September is the New January: Resolutions for Family Engagement

We know that as soon as school supplies hit the store shelves, summer is over. Although January 1 is the official start of the New Year, many educators consider Back to School the unofficial New Year. That’s the best time to reflect on the achievements from the previous academic year, reassess school and student learning goals and recommit to current and future initiatives.

Then you can review areas of need, refocus energies and make a resolution or two to hold yourself accountable and stay committed.

One of area schools and districts continuously resolve to improve year after year is family engagement. Why family engagement? While most educators recognize the importance of family engagement on students’ academic achievement, few can articulate a comprehensive plan to assess and then implement family engagement effectively. The data from the Teacher and Principal School Report supports this: 74% of educators say they need help engaging the families of their students.

Here is the good news: in recent years, we have identified several proven practices to engage families effectively—things that you can start doing tomorrow. I've taken the liberty of narrowing the list down to my top three. I promise you, implementing any one of these practices will make a big difference. (All three? Family engagement trifecta!)

  1. Nurture Relationships. Strong, trusting relationships are the cornerstone of an effective home-school partnership. Effective relationships promote trust and respect between home and school. Make sure families feel welcome every time they walk into the school. (Read more about welcoming here.) Spend time getting to know families and provide them with multiple opportunities to get to know you. Parents don't need to know your full life history, but offering tiny nuggets about yourself help will help build genuine connections.

  2. Leverage Strengths. You get the best from people when you focus on their strengths, not their flaws. A strength-based approach increases confidence and empowers families to be active, knowledgeable and informed. We all have something to contribute. Once you’ve established that trusting relationship with your families, you can find out how you can best work together.

  3. Make it Relevant. What matters most to families? Their child. Families want to know how to best support their child's learning. When designing family engagement events or activities, make sure it relates directly to your students’ learning goals, offers the family an opportunity to learn a new skill, and incorporates time to practice the new skill. (Learn how to help families build competence and confidence here.) Giving families the time, space and support to practice and receive feedback will greatly increase the chances they will try what they learned at home with their child.

As you head back to school this year, I challenge you to implement all three practices. Cheers to a fabulous "New Year"!