It's pretty common to gauge the academic successes of students based on teacher status, academic grades, or socioeconomic status.

But, the best indicator for student academic success actually depends on how involved families are with learning at home and in their child’s school.

We also talked about the importance of this in our article last week.

The Importance of Parent Involvement in Early Childhood Education
It’s no surprise that parents play a huge role when it comes to their children’s education.

What's the difference?

Wait, there's a difference?

Yes there is.

Family involvement is when parents are invited to participate in school events or activities. Teachers provide learning resources or information about their student’s grades as an update to the student's learning progress.

Family engagement, on the other hand, is when teachers hold the primary responsibility to set educational goals. They relate to parents as a partner and advisor to work hand-in-hand for the academic growth of the child.

Main differences between Family involvement and Family Engagement

Simply put, involvement is 1-directional while engagement is 2-directional.

Who constitutes as family?

But before we talk about the strategies, it is important to note that no two families' dynamics are the same.

Let’s first consider who makes up a child’s family.

When we talk about families, we are referring to the larger support system around a child. The primary adult or adults who are responsible for raising a child, such as parents, grandparents, foster parents, or anyone with a consistent presence in a child’s life.

Identifying Barriers to Family Engagement

Next, let's discuss the barriers that can prevent families from effectively engaging with your school.

Many of these barriers – from busy work schedules for parents or the lack of information about involvement opportunities – can be solved when schools understand the underlying obstacle or challenge.

The best way to figure out theses challenges is through conducting bi-annual family surveys.

A sample of a Learning Behaviors Survey done in LittleLives Survey feature

A Family-School Relationships survey was created by Dr. Karen Mapp and researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

You can download the survey here and use it with the LittleLives Survey feature!

The survey provides schools with a clear picture of family attitudes about a wide array of topics, including:

  • School Fit: If the school matches with their child's developmental and educational needs. (Example: How well do you feel your child’s school is preparing him/her for his/her next academic year?)
  • Family Efficacy: If families are equipped with key parenting skills. (Example: How confident are you in your ability to support your child’s learning at home?)
  • School Climate: If the social and learning environment is ideal. (Example: Do you think that your children enjoy going to school?)
  • Barriers to Engagement: What roadblocks are preventing families to interact with their child's school. (Example: Would you prefer to have school related events on weekdays or weekends?)

Having served over 1000 school and 180,000 parents, we learned that the most common barrier to engagement is a busy schedule, with half the parents and guardians reporting that their work schedules is a problem for being involved in their child's school.

Other top barriers to engagement include:

  • Childcare needs
  • Feeling that the school is too busy to be engaged with families
  • A belief that school staff will treat their child differently if the parent or guardian raises a concern
  • A lack of information about involvement opportunities

Here are the 5 Strategies to Improve Family Engagement in Your Schools Today

1. Invite families to share priorities, concerns, and feedback

Using family surveys, schools can invite families to share both their own and their child's experience in school. The data gathered can help schools better understand the experience of all families and make the necessary policy and programmatic changes accordingly.

Families can also share any skills or contributions they would like to offer to the school community. You'll be surprised to know at how enthusiastic these families can be at volunteering!

2. Make families part of the decision-making process

Joint decision-making and goal setting are the bedrock of successful family engagement programmes. Inviting families to be part of the process fosters engagement and reinforce that their involvement brings positive impact on their children’s education and well-being.

We have seen some schools invite families to be members of the school's councils or committees. These adjunct members work alongside school management, teachers and administrators to solicit and provide input on educational initiatives and policy.

3. Make sure all family engagement initiatives are unbiased

Your school's family engagement initiatives must take into account to the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of all families. Regardless of race, language or religion, every family has both aspirations and concerns for the success of their children.

It is even more important to recognise and honour the traditions of families in linguistically and culturally diverse communities. The effort to involve families and celebrate the various festivities where everyone is involved is an example of a good family engagement initiative.

4. Offer flexibility and a variety of options

Flexibility is key. Everyone has their own schedule, but that doesn't mean they don't want to be involved.

Not all parents have time to visit school in the middle of the day or to attend meetings on school nights. Some parents may want to be involved in projects or committees, they may lack the time, resources, or social capital to engage.

For example, a meet the parents session could be hosted over a period of one week with various time slots instead of just a fixed duration on Saturday.

5. Leverage a variety of tools to facilitate meaningful, two-way communication

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of having two-way communications with families. Consistent, two-way, meaningful communication allow families to become partners in their children's education.

Including them in the decision-making processes that involve their school's various education programs is one way of having an ally you can rely on.

Additional Family Engagement Resources

This guide is just a starting point for exploring the topic of family engagement. Here are some resources to explore next:

3 Things to Achieve in a Parent-Teacher Conference
Parent-teacher conference is a chance for educators to connect with parents face-to-face and discuss each student in-depth.
A Parent Portal to Increase Brand Loyalty and Engagement
Today schools utilise technology for enhancing their communication and improving home-and-school partnership with parents.
Student Portfolio: Why It’s Important and How to Write It
Writing a student portfolio is a lot of work. Luckily, we explain the best and easier ways to create good student portfolios.
3 Ways to Boost Parent-Teacher Communication
Educating parents about the benefits of maintaining an honest relationship with their child’s teacher can encourage collaborative communication.
4 Tips for Updating Parents
Find out how LittleLives can help you save time and keep your families informed during COVID-19.

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