT