As a professional in the education industry, you’ve probably heard this phrase before: “The key to successful students is the relationship between teachers and the students and their families.” Maybe not exactly those words, but most educators have heard something along those lines that emphasizes the importance of teacher-family engagement.
But what does family engagement look like, exactly? Especially in this post-pandemic day and age where we’ve experienced the ups and downs of in-person and remote learning, family engagement may look more like blurry lines rather than a clear picture. Here, we give you five examples of family engagement, and as a bonus, we throw in some actionable ideas that you can start planning tomorrow.
What is family engagement and why is it important?
Family engagement is defined as building genuine relationships between teachers and their students’ families. The benefits of family engagement are backed by decades of research, which show that family engagement directly impacts student outcomes, including socio-emotional development, grades, test scores, student behavior, and high school graduation rates. It is a better predictor of student academic success than the family’s socioeconomic status, highlighting the impact that it can have on student achievement if executed effectively.
Family engagement activities
We’ve established that family engagement is important, so let’s dive into some tangible examples that you can enact today to reap the benefits.
1. Send family engagement toolkits
One of the most basic things you can do to set the stage for successful family engagement is start off on the right foot. At the beginning of the school year, send your students home with a toolkit for enriching at-home activities. Of course, the objective of this toolkit is to encourage family engagement for the rest of the year.
The toolkit can also be extremely useful to you as a teacher. You can include whatever you think would be helpful and fun; an “onboarding guide” for the school year that includes a quick introduction call, a checklist for the first month of school that encourages parent engagement in the year’s curriculum and schoolwork, or perhaps a full-fledged guidebook for the year-to-come, and how to reach out with questions or comments – or simply to say hi – at any point. These may seem simple (and with templates online, less time-consuming than you think) but taking the first step makes all the difference in family engagement.
2. Create community
While teachers are the greatest resource for parents in their journey to increase engagement in their students’ studies, other parents and families can provide things that teachers sometimes can’t: camaraderie, points of reference, and community. Creating a community space for families to communicate and share information can be one of the simplest and most effective ways to increase family engagement in your classroom.
The “how” of creating a community can be as elaborate as hosting community events every month, or as simple as creating a private Facebook or Whatsapp group. A nice balance of the two allows parents (and you!) to be as involved or passive as they would like. The digital channel allows activity, resource sharing, and communications at all times, and an event once or twice a semester brings that community to life.
3. Provide valuable resources
Everybody is always looking for helpful resources, and parents of students are no exception. In fact, they’re probably the most likely to engage when offered such value. If a teacher were to, for example, send a monthly newsletter with community resources like libraries, parks, and free events in the school district, or introduce a new app that helps their students with time management, parents would be grateful for the information.
It doesn’t have to be monthly; whenever you come across something cool, relevant, and helpful, send a message to your students’ parents introducing it to them. (TalkingPoints offers group messaging to your entire class’s families – with translation into 145+ languages!) Whether it’s a free ebook about making math fun, an article about helping children with anxiety, or an upcoming virtual workshop about the post-pandemic college admissions environment, you can be a trusted source of valuable resources – hence, encouraging engagement from families.
Family engagement in schools
Another way to promote family engagement is to encourage families to join you at school. While family engagement, due to its nature, mostly happens at home, there is power in bringing the family together at the place of study. Here are some ideas to get you started.
4. Create a monthly activity calendar
First, families need to know when such opportunities to come to school with their students exist. Creating a monthly calendar of school activities is an easy way to alert parents of what’s going on in general (so they know if a dance or show is coming up, etc.), help them plan their calendar in advance, and also encourage them to participate in some way.
An activity calendar should include both activities that parents can participate in and activities that parents should be aware of so they can support their children. Even if they can’t be there with them, a calendar can help parents engage with their children by simply wishing them good luck before a game or asking if they’d like to go to the school’s musical.
5. Host family events at school
If the school or district isn’t hosting any events that you find appropriate for family engagement, host your own! (Or suggest to the school that they host the event and become the hero by increasing everyone’s quality of education.) Schedule an open house or meet and greet so that teachers and parents can mingle in an informal, casual setting. Further into the school year, host regular family nights with food and music and exhibit the cool work that your students have been accomplishing at school.
To tie this in with the monthly activity calendar, a great way to encourage family engagement is to offer volunteer opportunities. Whether for the school dance or fundraiser, or a game night that you host for your class, volunteering parents will feel more involved in the process and a sense of accomplishment for a successful event. It also gives them front row seats to their students’ school experience.
Tools for actionable family engagement
Family engagement isn’t as difficult as it seems, especially when you have the right guides and tools available to you. Now, imagine a tool that allows you to send messages to all of your parents – with toolkits, calendars, event invites, valuable resources, or volunteer opportunities – in the respective languages that they use at home. Check out TalkingPoints to see how we can help you with your family engagement activities.