The Potential of Family Engagement
By now, we are well aware of research that indicates a link between family engagement and improved student achievement. Most schools have a school council and all Boards in Ontario have a Parent Involvement Committee (PIC). But are we moving ahead or are efforts in this area the same as they were two decades ago? Are we doing the same things and expecting a different result?
I’ve worked with some passionate, dedicated parents who are engaged with their school, hoping to make things even better. I’ve met caring Principals and teachers who see the benefits of linking with families. I’ve seen PICs working hard to provide information and support to families. However, I have to ask - is family engagement reaching its full potential?
Councils, PICs and educators are able to build meaningful family engagement. However, it’s difficult if all parties don’t understand what more they could be doing. When educators fail to realize the benefits for their students, they don’t partner with their families. When Councils don’t look beyond what they’ve always done, they cannot create successful engagement opportunities between home and school. When PICs forget to broaden their vision, they don’t grow the capacity of their parents.
Research into family engagement led Dr. Karen Mapp and Dr. Anne Henderson to develop their Four Core Beliefs about engagement:
All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them.
All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning.
Parents and school staff should be equal partners.
The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.
By accepting these four tenets, it becomes a little easier to see the path educators and Councils may follow to engagement. And if we remember that student achievement is our goal, the value in building partnerships between home and school becomes clear.
Staff, Councils and PICs must first consider how to build the capacity of everyone involved in family engagement. This is the first step in realizing our full potential to support students. In the U.S Department of Education’s “Dual Capacity Framework”, Dr. Mapp and Dr. Paul Kuttner suggest we start with the four Cs.
The first step is to begin by growing the skills and knowledge that families and teachers will need (Capabilities). This includes planning ways to teach parents and guardians how to support classroom learning. What is being taught; how is it being taught; what can be done at home to strengthen what is happening in the classroom?
Next, Councils may develop opportunities for parents to network with their peers and staff (Connections). Engagement is most effective when relationships exist and trust is built.
Then, listening and learning about the beliefs and values of all involved is essential (Cognition). Many times the difficulties people have accepting the first two Core Beliefs are a result of not valuing the diverse experiences within our school community. We try to fit that square peg into an established round hole. Breaking down the assumptions on both sides, seeking information, listening, and respecting differences makes finding the best course of action easier.
Finally, by working on the first three goals we build the self-efficacy of our parents and staff (Confidence). Educators are respected as experts in the vital role they play in our children’s lives. Parents/guardians are appreciated as teachers, leaders, advocates and learners. Each is reliant upon the other and confident in their unique roles.
So where does this leave Councils and PICs? Working together to build the capabilities, connections, cognition and confidence of our families! Council participation on the School Improvement Plan (link to blog) means they are aware of teaching goals. Now, planning their year begins by looking for ways to build parent capacity to support those goals. By doing this, they are also creating effective partnerships with staff.
One of the PIC mandates is to support school councils and parents. Using the Core Beliefs and Four C’s as their guide, PICs can look for ways to remove barriers to the implementation of those beliefs, assist Councils in building capacity and provide training to Council members on meaningful family engagement.
We can’t rest on our laurels but must look for new ways to develop our outreach to families for the benefit of our students. Each Board, Council and PIC is capable of using these principles as a starting point to engagement. By determining how to build the capacity of their families and educators, they will increase family engagement and improve student achievement.