In the context of schooling, family engagement refers to the process of schools and families working together through a participatory and collaborative approach to support a child’s learning and well-being. Research shows that when schools partner with families in meaningful ways, it leads to many positive impacts on students academically, socially, and emotionally.
Building strong partnerships is particularly important with multilingual language learners or families from minoritized ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Following, I suggest some ways for schools and educators to work toward strengthening reciprocal partnerships between families and schools.
Establish Positive Forms of Communication
1. Find out each family’s preferred ways of communication.
Provide them with available options (e.g., phone call, messaging app, video call, in-person meeting) for regular check-ins and honour their preferences.
2. Provide language support.
Check at the start of the year if families would like language support in communicating with the school. Language support may be provided using the services of an interpreter during in-person or online meetings or by ensuring that families receive written communication in a language that they understand. Schools may consider using a translation option on their website/parent portal so that all families can access school communication in their primary language.
3. Help families understand school routines.
Schools follow different routines and practices. Ensure that families are aware of things such as the school calendar, planned teacher-only days, early dismissals, procedures for reporting absences, and after-school activities available for students. Consider putting together an easy guide to accessing and navigating the school’s online portal for parents.
4. Ensure written communication is readable.
Typically, schools communicate with families in myriad different ways: memos, emails, newsletters, and so on. Review the readability of all written communication aimed at families to ensure that it is meaningful, precise, and expressed in simple language that avoids jargon and idiomatic expressions that may be problematic for families of multilingual language learners.
5. Communicate regularly and in advance.
Communicate often, sharing positive feedback as well as alerting families to what is to come. When families are told about a child performing badly in a test the previous week, there is little they can do. But if families are told about upcoming assessments and how they can support their child to prepare for them, they can take a more productive and supportive role.
Encourage Family Participation
6. Enlist volunteers from families.
Ask family volunteers to plan, organize, and implement a social event (e.g., picnic), school performance, or field trip. Involve families in every step of the planning. For example, find out suitable dates for families before scheduling the event.
7. Listen to families’ concerns, hopes, dreams, and ideas about school improvements.
Empower families by inviting and engaging them in leadership and advocacy roles in the school. Schools should consider offering training to families in leadership roles so that they can become active, participatory collaborators.
8. Invite families to collaborate on teams.
There are many activities in which families can become involved as co-collaborators or leaders in the school, including parent-teacher organizations, school boards, and school trips. Make sure that parents are aware of these opportunities and encourage them to become involved.
9. Involve families in their children’s learning.
While family participation in school activities and leadership is important, what is arguably even more important is to encourage families to become involved in their child’s learning. Often, family conversations about school may be limited with children not providing much information about what they did at school. This can be changed by guiding parents to ask better questions. If teachers are able to provide families with a summary of what their child will learn in each curriculum area that week/fortnight, along with any helpful learning strategies (e.g., acronyms to remember order of operations for mathematics), families will be better equipped to support their child at home and have more meaningful conversations about their learning.
10. Involve families in decision-making.
When families feel that they have a role to play in the school, that they matter, they will feel a sense of belonging. This can be achieved by involving families in decision-making that impacts their children. This could include surveying families on school events to be held during the year, obtaining their ideas about how to conduct parent-teacher meetings, and inviting families to share concerns and complaints through transparent processes.
Because family engagement is recognized as a foundation for children’s success in school, educators must consider and put into action ways to improve collaboration and outcomes for families and children.
Have you found other effective ways to foster positive and communicative school-family partnerships? Please share in the comments below!