Shifting from Family Involvement to Family Engagement in K12 Schools
December 7, 2016
The Essential Relationship between K12 Schools and Families
Parents/guardians can be an invaluable resource to schools, whether they’re partnering with a school to improve students’ educational outcomes or serving as proud advocates on behalf of the school when talking with friends and neighbors. Research shows that as parents become more involved with their child’s education and the life of the school, students’ academic achievement and participation improve. Yet, parents are often busy and don’t know how they can best make a significant contribution within the limited time they have. Read on to learn why family involvement and engagement can be beneficial to students and schools, as well as to find tips on creating meaningful, ongoing opportunities for this to take place at your school.
School-Family Interactions Matter for Student Achievement
There are clear benefits associated with family involvement. According to the Harvard Family Research Project,increased parent involvement correlates with higher student achievement including grades, standardized test scores, and even teacher ratings. Research from the National Education Association indicates that parent involvement is also linked with enrolling in higher-level programs, getting promoted to a higher grade level, regular school attendance, better social skills, improved behavior at school, and adapting to school. Students with involved parents are more likely to graduate and go on to postsecondary education as well. Perhaps most significantly, these positive outcomes associated with increased parent involvement were found to be true for students across all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Further, parent engagement, “which goes far beyond involvement and participation, could have an even more significant impact” than parent involvement, according to recent research from Gallup. So what is parent engagement and how is it different from parent involvement? True engagement takes place when families and school staff work together, on an ongoing basis, to support and improve the learning and growth of students. When parents and families are fully engaged in the lives of their children’s schools, they display a strong sense of pride in the school and advocate for it when talking with friends, colleagues, and other members of the community.
How to Support Family Engagement in Schools
Families tend to increase their engagement with a school when they believe that their efforts will have a direct and positive impact on their children’s education and overall well-being. Accordingly, an overall family engagement plan, at the district or school level, is recommended for providing structure and follow-up so that family engagement can be woven more directly into ongoing school activities. Some parents may want to contribute, but they may not feel that they have the time or the resources to get engaged with the school. But there are many ways for them to become involved according to their availability, interests, and resources. Engagement is often more successful when schools offer flexible options for parents to get involved; there is sustained, ongoing partnership throughout the year, and parents can see the positive benefit of their personal investment in the school—both for their own children and for the broader community.
At the parent involvement level, schools can offer resources and support on parenting as well as supplementary educational resources that support home learning via a school newsletter, social media updates, or in-person workshops. Schools can also make it easier and more convenient for parents to participate in events by offering online and mobile event registration. Asking parents to help with activities that can be done outside of working hours, such as helping with fundraising, coordinating volunteers, and planning events, is also a great way to get them involved. Parent and family education can also play a major role in engagement. By educating families on important subjects such as literacy, financial literacy, and neighborhood resources, schools can better support both families and the communities in which they live.
Inviting parents and guardians, via a school assessment or an online survey, to share their priorities and concerns about their children’s educational experience is also a good way to begin involving them in school matters. In that survey, administrators can invite them to share any skills or contributions they would like to share with the school community. Using the information provided, schools can provide families with volunteer opportunities to match those skills and interests.
Bringing Families Into the Decision-Making Process: Resources and Suggestions
Some schools welcome parents to be part of their decision-making process by inviting them to join specific councils or committees that are charged with setting school policy, for example. Schools may also find it beneficial to create an advisory committee comprised of teachers, administrators, and parents/guardians to solicit and provide input on educational initiatives and policy to make sure they meet the community’s unique needs.
Educators across the country are beginning to dedicate resources toward family engagement, with some districts even creating specific departments and positions to help bridge the gap between school expectations and the needs of families. In the Washoe County school district in Reno, Nevada, for example, where they have a dedicated department of nine staff and a budget of $1 million, a growing parent-engagement program is available that features a parent-teacher home-visit project as well as academic parent-teacher teams. Until recently, parent engagement was typically a volunteer-led role at many schools, but administrators are beginning to see the value of formally staffing this position, particularly as some states are beginning to include family engagement as a criterion for evaluating teacher performance.
Ultimately, supporting family engagement at your school or district comes down to proactively and consistently soliciting parental feedback and creating opportunities for shared dialogue, partnership, and decision-making to take place. As parents become more directly engaged in the life of your school or district, they are more likely to become stewards and champions of its success.