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Effective Family Engagement Could Look Like This

Effective Family Engagement Could Look Like This

[Background music]
As we work to help every child succeed and to close gaps
in student achievement, we often assume school is the main
place that learning is going to happen. Take Esma. It used to seem
to her family and her educators that Esma is always at school.
Not true, it turns out. Esma and other students actually
spend 82% of their waking hours at home or in their community.
All those weekends, weeknights, and breaks add up.
When they realized that, the educators in Esma’s school district
decided to work harder on making the most of the biggest partner in
her learning life – her family. This can look different in every school,
but for Esma’s teacher, it means, instead of spending his time
arranging a traditional open house, he organizes grade-level parent meetings.
Here Esma’s family saw data on how the class is doing in math, reading,
social, and emotional learning. They practiced new ways
to help Esma at home and set goals for how
they’ll help her improve. Everyone learned
from each other as the group talked about
how to help the students. Also, near the start of the
school year, some staff from Esma’s school visited her home.
They looked for the assets her family members can bring
to the educational process. They learned about their languages,
their culture, their lives, their world. Grandpa offered to be a resource
for other English learner families. And the school also
listened and learned from the family’s
perspective on Esma’s needs. They learned how Mom
helps her calm down and focus. This kind of family engagement
also makes it easier for the district to develop individualized
education programs for students, including those in
special education. The foundation is already there for
families to engage in their student’s academic and career planning too,
making that more effective. Throughout the year, the family
can attend workshops at the school on things like mental health,
homework, or career exploration. Esma’s mom saw those meetings
on a poster in her work break room, and now she’s inviting other
parent friends to go with her. Esma’s school district works with
local businesses, places of worship, the public library, and other partners
to reach students and families where they’re already spending time.
The school provides information frequently in a variety of ways
so they can reach every family. Text messages are offered in the most
common languages of local families. Esma’s family gets
photos from her teacher so they know what she’s
doing during the day. Communication between the
school and the family is a group effort, focused on helping Esma
achieve her learning goals. When Esma wasn’t sure
what to do on a science assignment, her family knew to contact the
teacher for a little clarification. Educators take a positive
approach as they look for solutions to any challenges
experienced on either side. They’re always looking
for the family’s strengths. Also, when Mom mentions that
Esma has trouble making friends, the teacher knows to refer
her to the school counselor. The counselor then helps
the family join a local Boys and Girls Club with
lots of activities for Esma. The teacher knew to do this because
the school counselor led staff trainings on resources available in the community
and how to help families access them. There’s no danger of a family like Esma’s
ever feeling like an occasional onlooker. The school knows
what families have to offer, and the family knows what’s going on
in the classroom and how to support it. They feel they’re active and regular
collaborators and decision-makers. The district gives families opportunities
to learn how to help children succeed at each level of the school system
and to serve on school groups. At school gatherings, Esma’s adult
stepsister and close next-door neighbor also feel included in the community.
Staff at the school are trained to be as inclusive as possible,
welcoming as learning partners anyone who cares
about the child. Esma’s school has moved from parent
involvement to family engagement. Not surprisingly, engaged families
help students learn better. Staff members like their jobs better.
Everyone wins. This is backed up by
over 40 years of research. Students with engaged families,
no matter their income, background, or culture, are more likely to do well
in school, enroll in ambitious courses, graduate, and go on
to postsecondary education. They also have stronger social skills
and fewer disciplinary issues. So how do we
make it happen? First, we work to make the shift
across an entire school district. Sure, at the elementary level,
Esma’s classroom teacher is the main person her family
interacts with at school. But, as she gets older,
and her schooling more complex, collaboration is definitely
bigger than one person. Really, all along the way, the family’s
interactions with pretty much everyone in connection with the school, from
office staff to after-school staff, from bus drivers to principals, will need to be
positive for them to truly feel welcomed. So it’s a clear expectation in the district.
Every employee has a role in helping every family feel connected to their
child’s learning, no matter what building or classroom that child attends.
In Esma’s district, a broad team that included school psychologists,
social workers, counselors, families, general and special educators,
and after-school program staff helped everyone in the school
take family engagement to this next level in a way
that works for their community. It worked. Esma’s family feels
like a valued member of the team. Esma, her family,
and her educators feel confident that she’s learning
and happy at school. We have more information about how
schools and families can effectively engage with each other around
students’ learning on our website. [ Music ]

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