Why Literacy and Families Go Together

Dr. Steve Constantino will be speaking at the Literacy Leaders' Institute (Chicago, IL, August 6-8, 2017), presented by Scholastic and ASCD.

Consider the following truths about family engagement and academic achievement, each of which is robustly supported by research:

  1. Families, defined differently in different cultures, are the first and most influential teachers of their children. We know that their influence is profound.

  2. All families desire that their children exceed them in their quality of life. 

  3. When families are truly engaged, student performance and academic performance behaviors improve.

  4. Many decades of research, which continues today, clearly supports family engagement as an effective conduit to improved school outcomes, in particular the academic, behavioral and social-emotional lives of students.

I think when you consider that the efficacy of family engagement is supported by research and quantifiable results, a compelling case is made for every school to embrace family engagement as a core component of school culture.

Let’s be clear though: there are many definitions of family engagement, from making sure homework is completed and turned in, to supporting the latest fundraiser. I view effective family engagement as the degree to which families are engaged in the learning lives of their children and the degree to which schools support families’ ability to do so. 

Interestingly, even though the research and the stories of practical application in schools all over the world are compelling, many schools, dare I say the majority, do not place among their priorities effective family engagement practice. Or, if they do, it is in a rather obligatory manner.  

The question, then, becomes why? Why, when we know this to be effective, do many school and district leaders not prioritize family engagement practice among the major goals driving school district improvement? As the saying goes, “ah, therein lies the rub."

The answer is that many administrators don’t know how. There is a fundamental understanding that family engagement is a good thing, and in most cases there is a desire to implement effective practice, but the results, in many cases, are either lackluster or disappointing. Teachers may see it as yet another initiative with which they must comply, and school leaders may not think beyond meetings and conferences. Of late, social media and its ability to communicate are often substituted for engagement. (To be meaningful and effective, family engagement must go beyond tweeting homework reminders.) 

Can an effective approach to engaging families in the learning lives of their children improve outcomes, specifically those important literacy outcomes? Absolutely. The first step is to understand that family engagement is a learned practice for most school staff, and time and energy need to be devoted to building the capacity of schools to truly engage every family. The second step is to understand that with this investment, there will follow improved student achievement.

Family engagement is a defined process of knowledge, skills and dispositions that lead to trusting relationships between schools and homes and ultimately, the empowerment of families to have a hand in the education of their children, regardless of who they are. The results are always tangible and measurable.

Engaging every family is a contextual process that can be implemented in any school or district, anywhere.

Let us show you how.