Family engagement has never been as important as it is now. With our new hybrid and virtual models of learning, it is imperative to have parents and families committed to their child’s education. The support at home is absolutely crucial to the success of the students, increases in their achievement levels, and in their social and emotional health.
The Importance of Family Engagement
Teamwork makes the dreamwork, right? During our current climate of learning, it is imperative to involve the families. Families are the key to the ultimate success of the students. I don’t know if we ever could have fathomed how much has fallen onto the shoulders of parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc. during this unique time. Virtual meeting schedules, multiple Google Classrooms, assignments due the next day and some the next week, it is enough to make one’s head spin. Increased family engagement directly results in increased student achievement, better attendance records, and, most importantly, a more positive attitude and approach to school.
Witnessing first hand the success rate of students with high levels of family engagement versus low levels is astonishing. From my experience with virtual learning in the spring and the hybrid/remote learning during the fall, students with high levels of family engagement turn in more assignments, attend more virtual meetings, and have a better success rate with the work he/she is completing. There can always be exceptions to the rule, but even older students need support at home during this challenging time.
With the tough times we are all living through, families can become overwhelmed and disheartened at the nature of not just our country, but the world. You are not just teaching remotely, but teaching during a crisis. The past nine months have taken their toll on students not just academically, but emotionally. Keeping families motivated and letting them know that everyone is in this together needs to be shown and modeled, not just stated.
Ways to Increase Family Engagement
The best way to increase family engagement is simply to keep families in the loop. As an administrator, reaching all families as often as possible is important. At my school, the principal sends out a weekly email to the parents highlighting happenings in the school, schedules for the students, PTA updates, and any other important information that needs to be shared. Families have responded positively to this, as it is something that they look forward to reading each Friday.
As a teacher, you can do something similar to this. Sending out a weekly newsletter may be too overwhelming, but sending out a newsletter once a month spotlighting class happenings and student achievements is something families could enjoy reading through together. With all the technology available, this could even be done through a video message if you feel tech savvy enough to try it out!
Another way to increase family engagement is to educate families on how to help. Many families want to help, but are not quite sure how. Provide clear directions on how the classroom is run and what can be done to support the child. Creating tutorials on how certain websites and/or assignments are accessed can be beneficial to all. Families will know how to help children access work, and in turn, there will be less, “This website doesn’t work” and “I don’t know how to find this assignment.” This also gives families something to fall back on in case they forget as there are so many new expectations for students in the past months. It can be time consuming to create these materials, but if you can get a cohort of teachers to collaborate and all the teachers create a different tutorial, it would create a bank to share with families.
Building relationships with the families is another key tool to engagement. Having frequent communication with families about not just class happenings, but specifically about their child can help improve their engagement. As educators, we cannot just assume parents will reach out to you if issues arise. Since the hybrid/virtual learning model started in the fall, I called each parent the first week of school, and subsequently have made a list of about 10 parents to reach out to each week whether it be a phone call or email. Families love to know that their child is cared for, and the constant communication includes them in the learning process in more depth. Additionally, do not just call or email over negative issues, but give positive feedback also! It makes parents want to pick up the call from that school phone number rather than avoid it.
Having families take ownership in the partnership of education is a great tool to increase engagement. Reaching out to families to see what they feel is helpful and what they could use is a great way to personalize the organization of the classroom. Most teachers are organized in their own way, but that does not necessarily mean that it is user-friendly for the students and parents. Once you have something in place, check to see how it is working for the students and families and make adjustments as needed. We are all basically engineers striving to perfect this hybrid/remote teaching thing!
Just be yourself! This means you need to continue to share your personality with the students and families. We still need to get to know our students and families, their likes and dislikes, and make that personal connection. This is the social-emotional piece that so many classrooms are lacking right now, but when you make it a focus, it becomes a habit. Even something as simple as creating a question each Monday morning asking the students what they did all weekend can help give you a peek into their lives.
Nothing has been easy about the situation we are all currently living through, but one thing is certain: As teachers we need the support of our students’ families. As Jane D. Hull stated, “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of the parents.” There is no one specific way to do this, but letting families know this is a team effort and including them in steps along the way are a great start.