Family involvement in students’ education has been consistently demonstrated to have a positive impact on student attendance, grades, behavior and social skills. In increasingly diverse communities, building school and classroom environments that are welcoming to all, is of critical importance. Following are some key tips, with resources provided, for creating schools and classrooms where ALL students and families belong! Joyce Epstein’s Framework of Six Types of Involvement provides comprehensive guidance, using six essential dimensions of youth, family, and community engagement, for developing partnerships with your school.
Create a welcoming environment
First impressions matter! Imagine walking into a school office with your child who is tardy and being pleasantly greeted by the Office Assistant with, “please go flip the number; we’re happy you’re here today – you count!” An elementary school in Newport News, VA has a simple student place value flip counter prominently displayed with the number of students in school that day after daily attendance is taken. Anytime a student comes in tardy they are directed to go flip the counter because every student counts! You may want to consider including staff who are present in that count too.
Communicate WITH families
Families and schools want to help their students be as successful as possible. There is nothing like hearing a handwritten note, a text, an email, or a voice on the phone telling you something wonderful about your child! Build a routine for making a variety of positive contacts frequently. The more positive, or even informational, contacts you make to a family, the easier it will be if a need arises for a tough conversation. Check out these Tips for Calling Parents, even when it could be one of those more difficult calls.
In addition, families want to feel that their voice matters and that they have a part in decisions that affect their child. Consider multiple opportunities in a variety of ways to get authentic input. Possibilities include surveys, focus groups, forums, social media, paper copies or a suggestion box on the school counter, a link on the school website, in person at the car pick-up line, etc. These actions let families know you value them as partners.
Integrate family engagement into existing plans and structures
Embed opportunities for authentic family engagement and the sharing of school and community resources into annual calendars. For a wide variety of ideas, including tips for family communication, hosting events, and providing resources and supports at home, check out these Tips and Strategies for Increasing Parent and Family Involvement in Virginia Schools.
Families have people who are willing to help in schools. It takes that willing spirit and a strong organizational system to really make the most of school-volunteer partnerships. Clarity is key; check out these Seven Steps for Organizing Volunteers to set up for success in volunteer recruitment and increasing the likelihood they’ll keep coming back.
Engage families in what students are learning
Student-led conferences have been a growing practice in schools, as they give students voice and ownership of their learning. Student-led conferences also help to engage families in more meaningful, transparent conversations about student progress. Student-led Conferences: Resources for Educators is filled with tips, resources, and even videos of students as young as Kindergarten leading their families in conferences about their learning. Students share their goals, progress, work samples and more!
Differentiate support to meet families’ needs
It is important to recognize that families may have different needs and structures. Careful thought and consideration is therefore critical to creating an inclusive culture . Factors such as language choice and access when addressing families in verbal and written communication or differentiating the types of support and resources in response to a family’s unique needs are just a few approaches that demonstrate care and respect for all families. For example, this IRIS Module can help educators understand some of the unique contexts for families of students with disabilities as well as identify ways they can meaningfully engage families. Similarly, check out these 6 Tips for Engaging the Families of English Language Learners to ensure you are providing the same opportunity for authentic family engagement in student learning. Connecting Military Families to resources is another way to differentiate support and help reduce some of the unique stressors they may face. Collecting or using family engagement data is a great starting point in identifying where differentiated supports may be needed in your school.