When I was an elementary school principal, I remember how hard my teachers worked at trying to engage families in the school. Parent workshops, social events, and family nights were just a few of the ways that we tried to get parents into the building. After seeing only a handful of parents show up to each activity, we realized that we had to do a better job at engaging families.
We discovered that our initial approach was wrong because we wanted parents to fit into our school schedules, instead of making a sincere effort to fit into their schedules. Parent attendance at workshops or meetings does not equate to meaningful family engagement. The foundational component of family engagement begins with building relationships and equipping families with the tools needed to support their child’s learning at home.
Tools for parents
So what are the most important tools for parents? In the early grades, this means showing parents how they can support their child’s early literacy and socio-emotional development. For example, instead of showing parents how to help their child with homework, educators need to provide parents with strategies to help their children to think critically and become better problem solvers. This will have a tremendous impact on a child’s success in school and in life. Instead of telling parents to flash word cards for children to memorize, educators need to provide parents with ideas to promote creativity and innovation among their children.
Modeling empathy, building relationships, and promoting teamwork will make more of a difference on a child’s future success than their GPA or academic transcript. Many educators are changing their approaches to family engagement because they recognize this fact.
Engaging with educators
The success of our children can be propelled when a strong partnership exists between the school and the home. This means expanding family engagement beyond isolated workshops and activities held at the school. Educators must look for more meaningful and effective ways to reach out to families.
Educators who feel inadequately prepared to engage families can receive support from organizations like the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement and Successful Innovations, Inc. By prioritizing socio-emotional skills and early literacy training for families, educators will be maximizing parents’ capacity to support their children on the skills that matter most. After all, true success in life is not be measured by students’ grades on their report card or the college that they attend, but rather the quality of their character, the strength of their relationships, and the positive influence they have on the lives of others.