If I could do my family engagement all over again...

I've been out of the classroom for many years. But I think often about returning for an opportunity to do things differently. I would especially like a "do-over" on building relationships with families. What I knew then about strategies to effectively partner with families to support learning was minimal compared to what I know now. And I also know a lot more about how strongly research supports the positive impact of effective family engagement practices on student learning.

The research on family engagement is unequivocal. Building strong, positive, trusting relationships with families is essential to developing a productive home-school partnership.

The impact on families is significant when we take the time to nurture these relationships:

  • Families gain a clear understanding of their role

  • Families are empowered and gain confidence to support their child's learning

Their voice is significant. Families feel comfortable sharing their feedback and opinions and advocating on behalf of their child, school, and community.

The impact on students is equally resonant. When schools engage families well, students:

  • exhibit faster rates of literacy acquisition

  • earn higher grades and test scores

  • record higher attendance and lower behavioral discipline rates

  • graduate and go on higher education

Without any formal training on family engagement, my level of commitment to families consisted of the usual suspects: meet the teacher, open house, and parent-teacher conferences. And let's not forget about the phone calls or meetings scheduled to discuss behavioral issues and academic concerns. These strategies are important, but lack deeper-level connections (and calling home only with "bad" news will not enhance relationships with families). 

If I had the opportunity for a family engagement "do-over," here's what I would do differently:

  1. Engage in partnership strategies early. Waiting to connect with families until parent-teacher conferences is too late. Engaging with families before school starts or early in the year lets families know how important their partnership is to their child's learning. When there is a concern or issue that needs to be addressed, families are more open to discussing the issue when relational trust has been established.

  2. Be more proactive than reactive. Don't wait for an issue or event to engage with families. A positive phone call early in the year, welcome postcard or a relationship-building home visit demonstrates to families know that we value them, care about their family and their child and welcome their partnership.

  3. Focus on positive home-school communication. All families deserve positive outreach. While it may seem daunting to call all families or send all families a positive note, the impact of just one call or positive postcard speaks volumes and has a ripple effect that lasts throughout the year. The communication doesn't need to be elaborate, a simple text, picture or video shared with the family of the student engaging in learning sends a powerful message.

  4. Engage with families outside of school. Whether it is in the home, in the park, or local laundromat, engaging with families on their "turf," indicates that we care about, and value and respect them as equal partners.

Remember, family engagement is about relationships. They need to be built, nurtured and adapted, just like any relationships we have with colleagues, friends, and family.