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  • Writer's pictureWith Equal Step

Engagement or Contact?

Stephen Hurley recently wrote a blog - “Back to School - A Family Context” - that I appreciated. In it, he talks about the need for schools to view families as a vital part of children’s lives and learning. His suggestions for supporting engagement are welcome.

Family engagement is an important component in student success. Years of research tell us that. Making parents, guardians, grandparents etc., feel welcome in a school is vital. Providing space that says “You belong here” and opportunities to talk with staff are things I’ve advocated for years.

However, I want to flag the assumption that engagement takes place in school. In fact, research points to something we often ignore: the most effective family engagement takes place outside of school. When schools invite parents into the building, on school trips, or for one-off events, that is parent contact. It is not engagement.

Engagement is planned and linked to learning. Its spans a period of time and years. It is intentional. Contact is most often about helping the school. Engagement is about helping the student. We need to heed the advice of Dr. Janet Goodall: “What I’m suggesting is a move from having parents “help schools” to a recognition of a more equal partnership, where everyone “helps” the child or young person.” That, she says, occurs most effectively in the home.

Dr. Steve Constantino writes that “ the degree to which families are empowered by the school is a determining factor in student achievement.” After all, it is far easier for schools to reach out than for families to reach in. How do we make this a reality?

As I’ve written previously, (“Everyone have a SIP” and “The Potential of Family Engagement” ) educators and school councils must work together to build the capacity of parents to support learning. For teachers, this means building family engagement into your lesson plans through: effective, on-going, two-way communication information for families on particular aspects of the curriculum that could be supported at home (including suggestions) workshops on learning (think PD for parents) using parent knowledge in the classroom partnering with school councils where appropriate.

The good news is that researchers also tell us when parents become engaged in their children’s learning, they also value the school and staff more, becoming engaged inside the school, as well.

So this September, as educators return to the classroom and school councils begin their work, why not consider the “family context”? How can you work together to support learning at home? What will you do to turn family contact into authentic, meaningful family engagement?

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