Written by Paige DeLozier
According to the McKinsey COVID19 Learning Report from June 2020, 40% of school-aged children live in under-resourced communities and 1 in 4 students are from immigrant families, half of whom live at or near the poverty line. In addition, 60% of low-income students risk a projected 12 months’ learning loss due to limitations of remote instruction.
Well, that seems pretty grim. Is there anything we can do?
Fortunately, yes! Family engagement has proven to be two times as effective in predicting a student’s success than the family’s socioeconomic status (Mapp & Henderson, 2002). So, our most valuable resource in supporting these students and families is the families themselves!
Despite the necessity of the home-school connection, many adults endured trauma with their educational experience, or had no educational experience at all, and thus are hesitant about involving themselves too deeply in their children’s school lives. We have an opportunity—a responsibility—to change that.
Here are four ways to make families feel more welcome in your school buildings and classrooms, engaging them in a positive and inclusive community that supports learning and growth.
Extend a personal welcome and check in periodically
Unfortunately, you will never know each family’s full experience with the education system—and there will be some who carry with them a lot of baggage surrounding that experience.
When you as the teacher offer something as simple as a welcome message and meaningful check-ins, families can begin to feel comfortable being present for their own children’s education.
At TalkingPoints, helping you meaningfully connect with each of your families is our bread and butter. We make communicating with families through text messages easy and efficient, but it doesn’t have to stop there.
While using our app to stay in touch with families in their home languages is an accessible and inclusive way to engage families, it’s important to keep in mind the types of communication that go on when a family member or guardian enters your school building.
Are they greeted within moments of entering? Is it clear to them where to go and who they can ask for help? Do they feel they can communicate with any of the staff they encounter and receive an empathetic and helpful response? These are the types of questions that should be reflected upon by a school’s faculty and staff periodically regarding family engagement goals.
Make sure families see themselves represented in the school’s culture
From the books in your library, to the staff in your office, to the languages on your signs, to the posters on your walls, representation matters. Being aware of—and sensitive to—the ethnicities, cultures, religions, and races within your school community is crucial to making all families feel welcome and safe in your school building.
One of the simplest, yet most impactful, steps you can take for many families is to consistently communicate pertinent and timely information to them in their home language. Communicating with someone in their home language shows a deep respect, makes families feel seen and valued, and is something families appreciate.
Representation as part of engagement is an ongoing process, not a destination, and will be ever-changing as you enroll new families, but with each learning experience, there is growth and a new opportunity for an engaged family.
Set goals with families around student and school success
A school is a community of students, educators, and families. Assuming every family member has only good intentions and wants the best for their child, that community—that team—can only truly work together if they align their goals.
The good news is this already occurs for so many students and families in IEP meetings! A team of professionals comes together and discusses a plan designed to help a particular student overcome or manage obstacles to their academic and social success.
In a much less formal way, many teachers already do this for most of their other students as well. They keep regular meetings or discussions with families to make sure they’re on the same page about their child’s progress and needs.
The idea of setting goals with all families as a school, however, can seem a bit overwhelming. A great first step is to invite all families to be part of the conversation—and valuing their input. This kind of open discussion is essential to a truly engaged and successful school community.
The next time your school has a decision to make about how to spend grant money or what new curriculum to buy, invite families to come and learn about the options and share their input. These are decisions that directly affect their children and their insights might surprise you.
Offer opportunities for all family members to get involved
Does every family have a stay-at-home mom who is crafty and loves to be in the classroom three days a week? Absolutely not.
Every family is different, with individual personalities, working hours, skills, and things to offer. The question is: How do you provide opportunities for all members of each family to feel welcome to participate in their children’s education?
Working versus Stay-at-home
Working family members may not ever be able to come into the classroom, but their involvement might be around staying connected to the teacher via text message or email. Don’t assume they don’t care simply because they can’t be there. Stay-at-home parents can come into the building more often to help with class projects and parties.
Introverts versus Extroverts
Sometimes it all comes down to personality type when you’re thinking of participation opportunities. Not all family members are going to feel comfortable reading one-on-one with a child they don’t know, but some will! To find out what kind of involvement each family member wants to have in your classroom, consider making a list of options and having them circle the ones they’d be willing or able to do.
Resourced versus Under-resourced
These categories can refer to a few things, the most obvious would be income. Sometimes involving families in class or school activities requires a cost, like asking them to bring a snack to a class party. Consider options for families who may not be able to contribute in this way but want to be part of the celebration. Can they help you cut out decorations instead?
Another way to view it would be as access to physical resources or even time. You’ll find that some of your families, for instance, may not own a vehicle while others own two, making parent teacher conference scheduling complicated.
The first step in getting all these different types of family members involved in your classroom is first taking the time to understand their circumstances.
Students become part of a community when they enter a school—it becomes their second family. Connecting their two families only makes sense, then, engaged in partnership toward academic, social, and emotional success.
Want to Learn More?
TalkingPoints’ easy-to-use platform, interactive features, and precise translation in 145 languages can provide game-changing solutions for bridging the home-school gap for teachers, school districts, and families. Learn more about our services here, and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how TalkingPoints can increase family engagement, improve home-school connections, enhance relationships between teachers and families, and support academic and social-emotional growth for every student.
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