Focusing the Wide Lens of Family Engagement

No matter what the curriculum, no matter what the culture, one thing that researchers, administrators, principals, teachers, and families overwhelming all agree on is that family engagement is a powerful tool for student success.

But what the heck does “family engagement” mean? Importantly, what types of family engagement do the most to improve student achievement?

Is it showing up at parent teacher conferences?

Coming to PTA meetings?

Attending games and events?

Volunteering at school?

There is nothing wrong with any of these. They indeed may bring parents and guardians closer to various parts of the school. They can help students know that the adults in their lives value education. They can create a rapport that can lead to the opening up of avenues for discussion and support.  They are, however, peripheral to learning and do not directly support student success.

So what should we be shooting for?

A close-up look at the Parent-Teacher Partnership

As a former teacher, principal, and parent (presently still a parent, but my kids are all grown up now), I have seen success when parents and teachers build strong partnerships to develop strategies tailored to their students’ individual needs and strengths (I use parents in the broad sense of anyone with the primary responsibility of taking care of a young person, such as, Guardian, grandparent, or foster parent).

Let me make an obvious statement that tends to be forgotten in education. Learning takes place anytime and anywhere, 24/7, not all the time, but anytime. Specifically, the “stuff” teachers want students to learn does not just occur in the classroom over a 40-minute scheduled period.

As teachers and parents, we want to control it, but it’s messy. Still, we can work together to develop environments at home and at school that put students in the best position to succeed.

We can build in the disciplines and freedoms that make the most sense for them. We can set schedules and timings that fit how they learn. And we can monitor all of this and adapt as the needs arise.

This is not an easy place to get to, and indeed for many parent-teacher combinations it will be a bridge (or bridges) too far. And that is fine. The practicality is to move a parent and a teacher toward a strong parent teacher partnership, where they can be more supportive to their children.